MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

And the Winner of MEDA's International Women's Day Poster Competition is...

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA hosted a poster competition between its international projects to highlight the gender equality and women's economic empowerment work MEDA does around the world. In total, there were 11 posters submitted from MEDA's various projects, and each one of them highlighted how the project is working towards gender equality by showcasing a partner, lead firm or woman who is being bold for change in their community.

Mo Bi is one of our female-lead farmers on MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project in Myanmar. This means that Mobi is a model farmer who serves as a leader to a group of women farmers and demonstrates good agricultural and business practices to her community. Along with other lead farmers, Mo Bi receives technical training, leadership and mentorship training, and are linked to savings to improve their financial literacy. MEDA works with key facilitating partners, like METTA in Shan state of Myanmar, and provides technical support and gender sensitization trainings for staff and key market actors. These key market actors include: agricultural extension workers, input suppliers and commodity collectors, who are all members of the IMOW community, but may not have engaged with women before working with MEDA on IMOW.

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World Water Day: Opportunities to Innovate and Address Time Poverty for Women

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis.

One of my first experiences with global inequality was related to water. In a remote part of the Maasai Mara in Kenya, I met mothers and daughters who were obligated to make an arduous and long walk to the river, daily, to collect dirty water and carry it alone back to the homestead to prepare meals, bathe, clean, wash laundry, garden and nourish livestock. This story is not an anomaly. The world over, rural women and girls often bear the burden of collecting water for their families. Globally, it is estimated that women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours every day, or individually 6 hours a day, fetching water. In terms of distance, in Africa and Asia, it is estimated that girls and children walk an average 3.7 miles a day to fetch water.1  As a result, women and girls are at a higher risk of violence and health hazards due to isolation along rural routes, issues related to menstruation and women’s hygiene, along with heightened exposure to diseases found in unclean water.2

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Back to Ethiopia

I always look forward to going to Ethiopia. Since MEDA started its first program there in 2010, geared to empowering smallholder rice farmers and rural textile weavers and helping them access to better markets, Ethiopia has been my favorite destination.

The most powerful attraction is MEDA’s Ethiopia team – their hospitality, dedication to the development of their country, intelligence, and the humility with which they approach their work that reminds me of our Mennonite members in Waterloo. It is precisely the support they provide me for all my assignments in Ethiopia and the diligence with which they follow up that strengthens my belief that great results are possible only with great teams.
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The Strengthening Small Business Value Chains (SSBVC) project has officially launched!

Although it has been two years since the project began operations Tanzania, on February 2nd MEDA organized and hosted the official launch event for the KUZA-BIASHARA-SAWIA project which was attended by dignitaries from both the Tanzanian and Canadian governments, private organizations, other NGOs, and a number of businesses currently involved in the SSBVC project.

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Promoting Local and Sustainable Tourism at MiCrédito

Did you know that 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development? According to the World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, tourism has the highest impact on poverty reduction when the poor benefits directly through employment in tourism enterprises or through establishing their own tourism-related businesses.

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An Easy Sell? Women's Economic Empowerment in Ghana

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Empowering women in rural, northern Ghana—where nearly 80% of women have never attended school, is no small feat. With some smart marketing and production support for farmers, agribusinesses are now buying the idea.

Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) is a six-year project funded by both the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The main goal of the project is to improve food security for families in the Upper West Region of Ghana by assisting women farmers to increase productivity, link to sustainable markets, and improve nutrition practices.

The implementation of the GROW project started in 2013 with a goal of reaching 20,000 women farmers using a value chain approach. Through a mixed methods data gathering approach including interviews and surveys, MEDA recently developed and published a case study that examines the role of market actors and their profitability as they have engaged with the GROW project and female farmers. This blog shares some of the results.

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What does International Women’s Day mean to me?

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the third in our “Be Bold for Change” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

Through the Garden Gate AfghanistanCatherine Sobrevega (center) in Afghanistan, with her previous MEDA’s project, Through the Garden Gate, in Afghanistan.

