Poverty in Africa- the day today reality

This week I have been looking at the notion of money and poverty in Africa. The question I get asked often and one I would like to try and answer in this thread is  How do things work on the ground?.

I will approach it from the point of view of the women I work with and draw from my visit to Tanzania and Uganda in 2008.

Having left Omari I was collected from my hotel by Flotea one of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers. She was two hours late and I was unhappy about this until I heard her reasons.

Flotea

Flotea

Flotea is an amazing woman who left school at a very young age with no qualification to speak of this meant that she was excluded from formal employment and the only skills she had were embroidery skills.  she started out by making table linen and curtains for her own home, when her neighbours saw the quality of her work they asked if she could make home furnishings for them too and soon word had got out and she had a list of customers. She soon outgrew the space in her two room house, and had to extend it, as well as widening her range to include African tote bags Flotea’s idea has grown beyond her imagination and today she employees 30 women from the slums of Dar es Salaam. She shares what skills she has with women less fortunate than she is through workshops on textile production and design

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

After the initial pleasantries I asked her about her morning and it transpired that she wanted to expand her business so that she can take on more staff. In order to do so she wanted to move to larger premises built from scratch and for two years she had been trying to buy a piece of land for the new premises without much luck.

She had therefore decided to hand over the whole matter to a Solicitor and that meeting had over run and therefore she couldn’t get to me on time. I was truly shocked by what Flotea had just told me which seemed to validate part of what Omari had told me earlier that morning.

I could see clearly why it was important to have commercial systems streamlined and made more efficient to enable businesses to function more effectively. How on earth do you expand a business when acquiring a piece of  land for the new premises is a two year process and that is before the construction process begins? I told Flotea about my meeting with Omari and the general points we had covered especially the MONEY!

Flotea looked me in the eye and said “I pity any African who believes that some external person/outsider will come and resolve our problems, because I tell you what they will be waiting for a long time”

This is a strong statement and it raised another question in my mind. African women like Flotea are not expecting handouts and expect to work hard in order to get ahead all things being equal, so why do we in the West have this notion of giving more money?

As we continue the conversation about my morning Flotea is not very keen to be drawn on the issues of what happens to the AID money. She insists that the politicians have the answers to this question. She felt that institutions do not appear to have any interest in the small man on the street therefore she just minds her own business!

Flotea argued that the government merely plays lip service to women’s issues and that in fact unless women work together to share skills and resources they are unlikely to succeed. She told me that there are large numbers of women in Tanzania involved in textile production however there is no institution where these women can go and learn about textile and design. They instead rely on skills sharing where those who know teach those that do not. In her mind this is the one thing that would change life for most women especially the slum dwellers.

Other challenges included

  • Lack of IT and communication skills
  • Access to markets the lack of information means  they don’t always know what market demands are

I spent the rest of the afternoon and the best part of the evening with Flotea and her team and I taught them how to use email and PICASA Google’s photographs programme. this would enable them to share photos of their products with folk all over the world. Flotea appreciated this and as I left her she told me this is what we need people to come in and share what they know with us!

So there you have it folk, for women like Flotea, it really isn’t about the money! In the enxt post I will introduce another of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers whose view is somewaht different from that of Flotea. In the mean time if you have a view either way on any of the issues raised here please share it

Sales Assistants required at Ethnic Supplies

About The company

Founded in 2007, Ethnic Supplies is a social enterprise that seeks to end poverty amongst African women involved in textile and handicraft production as this is more sustainable and dignified way out of poverty. Today Ethnic Supplies  supports women in the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar Rwanda by sourcing handmade handicrafts and fashion accessories from suppliers that support women to be financially independent or directly from established women’s groups in rural locations.

We are seeking  Direct Sales assistants to help our growing sales team.

