MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Tent poles


Riding away from Kelowna was a bittersweet experience. After enjoying a wonderful day off, it was incredibly hard to leave. However, Sarah and I were both incredibly excited to spend the next few days camping. British Columbia is well known for their beautiful provincial parks and we wanted to experience the province at its best.After much discussion as to where we should ride, we rode off from the Kettle Valley Trail that goes from Kelowna to Castlegar. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is an old railroad that takes you on a journey with breath-taking views while following Highway #33. We were overwhelmed with so much joy on the start of our ride. It was a perfect start to the day.As we rode, the trail started to get a little tougher and a little wet from the rainfall the night before. Even though we had to walk through some big puddles and our tires slipped in the sand every so often, we were still having a generally positive day. I mean, we were surrounded by nature and what else could we ask for? The first 40km, that took us most of the morning, was much slower than our normal pace, so it seemed the only logical thing was to find a way back to the main highway. After a few wrong turns and some wasted time, we changed our minds again and decided to continue on the Kettle Valley Trail. It would simply be a few more hours of grinding it out, but we would get there.I jumped ahead of Sarah to avoid a big puddle when I heard Sarah shout, "Mary! You're missing a bag!" As I checked my panniers and my dry bag, I noticed our red tent pole bag was missing and I had no idea when I last heard the rattling. There was no other option – we would have to retrace our steps to find the bag. We were getting flustered and I could not believe how careless I could have been. We rode 20km back on the trail, stopped a group of four wheelers and asked for them to look for tent poles on the trail. They agreed to run them back to us if they found them. It had been a while so our hope that they would find them had quickly disappeared, right as we heard the first few claps of thunder. The perfect start to the day shifted very quickly.We went back to an intersection, to flag down a car for some help and some options. As we told him our situation, he informed us that he was a manager of a local resort. He explained he was setting out signs for a group of students who were biking down the Kettle Valley Trail today and staying at his resort. Hoping they would find the tent poles, I gave him my number to get in contact if that was the case. We then continued to the next closest town, Beaverdell, now in pouring rain.Feeling completed defeated and overwhelmed, we finally arrived in Beaverdell. We quickly found a place to stay, as there were only two options and we couldn't make it to the next town until the following morning. We sat down to eat the last of our food and talk about the frustrations of the day – communication is key.Our new plan was to order some new poles and have them shipped to the next destination we could get them. As I called our tent company, they let me know a new set of poles would be $195.00, much more than either of us anticipated. I hung up the phone, unimpressed that I would probably just have to accept the charge to get some new poles if we wanted to camp at all this summer. I went back to the table with Sarah and told her the unfortunate news when I noticed a voicemail – it was the kind fellow we had met on the side of the road. After much too long of an introduction, he finally announced the tent poles had been found!!The support vehicle for the teachers had wanted a little exercise after waiting for their students all day and decided to go look for them! They found them about 10km up from the road where we turned back and would come early to Beaverdell the next day to give them to us. I was in touch and so thankful to the staff in the support vehicle and we made plans to meet the following morning.As we waited at the local ice cream parlor/coffee shop, we couldn't believe how lucky we have been this whole trip. We are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others. I cannot thank all of you enough who have prayed for us over the past few weeks on the start of our journey. I have no idea where we would be if it weren't for the incredible power of prayer.The past few days camping have been an adventure all on their own, with so many great stories. We have met incredible people, enjoyed some quality time with nature and loved every second of it. Oh, and now we put our tent poles in Sarah's bag...
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Up to Coquihalla Summit


The bike ride started on May 18th, at Mile 0 in Victoria British Columbia, where the Terry Fox monument is located. Starting off here is a beautiful location with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Our small "possy" did the trick of boosting the atmosphere. They included a couple I had met in Nicaragua; Mary's parents, Abe and Lisa; the Rotarian President in Victoria; Ethan Eshbach, MEDA's Young Adult Engagement Coordinator; our hosts, whom we had just met, and our hosts' parents. They sent us off with a warm departure.The bicycle route to cross from Vancouver Island into the Tsawwassen Harbour is easily accessible by the Lochside Trail. Once in Delta, BC, we were fortunate enough to have Ethan follow us and be our support vehicle for a week. His last stop with us was in Hope, which was also our first day of cycling 100km. We hadn't quite hit the Rockies yet – thus, we weren't prepared for the following day.Coquihalla Summit is highway 5, or the Coquihalla Highway. It's the highest point on the highway between the cities of Hope and Merritt, which is an altitude of 1,244m or 4,081ft. To be honest, we were underprepared for this undertaking. The climb is 15km, so being us, we thought no problem. The day of the trip didn't start till noon since we had a flat tire. We finished just as the sun was setting, putting in about 8 hours that day. The ride was extremely tolling on our mental and physical stamina. At one point, I was crying and I was tired of transport trucks slowly pulling beside us. I then looked back and saw the gorgeous snow covered mountain peaks. I sound corny, but I realized how truly blessed I was at that point: That my biggest problem IN MY LIFE at that moment was getting up that mountain. In reality, I'm the luckiest person to be able to see this country.We were searching for the recreational area for camping, but it was hard to find. We saw a tow truck pulled over and asked how far it was away while on the summit. He made a horrible joke, "Still 100 miles away." Remember how I said we weren't prepared? By this time, we had run out of water. I asked the driver when the next service station was. He went into his car and gave us six water bottles. The campground was only 2km away, but after thinking 15km would be easy for a climb, we were dreading the last 2km. When we got to the campground, the sun was already setting behind a mountain. To get to the campground you need to hike a few more kilometers. Needless to say, we were tired. We set up our tent right in the parking lot and had a campfire there.I am proud that I was able to pass the Coquihalla Summit. The running joke is.."Is it as big as Coquihalla Summit? No problem."
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Assessing micro-finance institutions in Cross River State

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This blog is an update on the previous entry on the Financial Inclusion for Nigerian Youth, dated February 9, 2015.