I always look forward to International Women’s Day (IWD) as it is celebrated differently in form and structure worldwide. In the Philippines, where I am from, I cannot remember any celebration that I have been part of. I am sure there is an IWD celebration somewhere, but it is mostly celebrated by women’s right activist groups — not by ordinary people or companies. This is likely because men and women treat one another equally. I grew up knowing that there is no difference between us – all of us can go to school, all of us have access to information and opportunities.

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An intern's journey home in Ghana

Learning the ropes to get around the capital Accra has been an interesting and rewarding experience. In a city that only recently started naming its streets, the locals still rely on landmarks, prominent buildings, and well-known spots. There’s something very rewarding about learning the name of an area, like you’re finally getting to know the city and the people. More importantly, it lets you communicate with the taxis and tro-tros.

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How one small business can change the lives of many

As the Business Development Intern on the FEATS project in Ghana, I had the opportunity to help an entrepreneur start a cashew aggregation business that will improve the lives of 250+ farmers and the lives of their families and communities. I supported this entrepreneur by developing the business strategy and operational plan to successfully and sustainably start his small business. In the process, I have learned a lot about the farming value chain and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and farmers in a developing country like Ghana.

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Business to the Power of 2 at MiCrédito

Last week I had the opportunity to help MiCrédito welcome a MEDA Field Experience team to Nicaragua. As a MEDA intern, this was a chance to meet MEDA supporters from Canada and the United States, most of whom had never been to Nicaragua before. As I helped to interpret the management team’s presentation to our visitors, I felt proud to be involved in an institution that has had such an important impact on the lives of Nicaraguan micro-entrepreneurs. For me, MiCrédito’s work encapsulates the idea of MEDA’s “Business to the Power of 2” strategy. When the institution sees a need in the community, it uses enlightened business practices and entrepreneurial thinking to help people achieve their personal goals, thus building bridges out of poverty.

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Personifying Myanmar

After seven months of living in Myanmar, it was finally time to bid farewell. As I looked outside the car window on my lone taxi ride to the airport, a wave of emotion overcame me as I passed dainty teashops and mega shopping centres – the latter of which were only erected during my stay here. There and then, I couldn’t help but feel I was saying goodbye to a person, rather than a place. A person with a vibrant yet humble personality, a disposition full of surprises, and most importantly, potential. If anything, I was saying goodbye to a turbulent teenager budding to adulthood.

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Promoting Participation: Client Experience Interviews with MiCrédito

One of the projects that I am currently working on here in Nicaragua is a case study of MiCrédito’s social products. In the world of microfinance, these include products that are designed to meet the needs of clients belonging to specific social groups. MiCrédito targets women, youth, and rural communities through three innovative products: Women Entrepreneurship Loans, MiCrédiEstudios (Student Loans), and Sanitation Loans. Women Entrepreneurship loans support women who have a business idea, but not the capital, to build their first business. The MiCrédiEstudios product offers financing for the final two years of university education as well as funding options for youth entrepreneurship, equipment purchase, language courses, and further education through Masters and PhD programs. Finally, through its Sanitation product, MiCrédito provides low-interest loans designed to allow families to replace latrines with high-efficiency toilets, improving family health and hygiene. You can learn more about MiCrédito’s social products here.

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Cacophonous streets, soccer, good food: My life as an intern in Tanzania

I have officially been in Dar es Salaam as MASAVA’s newest intern for five weeks. Full disclosure: this is my first time to Tanzania, and indeed Africa. As is the case with any new adventure, being here is unbelievably exciting. I have battled the cacophonous streets markets in city center, sweated under the intense heat playing soccer, and traveled to an island closeby for some fresh fish and chips. Amidst all this fun, I’ve had the chance to learn about and take part in a very interesting project.

The purpose of the MASAVA Project is to tackle Vitamin A deficiency in rural Tanzania. 34% of Tanzanian children aged 6 – 59 months and 37% of women aged 15 - 49 are Vitamin A deficient due to inadequate diets. Consequently, they suffer from night blindness, weak immunity, and a host of other psychological and physical symptoms.

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One month in: Working with MiCrédito in Nicaragua

I am exactly one month into my internship with MEDA partner MiCrédito in Nicaragua and I have fallen in love with this country and its people! My first four weeks have been a whirlwind, but I am grateful for the diverse experiences, both personal and professional, that I have gained already. My days have been filled with everything from touring churches in colonial cities to visiting MiCrédito clients at their farms and businesses.