Objective or role

  • help maximise sales
  • introduce the public to a  range of unique and ethically produced fashion accessories
  • provide first class customer experience
  • Grow personally and professionally as part of a dynamic business


Responsibilities

  • Host a party plan at your home, church, school, Office or in your community
  • Help Raise awareness about extreme poverty and support Ethnic Supplies by selling beautiful fashion accessories, handcrafted by impoverished women in East Africa
  • Represent Ethnic Supplies at sales events/fares or Exhibitions
  • continually develop understanding of the company’s culture, products, ethical initiatives, other ares of business, and reflect this in everyday performance
  • take responsibility for personal development and actively seek opportunities for improvement

Experience

  • No experience required if the enthusiasm, aptitude and proven desire to learn can be demonstrated
  • Experience is a customer service role with face to face customer contact maybe beneficial
  • previous experience in the retail sector is desirable but not essential

Skills/knowledge

  • Ability to initiate contact and communication
  • Confident, articulate and accurate spoken English
  • Ability to work hard
  • Ability to work hard
  • some knowledge of or an interest in world affairs

Attitude Required

  • Passionate about ethical/fair-trade fashion
  • passionate about customer service
  • Highly self motivated
  • Warm, friendly and engaging personality
  • Strong sense of responsibility and desire to get things done properly
  • Ability to use own initiative and work on your own or as part of team
  • Empathy with issues affecting poverty stricken African women

Remuneration

Is commission based at 20% for Party planners, plus a product of your choice if one of your guests agrees to host a party plan too
If you attend an event on our behalf you will get an hourly rate currently set at the national minimum wage on top of the commission

If you are interested in applying for this position, please forward a copy of your CV along with a covering letter to

email address: admin at ethnicsupplies.co.uk or ida at lethmhelpthelpthemselves.org

Doing business in areas of conflict

I haven’t written much lately, as I have been nursing a nasty summer bug. Any how before all that happened I had the chance to attend a networking event organised by the good folk at Business Fights Poverty . This was one of a number of events that they have put on since January 2009  and the idea was to bring together practitioners, academics and other interested people from the business world to discuss how business can contribute to poverty alleviation in developing world.

The event on 14 July considered the subject of doing business in areas of conflict,  and the topic  we were invited to consider was

Peace and economic growth are closely related. How can policy makers maximize the impact of private sector for both peace and development?

At this stage  if you are like me you may wonder and in fact ask whether

  1. Business has any role to play in bringing about peace in areas of conflict
  2. What business opportunities could possibly exist in war torn areas
  3. What about safety implications?

It would appear that to a certain extent your fears/ concerns would not be unfounded as we soon found out from the guest speakers on the night Diana Klein from Peace, Building issues programme, International Alert, Andrew Bone Head,  International  Relations De Beers  and Lisa Curtis, Adviser, ManoCap. What is important to note  is that they also  provided solutions to some of these concerns,  and if all else fails there is INSURANCE

I found Diane’s presentation especially interesting. According to Diane business can thrive in conflict areas so long as they comply and are not seen to be contributing to the unrest. One of the ways in which businesses maybe unknowingly contribute to the unrest would be to employ foreign workers Diana went on to say!

I found this interesting as not so long ago our Prime Minsiter here in the UK was quoted to have said  something along the lines “British jobs for British workers” in response to strikes in the oil industry here in UK.  That being the case is there any wonder that folk in the developing countries would take to the streets in similar circumstances?

On the issue of compliance, I recalled a situation in Uganda where Mehta  an Asian owned business group was allocated some land in Mabira Forest an ancient forest in Uganda and the locals didn’t agree, here is what happened next .

What is interesting about this forest is that many years ago it was a 7 mile forest with numerous species of tress and you could not see beyond a few yards, today the locals have moved in and started subsistence farms, and there are holiday chalets for hire, but the locals were up in arms over the thought of their forest being given away to a foreign business company. If you are a company  what do you do in a situation such as this?

I understand that, that wasn’t the end of the story and here is the latest discussion on the matter

At the event there was a man whose job involves getting Palestine and Israel to do business together!  He had an interesting tale about getting all sides to work together as well as the results that ahve beena cheived thus far.  Earlier this year I wrote about the experiences of an olive farmer on my other blog

So do you think there are business opportunities in areas of conflict?