MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Praxis Series - Entry 2: Don’t forget the loan officers!

loan officer case study picture 1Although youth between the ages of 18 - 30 often represent between 15 - 30% of total active clients in MFI portfolios, they are often labeled as undesirable and risky and many more youth applicants are turned away by Microfinance institutions (MFIs). MEDA's financial institution partners in Morocco, Attadamoune Microfinance and INMAA, wanted their staff to better engage with youth clients as they saw youth as a segment with great market potential. These innovative MFIs – with MEDA support - developed a training program to train frontline staff better address the financial needs of young clients. MEDA documented the efficacy of this training and explored any stated youth client interaction change amongst loan officers (LOs) and MFI staff in our recent Loan Officer Case Study.

The sessions within the training helped LOs and staff identify new techniques for prospecting potential youth clients and provided fundamental training on financial education (only 34% of LOs had been exposed to financial education sessions previously). The LOs added that due to the training, they would be able to improve their communication with youth, aid in increasing thloan officer case study picture 2e share of youth in their respective portfolios, be able to better cater to youth clients, and provide them the basic information on budgeting, debt management, savings and financial negotiation (all sessions covered in financial education training).

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Pre-ride jitters

The knots in my stomach have taken away my appetite. My head spinning with thoughts about biking and packing have made it difficult to have conversation about anything other then biking. My legs are full of energy that it makes it hard to sit still for even a small amount of time. It's safe to say my pre-ride jitters have set in.

I had a coach once tell me, "It's okay to get nervous because it simply means you care." That statement has never felt truer in my life. As I gear up to leave for Victoria, I find myself thinking more and more about those women in Ghana; the women that fight everyday, working long hours and under the hot sun all day to provide for their families. Compared to all the work they do, biking across Canada doesn't seem like that big of a task. Focusing on these women allows me to push the nerves down and find the courage to make this happen.

My life has been full of calculated risks; I have never been challenged in a way that I actually questioned whether or not I could accomplish my goal. Biking across Canada is different – I have to find a way to get my legs to continue pushing me across the country for that is the only way I will get from Victoria to St. John's. The thought is scary, and makes me question whether it is actually possible. Yet, this is also what makes it exciting. I am motivated by the fact that I'm in control of my own future. I will find a way to get my legs to push me across the country.

I am, however, not alone. I have found the most incredible support system throughout this journey. For an extrovert like myself, this is what keeps me going day to day...it keeps me putting on my cycling shoes everyday and getting on my bike. I have said it again and again but I have this gut feeling of confidence. I am confident Sarah and I will find our way to push ourselves across the country because we have so many people believing in us from all over the world. We have been blessed with inspiration from so many and encouraged from everyone's kind words. It helps us to remember we're not biking for only ourselves, but for something so much greater. We are biking for the women in Ghana because it is their hard work that has empowered us to make a difference.

So yes, I have quite the pre-ride jitters, but I have no doubt that Sarah and I will bike across Canada. After all, we have the support of MEDA and all that comes with it drafting the wind in front of us. I am so proud to be apart of this amazing team all working towards the common goal of women economic development.

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Praxis Series - Entry 1: Financial Capability at Work in Morocco

Youth unemployment in countries like Morocco rank as one of the largest development obstacles. Demographic challenges, gender barriers, and education/skill mismatch are among some of the problems that youth face searching for economic opportunities. To exacerbate these challenges, Moroccan youth have limited access to financial services that can help address their unique needs. According to the World Bank, only 12.3% of youth aged 15-24 in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region have a formal bank account, the lowest rate in the world.[1] In this context, access to appropriate financial services has the potential to lead to many positive outcomes for youth, including a heightened capacity to manage money and build assets, as well as increased opportunities for entrepreneurship, employment and future education.