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Supporting Women-run Social Enterprises: Helping Entrepreneurs to Help their Communities

When is a trade fair more than a trade fair?

In September, Trade + Impact held its first Summit in Morocco, bringing together women-run social enterprises, international buyers and potential investors. The Summit featured products from two key sectors: handicrafts and agribusiness for cosmetics. These sectors were chosen because they employ significant numbers of women, and additionally, have huge growth potential. Markets for each of the sectors are estimated at USD 30 billion, and global demand is growing.

Morocco show pic

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#MEDACon16: A Convention to Remember

MEDA’s 2016 Convention, Business as a Calling: Women Changing the World, wrapped up just about two weeks ago. We’re not over the excitement quite yet, so we’re sharing some of our favorite moments from #MEDACon16 with you!
UnknownMEDA supporters take a river barge through downtown San Antonio
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What happens when a country doesn’t use banks - A look at how the world’s second last frontier economy functions on just cash.

When I first got off the plane at Yangon airport, jetlagged and exhausted from the 42 hour journey, what shocked me most was being handed a stack of 1,000 kyat ($1CAD) bills at the currency exchange - around 500 bills to be exact. Unable to stuff this into my wallet or fanny pack, I asked the currency exchange clerk if they had larger bills, to which she replied “We ran out.” 

The currency exchange counter at Yangon International Airport This was my first glimpse into the nearly non-existent banking services of Myanmar. They say that frontier economies develop in the following order; telecommunications, banking, power & hydro, and finally, consumer goods. While the internet connection is slowly starting to improve here and power cuts have dropped from an average of three times a day to just three times a week, the banking sector is still lagging behind. Decades of hyperinflation and mismanagement have made everyday citizens weary of using existing banks and financial institutions.

To the middle and upper class, the low utilization of banks presents certain problems. For example, large payments must be made in cash since checks cannot be processed without a checking account. An expatriate once recounted to me the story of the first time he prepaid rent – he loaded an entire taxi with cash, went to the landlord’s house, and waited for her to hand count all of it three times in the span of four hours. Getting all this cash isn’t easy, either. Another expatriate had to visit a local illegitimate businessman with a basement stuffed with cash and jewels in order to obtain enough cash to pay the lease on her newly purchased hotel.

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Convention 2016 - You're not gonna want to miss this.

Everything is bigger in Texas – including this year’s convention! This fall, MEDA is hosting Business as a Calling: Women Changing the World. What could be bigger than world-renowned speakers, fine dining, tours of cutting edge businesses and times for networking with emerging and seasoned leaders alike? Nothing of course!

While the seasons are changing at home, jump back in time with us to sunshine and warm weather as you bask in the history, music and culture of San Antonio. The city’s famous Riverwalk and historic sites provide a premier backdrop for the festivities to come.

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A Day in the Life of a MEDA Intern - Uganda

7:00 am

Rise and Shine!

The breathtaking view from my backyard in Kololo, Kampala. I live on a hill top, where there is fresh air, chirping birds and a view of the city of 7 hills. The sun shines through my windows every morning, so waking up is always a pleasure.

 

Chapati

Chapati is a fried pancake made with flour, water, and oil and cooked on an iron hot plate. These were from a chapatti stand in Jinja, Uganda. They are so good that I always have at least one every day!

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A Day in the Life of a MEDA Intern - Myanmar

7:00 am
Waking up!

This is the view outside of my bedroom window. To the right is the “Myanmar Plaza”; the largest shopping complex in Myanmar that opened just this year. To the left is Inya lake; a manmade reservoir built by the British when they colonized Yangon and named it “Rangoon”.

 7:30 amGetting Breakfast

This little joint is a quick walk from my office and only set up from 6-11am in the mornings. For 700 kyat ($0.7CAD) you can get a full breakfast!

 

Mohinga for breakfast

Mohinga is the most popular Burmese breakfast dish. Consisting of fish soup, rice noodles, deep fried chick pea crackers, coriander, mysterious crunch vegetables and a handful of chili flakes; it’s definitely one of my favorites.

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