MEDA is partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) works with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.

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Oversized awkward box

I had a month and a half home to complete last minute details for Bike to GROW. I'm happy I had that time to prepare in more detail and to use the time to promote the fundraiser in my hometown, Picton, Ontario. My former employer called me one afternoon and told me they're donating a brunch for Bike to GROW, with all ticket proceeds going towards the initiative. I went around on the refreshment cart and talked with golfers about the event and MEDA's GROW project in Ghana. I went to coffee shops, stores and public areas to put up event posters and Bike to GROW postcards.On my last day home, I went out for coffee with my dad. A couple came up and put a check made out to Bike to GROW in the middle of our table. They had been reading the postcard and noticed me when I came in with my dad. When I went to deposit the check, the bank teller asked me about the bike trip and automatically added a donation. Not only was I able to be home and promote Bike to GROW, I saw the love and support all communities have the potential to share. I'm one lucky girl to grow up where I did.Another amazing connection I made at home was with a local radio station, 99.3 FM. I will be calling them every Monday at 10am EST to discuss the route and how the tour has been going. This is a fun way to get people more involved and informed on what we're doing.This past year has been a great experience in and of itself. I can't believe how fast the time did pass though. This past month I felt like crying constantly, not because I was sad, but because of overwhelming joy. I'm not a person with much patience so planning for a year is hard. Well, it's all been worth it and I'm now embarking on a trip of a lifetime, not only for myself, but for a community in Ghana.Mary and I are now in Victoria. We arrived on Thursday and it's astoundingly beautiful here. We came a few days early before we start our trip to prepare last minute details. For example, getting our bikes reassembled and buying bear spray.The process of getting sport gear on and off of an airplane is quite funny. I brought my bike to Doug's Bicycle in Belleville, where they took apart the bike and packed it into a large box. We arrived at the airport and left our things at the luggage check-in. In Victoria, we got in at 10:20am and had a Rotary meeting in Victoria at 11:30am. We brought our oversized boxes into the meeting and afterwards, the bikes needed reassembling. We had to walk a few blocks with our oversized and awkward boxes filled with bicycle parts to a bike shop. To say the least, it was a good conversation starter in downtown Victoria.
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Youth Savings Association: Not Just About Developing A Savings Culture

VSAY Group in Addis
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Research1 has shown that benefits from savings groups can go beyond asset building and savings for youth, and provide working youth with their own solidarity groups in which they find peer support and social security. They can also expose youth members to other financial service concepts, such as borrowing, banking, and income generating activities, which are taught through orientations and workshops. This blog seeks to further strengthen existing research on youth savings by showcasing MEDA's project titled Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE).

Village Savings Associations for Youth (VSAYs) are one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to supporting Ethiopian youth in the E-FACE project. MEDA's youth team recently undertook a visit to Addis Ababa to explore savings behavior among youth, including changes in their livelihoods, behaviors and working environment as a result of their participation in savings groups. Field observations, interviews and focus group discussions with VSAY members and their parents revealed a number of important changes.

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Meet the Riders: Mary Fehr


MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Mary shares her answers...What place are you eager to see?Nova Scotia/ the East – it will be my first time out east.What are you not looking forward to doing?Biking in traffic in the Prairies.What are five words you'd use to describe Sarah?Optimistic, energetic, thoughtful, lovely and hangry.What's your favourite thing about Sarah?Her big and many dreams!!What's one thing Sarah doesn't know about you?Nothing... we have pillow talk every night... we talk about everything!What's your go-to pre-ride snack?PB&B (Peanut butter and banana).What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?Bike shorts!What's one new thing you've learned about biking?How to cross the road when riding with clips.... And not fall in the middle of the intersection.Who's your biggest supporter?My family – both my parents and siblings have been giving me unbelievable support that makes me excited everyday to conquer this challenge!What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?To be continually inspired by everyone I meet along the way. Everyone has their own story and their own challenges. Hearing how they overcame or learned from them always motivates me to do and learn more.
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Meet the Riders: Sarah French


MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Sarah shares her thoughts...What place are you eager to see?When I was researching the route more in-depth, I came across Manitoulin Island and the Grotto. I didn't even know that existed in Ontario.What are you not looking forward to doing?Running into a bear.What are five words you'd use to describe Mary?Surprising, funny, humble, generous and loving.What's your favourite thing about Mary?She tries to protect me when she's driving. Every time she hits the break, she puts her arm out to make sure I don't go flying forward. I thought the first time she was trying to give me a high five or hold my hand.What's one thing Mary doesn't know about you?I snore like Darth Vader, and I am a fan of Star Wars. A few years ago, I attended a comicon for it.What's your go-to pre-ride snack?I love mixing frozen fruit with hardboiled eggs, flax seed, hemp hearts and a sliced banana.What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?Chamois pads, the padding for your derriere.What's one new thing you've learned about biking?A bicycle can stay upright without a rider as long as it's moving 8mph or faster.Who's your biggest supporter?Anthony, my boyfriend, has to be my biggest supporter. As a boyfriend, I am always surprised that he supports this trip. He has actually connected me to a local business club, where I was able to give a presentation. He plans on joining us at some point.What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?I'm excited to spread the word to people about MEDA outside Mennonite communities.
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Praxis Series - Entry 2: Don’t forget the loan officers!

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Although 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 the 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

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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.

In 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!

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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

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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 :www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRs81QwUZAvimeo.com/78859325Aussi 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

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"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.Before 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

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

MEDA 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

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After 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...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!Our 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!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.GROWing 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.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

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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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