YouthInvest (2008-2014) a six-year, five million dollar initiative in which MEDA partnered with leading microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) with the generous support of The MasterCard Foundation; to develop innovative financial and non-financial products and services tailored to the needs of economically active youth in Morocco and Egypt.


morocco youth shoe sellerIn Morocco, young people constitute 30% of Morocco's population and one tenth of the region's total youth population[1]. This youth segment serves as a platform for opportunity and has proven through the Arab Spring that they are ripe for growth and are an important source of entrepreneurship, development and innovation. Yet in many MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries including Morocco, these energies are not harnessed or cultivated to create active contributors to a dynamic economy. According to the New America Foundation's research on the Effectiveness of Youth Financial Education, results have emerged on the necessity of effective training programs:

 

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A lot of research and planning

I've been in Quebec City the past six months and I am getting ready to go home Friday. During my time in Quebec I have been training at the gym, but when I get home I will start to ride my bike outside. I'm aiming for 12 hours a week on the bike right now to try and get my bum use to the seat.

There is a Louis Garneau, Quebecois cycling gear, outlet in Quebec City where I just purchased a bib and a windbreaker. Bib shorts are cycling shorts that have suspenders to hold up the shorts during intense physical activity. It's also important to look at the fabric in the chamois depending on the type of cycling you are doing. Chamois is the padding in the bike shorts. For example, there is 5 motion, 4 motion, and air gel. Air gel is supposed to be used for long rides. I was looking at different bibs at the Louis Garneau factory and I liked one that had a lot of colors and the employee said, "No, those are for triathlons, not long rides like yours."

It really takes a lot to research bike attire and bike equipment, but Mary and I have had wonderful support. In Winnipeg, we went to Bikes and Beyond with a fellow MEDA member who took us there. There we met Jon who was kind enough to keep in touch with us when we returned to Ontario and send a list of items we will need for our bikes. Some of the things include: lights, panniers, chain oil, 2 extra tubes, co2 inflator with 2 cartridges each, metric allen keys, 2 tire levers each, 2 patch kits, 1 pump, and the list goes on. Mary and I have been spending the year slowly gaining these items and still need to get a few. The whole experience has been fun. I'm getting anxious to get home and start riding.

I've also been in touch with Doug's Bicycle Shop, which is located in a town near mine, Belleville, Ontario. Last summer they helped me, free of charge, to fix broken chains and practicing changing flat tires. When I get home, I will be spending time in the Doug's to continue to practice these things.

I'm quite lucky to come from a small town because everyone wants to help out. The following week that I am home, I will be attending a Picton Rotary meeting to accept a $500 check for GROW. As well, I will be on the radio March 23rd in my hometown to discuss more about Bike to Grow. They have already had me on the radio and have asked me to come back on. I will be going to different newspapers and radio stations around my surrounding area to spread the word about Bike to Grow. I hope with these media outlets that many new people will hear about the project.

There are also individuals in my community that have donated their time to help me out. Artists in the local community, such as drawing comics, want to assist me in promoting the bike trip by doing a pamphlet. I have been in touch with band groups and my past bosses who would like to put together events. These will all come into place when I return to my hometown Picton next week. The countdown has really begun now for the trip.

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Saving(s) the Future!

Savings has been lauded as one of the strongest levers of financial inclusion. Grounding itself in this scholarship, from the outset of the project, YouthInvest has made savings one of the pillars of its financial inclusion strategy in Morocco.

YouthInvest has encouraged youth to save by providing them with training on financial education as well as enabling them to access a low-minimum balance savings account made possible through a partnership with Al Barid Bank in Morocco. (The YouthInvest team managed to decrease the minimum deposit amount from 100 MAD to 5 MAD by negotiating with the banking institution).

While the savings component was incorporated into most aspects of YouthInvest's programming in Morocco, two particular initiatives made education on savings behaviour their tenants:

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The national picture of soy in Ghana

For much of the last month, I have been helping the market linkages team conduct a value chain update. This is part of a mid-way point evaluation of the GROW project to help inform possible future interventions in the remaining three years of the project.

The first two weeks of February were spent undertaking interviews with key actors at various levels of Ghana's soybean value chain, from the small village aggregators and market sellers, to large multinational firms. This saw us travel to border villages with Burkina Faso to the capital of Accra and many points in between.

The team carrying this out consisted of Hilda Abambire and Mohammed Fatawu, our value chain people in the project, myself, and the project manager, Ariane Ryan.

We started in Accra, meeting with equipment suppliers, and an industrial user of soybean oil – the Azar paint company. We then traveled to Ghana's second city of Kumasi and spoke with processing companies, the state seed distributor, financial institutions and poultry operators.

All throughout these interviews, one consistent theme arose: There is not nearly enough soy being produced in Ghana to meet the demand. The huge unmet demand for soybeans and its associated products in Ghana has meant this gap is being filled by imports of raw beans, soy oil and especially soy cake used in animal feeds.

This reliance on imports for a large portion of the country's demand for soybeans is a double negative for Ghana for two reasons. First of all, the country has great potential and many natural advantages to be able to grow substantially more soy. This is a missed opportunity not only for the country's agricultural sector, which could be growing a high value crop, but also for many potential downstream commercial activities – from milling and processing, to end product creation – that create more value. Secondly, importing soy adds to the trade deficit, one of the many large macro-economic difficulties facing the country.

However, there are positive developments. Farmers and other market actors are slowly beginning to realize the great potential in this previously relatively unknown crop. The pace of change is not as fast as we would like: Service providers, seed growers and other key actors are still not able to meet the demands of producers. Although, the market forces and price signals are slowly starting to turn increasing numbers of agriculture value chain actors towards the soybean. This, along with help from projects like GROW, and increasing attention and recognition from government policy makers on the crop, means Ghana's soy production is sure to increase in the coming years.

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MEDA Expert Spotlight: Adam Bramm and Nicki Post

Perceptions & Solutions for Women and Youth in Entrepreneurship

MEDA's Youth Economic Opportunities team is proud to be spotlighting two of our very own MEDA experts who particpated in a Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) discussion hosted by Chemonics.  Adam Bramm, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Women's Economic Opportunities and Nicki Post, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Youth Economic Opportunities participated in the event and provided insightful dialogue to further the agenda for women, youth and entrepreneurship. 

This article was developed by Christy Sisko, Manager of Chemonics' Economic Growth and Trade practice. The original article can be accessed here. 

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Bike to GROW

Je vous écris parce que je vais voyager à travers tout le Canada en vélo pendant 4 mois et je vais commencer le 15 mai, 2015. Mon nom est Sarah French et je viens de Picton Ontario. Je suis déménagée à Québec pour améliorer mon français. J'ai étudiée les relations internationales à l'université Carleton en Ottawa. Après mes études j'ai gagnée une bourse avec le gouvernement. La bourse consistait à travailler avec l'organisation Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) qui est située à Waterloo, Ontario et Lancaster Pennsylvanie. J'habitais au Nicaragua pour 7 mois en 2013/2014 ou je travaillais en agriculture et développement durable. Je vais faire ce voyage de 8,710 km parce que je crois en MEDA.

J'ai déjà habitée en Argentina avec Rotary en 2007/2008 et en Espagne en 2011/2012 comme étudiante d'échange, mais au Nicaragua j'ai vu la pauvreté pour la première fois. J'ai voyagée dans les endroits éloignes pour faire des entrevues avec des agriculteurs pour le projet MEDA. Aussi, j'ai louée une chambre à une famille Nicaragua. La situation de monétaire était touchante. Concernant la pauvreté j'ai vu une différence entre les hommes et les femmes. Mary, mon amie qui va voyager avec moi, était en Tanzanie avec MEDA et nous avons parlée pendant nos stages. Nous avons parlée de type de questions. Nous pensons que c'est symbolique avec deux filles qui vont voyager travers le Canada en soutien un autre projet de MEDA que de se concentre sur l'Independence des femmes. Ce projet s'appelle Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) en Ghana. J'ai deux liens pour vous. Le premier lien montre nos stages et le deuxième représente GROW :

  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRs81QwUZA
  2. vimeo.com/78859325
Aussi vous pouvez chercher MEDA : biketogrow.com. Nous sommes sur Facebook, Instagram et Twitter sous Bike to Grow.

A cent pour cent des dons va directement au projet GROW et nous avons la confiance en MEDA parce que nous avons déjà travaillée pour eux. Moi et Mary avons économisée notre argent grâce à notre travail. Nous faisons de l'entrainement toute l'année. Je fais yoga, cardio, et de la musculation pour me préparer.

Je veux que plus de monde sachent savoir de notre voyage. Nous allons travers à Montréal (7 aout), Trois Rivières (9 aout), ville Québec (10 aout), Montmagny (12 aout), et Rivière-du-Loup (13 aout).

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8,710km

b2ap3_thumbnail_After-a-spin-class.png"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Of all the times in my life my coaches have said that to me and my teammates, it has never rung truer then today. Biking across Canada it by far the most challenging thing I have ever embarked on, a large part of the reason I decided to join Sarah on the trip. However, recently this challenge is working up my nervous energy more than ever before. I worry about the Rockies and how were ever going to get up it. I worry about those days where it feels like just nothing is going right and I worry that Sarah is going to blow me out of the water! With all these worries, the only thing that keeps me moving forward is the many people helping and supporting me with my training.

I wanted to get an early start to the training, so last August I joined a local "spin class" lead by Dan Quick. My friend, Kate Wiens, had been going for a year before that and had already learned so much. So every Tuesday, we meet up and sweat more in one hour than I thought was ever possible. Dan is working so hard to teach me the proper form for maximum efficiency. As he has done many tours before, he knows the many challenges and mental deficiencies that one must train for and learn to overcome. Each week when we arrive, he has a different ride mapped out – many are from the tour de France, where we learn what it's like to ride far and straight, then take a turn and conquer a steep climb. Many of which, make me wonder, what in the world I was thinking when I decided to take a bicycle across Canada...8710km.

b2ap3_thumbnail_My-bike.pngBefore Christmas, I was taking the spin class and simply trying to stay in shape. Instead of a New Year's Resolution, I knew the start of the New Year was the start of my focused training. I signed up for a gym membership, which I knew had a professional cyclist as one of their trainers. Once signing up, I looked into getting a few personal training sessions where she could show me effective ways to build up the most important muscles for a cyclist. After a consultation with the manager, he told me that Sue, a professional cyclist, was extremely busy but would find a way to make it work because she was so excited about the project. Sue has been an excellent motivation for both fitness and mental toughness. She pushes me hard to work through an extra set, or shortens the break time between sets, all while taking the moments to talk through some emotions I may feel and ways to cope with the long silence giving me nothing but time to talk myself out of it. We work through the fears, anticipation and societal expectations that women cannot train as hard as men. In only a few sessions, I have already noticed myself stronger physically and emotionally.

The best way to build that confidence is to actually do what you are afraid of. Since it is too cold to bike outside right now, I have a trainer set up in my basement so I may actually ride my own bike and get used to that saddle. I try to get on it at least three times a week, to get adjusted to using my own bike. Thanks to Kate and her family who let me borrow it during this training period. I'm looking forward to getting to ride outside a few times before we leave.

With the lessons and support from Dan and Sue, as well as the encouragement and support from friends and family like Kate and my parents, I am able to push aside those fears and worries. Cycling is 5% physical and 95% mental toughness – learning to clear the negative and make room for the positive is half the battle. As I spend these last three months gaining strength and preparing to bike across Canada, I'm building the confidence that will only prepare us to conquer this challenge. I mean, really... 8,710km, that's only 100km per day, 20km per hour for 5 hours.

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Financial Inclusion for Nigerian Youth

The start of something new, something based on MEDA's experiences in Morocco

MAP Nigeria Cross RiverMEDA recently launched its partnership with CUSO International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) will work with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and the unemployment rate stands at approximately 20%, with youth unemployment at almost double this rate at 35%.

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The generosity of others

This year, while preparing for Bike to Grow, I decided to move to Quebec City to improve my French and see a new part of Canada. While I have some friends from Quebec, I didn't have a job or anything prepared. I handed my resumes out everywhere – I'll admit it was difficult to find a job with my French being at a novice level. Not having a plan and just moving here sounded like a fun idea, but I began to get nervous because I hadn't heard back from anyone.

Finally, after waiting for two weeks, I heard from Société de Cigar. I have become a fluent French speaker that can talk about whiskey and cigars in both languages. I thank staff and regular clients for having patience with me, but I also want to thank everyone for being such an amazing support group with Bike to GROW.

After noting my accent, people ask what I am doing here and what my future plans are. Every chance I get I talk about Bike to GROW. I am constantly astounded by the amount of support I have received. Some of our regular clients help me to spread the news and tourists and others I have never met continue to surprise me with their support.

There are two men, for example, who told me they are going to propel this project forward and they already have. The two men had clients with them last week from Toronto and they said to me "Sarah, get your Bike to GROW postcards for these ladies." They explained everything to them about the project in Ghana and the bike trip across the country before asking me even more questions. The ladies were so enthusiastic, and as strangers, this surprises me every time.

Another man owns a technology consultant agency and he has sat down with me to determine possible connections such as Radio CBC Quebec. Everyone wants to help and I am grateful for this.

I understand that regular clients want to help because they have become my friends, but I'm surprised that complete strangers want to help me too. For example, Corey Thompson and Nash Khushrushai came one night after a long month of working up North in -40C weather on a rig. After I told them my story, they donated to Bike to GROW right on the spot.

On top of all that, a few Quebecois are so inspired that they will be joining us on our bike trip when we head through Quebec in August. This journey preparing for an 8,710km bike ride has opened my world up to the generosity of others.

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Top 5 reasons why I love my job

b2ap3_thumbnail_Three-women-GROW-members-at-Klechau-Bao-village.jpgAfter five months in Ghana with the GROW project, it feels like I've really found my stride. I love my job and living in Tamale, not to mention my amazing friends and co-workers that have become more like family to me. Our GROW project has had a busy start to the new year- packed with trainings, field visits and visitors from headquarters on top of the usual work. Luckily when you love what you do- there's a lot of fun involved and working for a good cause always keeps me going.

The New Year also brought great news for me. I'm thrilled to announce that I've been offered an internship extension and I will be continuing my work as part of the GROW team for another six months here! I'm so happy to be able to stay here longer and am really excited to contribute more to the GROW project, embrace new challenges, take more learning opportunities and make deeper connection with people. In celebration of my awesome news, I thought I'd provide a little more insight into why I love my job...

  1. Supporting real change – During my field work, I get chance to meet the rural women soybean farmers and learn about their lives, families, successes and troubles. I can't help but leave completely in awe of their strength, openness and determination- it's incredibly inspiring every time! I feel so fortunate to be able to share their stories and how the GROW project is improving the women's and their families' lives. I really love that part of my job!

  2. b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Wa-GROW-team-at-dinner-with-Dave-and-Kim-from-MEDA-headquarters.jpgOur MEDA Team – I have the pleasure of being surrounded by very supportive, smart and fun people. For the first day that I arrived, I was warmly welcomed into the GROW family and we've only gotten closer since then. It's a great to be part of the team that works together, grows together and supports one another. Thank you all for being your wonderful selves!

  3. It never gets boring –There are constantly new projects and challenges coming my way. Whether it's working through cross-cultural barriers, figuring out the process of getting marketing materials printed or learning about a new aspect of GROW- I'm constantly solving problems and learning new things.

  4. b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-GROW-team-during-the-advanced-value-chain-training-with-Ann.jpgGROWing professionally – Working for MEDA comes with the perk of being surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds in international development. Just last week, we had MEDA's Ann Gordon take our team through an advanced value chain training that taught us all about value-chain analyses tools and Ghana's soybean industry. Plus, we actually got to practice our new skills in the field.

  5. Making connections – I'm always getting to meet new and interesting people! Just a couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting Kim Pityn, MEDA's Chief Operations Officer, and Dave Warren, MEDA's Chief Engagement Officer, from MEDA headquarters. It was great to get to know them, learn about their roles, hear about their experiences and exchange ideas with them.

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Why access to financial services can open doors for young entrepreneurs

I was invited to speak briefly at Chemonics last week on what I thought was an important component to support youth enterprise development. As one of MEDA's core areas of experience, I decided to talk about providing access to appropriate financial services for youth. Here's why I think this is one crucial component to enable youth enterprise development...

Global youth dominate the ranks of the unemployed. Demographic challenges, gender barriers, education or skill mismatch, and unsafe or poorly paid work are among the many difficulties that youth face in the search for economic opportunities. This is something we saw clearly illustrated in the Arab Spring. Compounding these challenges, entrepreneurial youth typically have limited access to financial services that meet their business development needs – this can be because their loan requests are often small and too costly for Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to administer.

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An Interesting Christmas

International development work has it perks for sure, but one of its downfalls is that you are often away from your loved ones for quite some time and are out of the loop with what is going on back at home. I try not to dwell on what I am missing and try and live in the present, soaking up as much of this experience as I can, but there are times when it is difficult. I'm sure we have all been there and being away from my family for Christmas was one of those times for me. For some, missing Christmas may not be a big deal, but in my family, it is probably the biggest event of the year. There is tons of food, music, and it really is the only time family from all over the globe can be together. This was my first Christmas away from home.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Canadian-Christmas-breakfast-complete-with-Canadian-maple-syrup.jpgThankfully, (in ways) work was hectic, so I really did not have much time to think about it and before I knew it, Christmas was only days away. It was strange for Clara and I – we were not only in a tropical climate away from home, but Ethiopia does not celebrated Christmas the same time we do. They celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is about two weeks later, so not much was going on for our Christmas. With that being said, we still tried to make the best of it. We decorated our home with Christmas lights and ornaments, and blasted Christmas songs while at home. We both managed to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we had time to relax and watch an abundance of Christmas movies.

b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-Christmas-celebration-with-Frosty-and-Rudolph.jpgOn Christmas day, our work invited us for a special Christmas coffee ceremony and even gave us adorable Christmas buddies (a reindeer and a snowman). I truly appreciated their effort to make our Christmas as special as they could for us, especially since it wasn't their own Christmas. Even though we were far away from home, it helped to be around friends.

Perhaps the highlight of the day (besides saying Merry Christmas to our family back at home) was going to the movie theatre to watch the new Hobbit movie! Clara and I did a marathon that week and were ecstatic that it was actually showing at the movie theatre here. We thought it was a pretty great way to spend Christmas.

Even though I was not with back at home with my family this Christmas, I wouldn't say I was alone. MEDA and Clara were my family this year and I am so grateful to have celebrated Christmas with them. It is times like these that you really appreciate the relationships you've created and realize that family can come in different forms.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Thank you to everyone who made mine special and unforgettable.

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Back to the Future?

Check out what MEDA's Women's Economic Opportunities team has to say about Inclusive Market systems. Introducing guest blogger Christine Faveri, Director of Women's Economic Opportunities.

New tools to integrate gender equality into market systems thinking.

Having worked both as an advocate for gender equality and as a development practitioner for over 20 years, I know how hard it can be to translate concepts such as gender analysis and empowerment into practical tools that people can use in their work. Although many would now agree with Robert Zoellick that "gender equality is smart economics," many of us are aware that showing this to be true is easier said than done.

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A trip to the ocean, a time to reflect

In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated at the beginning of January, because of the Orthodox Calendar. While Steph and I could have had two Christmases, we took a trip to Mombasa, Kenya to take advantage of our extended holiday. I'm not really the spontaneous type – but it was a worthwhile and refreshing trip. We planned it pretty last minute, but in the end, everything worked out and we had many good memories.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mombasa-Old-Town.jpgMombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.

b2ap3_thumbnail_How-Ive-missed-tex-mex.jpgOur time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-last-day-in-Mombasa.jpgcoming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.

During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."

It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!

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Economic Strengthening: Building Assets for Vulnerable Youth in Afghanistan

From 2008 to 2011, MEDA implemented the Afghan Secure Futures project (ASF) in Kabul. ASF focused on improving the lives of as many as 1,000 vulnerable boys, mainly between the ages of 14 and 18, who were living in Kabul and working as apprentices in the construction sector.

Why take an indirect approach?

Ma1sx2_Thumbnail1_ASF-apprentices-2.jpgany economic strengthening (ES) projects use indirect approaches. Some seek to benefit youth through one of the social units to which they belong, such as their family1. Family-focused projects typically focus on increasing the earnings of children's parents with the assumption that this will be partly spent to benefit children. Seeking to benefit children and younger youth through their workplaces is less common among ES programming.

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One Workplace At A Time

An Overview of MEDA's Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Intervention for Working Youth in Ethiopia

a1sx2_Original4_2014-10-10-06.54.52.jpgA little under one-third of Ethiopia's population is currently living in extreme poverty[1]. In many of these cases, households withdraw their children from school and put them to work in order to supplement the family income. While the government of Ethiopia has made great effort to element the worst forms of child labor, enforcement of laws and consistent prosecution of violators has not yet reached an ideal level.

To address this gap, MEDA's E-FACE project implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihood. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18[2].

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A new way of living

b2ap3_thumbnail_Helping-out-with-the-food-preparation.jpgI spent the two-week Christmas/New Years break in Lomé, the capital of Togo. I couchsurfed while I was there – a website that connects travellers to locals who open up their homes and allow that person to crash or "surf" on their couch or any sleeping surface. There is no expectation of payment, and depending on the host, lifelong friends can be made in a matter of a few days.

I had done this many times before but all in Europe and North America, pretty much all were great and memorable, but all were in situations and cultures that were at least vaguely familiar to me as a middle-class Canadian. This was certainly not the case in Togo. For two weeks I got the full experience of living like a typical Togolese with my Togolese peers. I slept on the floor sometimes, had bucket showers, didn't go on the internet, ate what my hosts ate, drank what my hosts drank, hung out with their friends, went to their spots, and lived life at their pace.

Sometimes there were long periods where nothing really happened, we lazed about and didn't really do anything. No electronic devices to distract, or appointments, or things coming at you. b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-market.jpgConstant stimuli are a luxury of developed countries or of the wealthy. In underdeveloped parts of the world, you have to just pass the time with nothing but the people around you. I came to appreciate these moments; this is when you just need to chill out, and be centered in yourself. It builds trust in those around you. I really had to learn how to just "be", and hang out with your friends doing nothing. You have to lose that nagging flighty-ness, not think about what others are doing or thinking, not think about what you should be doing, and not worry about the future.

These were contrasted by periods of fast action and intense stimulation of the senses: Fast nights jumping from place to place, all on the back of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. Walking through jam-packed markets where every sight, sound, and smell is new. The constant bartering over prices, and everyday tasks that require so much more than this North American could ever have thought.

All this reinforced a few things...

1. You have to take life it as it comes; planning and the future are luxuries. Live in the present. Eat when there is food in front of you, drink when you have drink, and sleep when you have a bed.

2. You have to be capable. For example, fetching water from the well for the first time, I felt so helpless; I couldn't get the technique to fill the bucket and could only retrieve a small amount each time. If you can't do something, learn fast, because as a grown person, you don't want to be a burden on others.

3. Saving doesn't happen. If you have money, spend it. If you have food or water, you consume it now, because if you wait, there is a good chance it won't be there in the future, just due to the uncertainties and precariousness of life.

4. Reciprocation and sharing are hugely important and reinforce bonds in a powerful way. Because the typical Togolese (or African for that matter) won't always have money or food, you have to rely on others. Sometimes you pay, other times your friends pay. That way you won't ever go hungry when others are eating.

5. When the good times roll, jump in with both feet because there's no guarantee tomorrow will offer you the same opportunity that you have now.

It really was a life-changing experience. It changed me by showing me a different way of living, with new rules, new social norms, new burdens and new rewards. I gained broader perspective on what life is for a large part of humanity and will carry those lessons and experiences with me. I loved it all.

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Looking Ahead: The Future of Economic Strengthening

This blog series was sent courtesy of Microlinks, part of the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development project. Its contents were produced under United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-LA-13-00001. The contents are the responsibility of FHI 360 and its partner, the International Rescue Committee, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government

Promising Practices

In 2008, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defined economic strengthening (ES) as "[t]he portfolio of strategies and interventions that supply, protect, and/or grow physical, natural, financial, human, and social assets aimed at improving vulnerable households cope [sic] with the exogenous shocks they face and improve their economic resilience to future shocks." That is a tall order; however, we are seeing an increasing demand for holistic programming to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). A growing body of evidence points to risky behavior by orphans and vulnerable children seeking to meet immediate livelihood needs, such as accepting "gifts" from older males in return for sexual favors and migration.

Here, we can begin to understand what the problem is. We know there is a call for an innovative "portfolio of strategies and interventions" aimed at improving vulnerable households' ability to cope with shocks, but what are they? What evidence is there to prove that ES models and approaches even work? Well, the jury is still out; however, we will explore a few areas that have seen promising practices for OVC and where these ES trends may take programming in the future.

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