MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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

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Jacqueline Burge
Jennifer Mulli
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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.

Like many sectors, handicrafts and natural cosmetics face significant barriers to profitability and growth. Structural barriers, such as tariffs and taxes on inter-African trade, present challenges. Reliability of shipping and transportation cause delays in deliveries and increased costs. In addition, these sectors are very fragmented, with large numbers of small producers working in relative isolation. Access to materials is an ongoing challenge, particularly sustainable materials. Producers working in handicrafts and cosmetics face challenges in accessing financing, and very few of those attending the Summit had ever accessed a loan, outside of money borrowed from friends or family members.

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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.

Among these festivities are a group of world-renowned speakers, women who will share about emerging topics at the intersection of faith and business. This year, we are ecstatic to hear from Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Sara Wenger Shenk, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary president and Sally Armstrong, winner of three Amnesty International Canada Media Awards.

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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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Wisdom from Wally: 19 Tips for a Fulfilling Life

Wally Kroeker is the editor of The Marketplace magazine, a bi-monthly MEDA publication. He recently passed the 30 year milestone as an employee of MEDA.

My grandson turned 16 this year and some members of my family invited me to pass on to him some of the secrets of my, uh, success.

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Women Empowering Women with MEDA: Ukraine

On September 6 and 8, 2016, our newly-launched women's groups, Women Empowering Women with MEDA, met in Lancaster and Souderton for the second time! Our second meeting featured MEDA's project in Ukraine, where MEDA is working with women farmers to move them from the country's social and economic margins to mainstream markets.

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Women Empowering Women with MEDA: Our First Meeting!

Welcome to Women Empowering Women (WEW) with MEDA, a women’s network for global good! WEW is a grassroots initiative led by women in Lancaster and Souderton and is an exciting opportunity to be a catalyst for positive change in our world. On behalf of MEDA staff and clients in more than 50 countries around the world, we would like to extend a very warm welcome to each of you. Thank you for your interest in our network!
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MSC Capacity Building





From August 26 to September 1, GROW’s communications team was busy visiting the offices of all our Key Facilitating Partner organizations in order to facilitate a refresher training and capacity building discussion on MSCs. MSC is short for Most Significant Change stories, and is MEDA’s version of a client success story. The template features three main sections: relevant background of client, change the client is reporting and why the change is significant to him/her. Basically it’s one of the ways we collect qualitative (or narrative data) and it allows us to track the project’s success on an individual basis. In addition to individual stories, a few are tracked over the life of the project in order to provide a complete view of the impact.Me with GROW’s team at ProNet after our MSC discussion

KFPs are required to submit stories quarterly, and, currently, we have over 40 stories in our catalogue that highlight diverse project areas including conservation agriculture, gender, farming as a business, our value chain partners, technology adoption and financial literacy, among others. Last year, the KFPs all attended a training session on MSCs conducted by GROW’s Senior M&E Manager from HQ and its former in-country M&E Manager. Story quality definitely improved after this workshop and they have been gaining more and more traction, even over the eight months I’ve been in the country. Stories were shared by the KFPs at our annual PAC meeting, they are included in our Annual Report, shared with our donor and partners, appear on our social media feeds, are included in GROW and MEDA fundraising appeals and requested by other managers from HQ for various other purposes.

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"Tractors are better than diamonds."



Hi, Friend!Thanks for being part of the MEDA family. I thought you might be interested to hear about our new work in Ukraine. Just a few short weeks ago MEDA gift officers Mike Miller and Bob Kroeker were part of a group of 16 travelers to see MEDA’s Ukraine Horticulture Business Development Project (UHBDP).

Ukraine holds special meaning for many Mennonites, including some of those in their group. As they toured the old Mennonite colonies and heritage spots, including the historic Chortitza oak tree – a landmark meeting place, a Mennonite cemetery and the Mennonite Centre, the group replayed old family stories in their heads. For Bob, it was particularly bittersweet, as he walked in the land of his grandparents, who in 1929 had fled for their lives with their young family – including Bob’s mother, then aged four.

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The Emerging Development Ecosystem

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Meade Center for American Theater, Washington D.C. hosted the Devex World conference 2016.On June 14, I made my way down to southwest Washington, DC to the Mead Center for American Theater to attend the Devex World conference. The website informed me this was the global development event of the year! From among its line-up of impressive speakers, the conference created five thematic tracks: Data Revolution, From Story-telling to Movement Building, New Funding Models, Innovating at Scale, and Business Transforming Development. 

Needless to say, my interested was piqued and the conference did not disappoint.

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A Business Plan Competition for Young Entrepreneurs – YouLead’s Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan

YEBSP Blog
Fishery Start-Up: Ellah Friday in front of his two earthen ponds
Lilian Wayas of Obudu, stands in front of her two plots of land. Her start-up business is called ‘LilyBest Casava’

MEDA is currently partnering with Cuso International in Nigeria on the Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) project. The Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan (YEBSP) is one of the many activities aimed at improving access to finance for young entrepreneurs. The YEBSP has been designed and administered as a business plan competition for youth, between the ages of 18-35, who have completed or are currently enrolled in YouLead’s entrepreneurship training program. The YEBSP is meant to kick-start youth-led businesses in the natural resources sector with funds ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 naira (approximately CAD$400 -$1200).

The first and pilot phase of the YEBSP was launched in April 2016 and the results were recently announced on August 9, 2016 [1], after a long process of selection and verification.

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10 things you might not know about MEDA

1. We started doing economic development before it was cool.
Economic empowerment isn’t just a phrase that we pull out at parties. MEDA has been creating business solutions to poverty through impact investing, microfinance, agricultural and entrepreneurship training since the 1950s, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.
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5 Reasons San Antonio is probably the coolest place to be this October

We hope you'll join us for Business as a Calling 2016: Women Changing the World in San Antonio, Texas, October 27-30! If you're on the fence about coming to the MEDA Convention this year, here are five reaons why San Antonio is the coolest place to be this October.

1. The Weather

San Antonio is one of the southern-most cities in the continental United States. That means warm (ok, HOT) weather year-round. But there’s good news! In October, the average temperature in San Antonio ranges between 60 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 – 27 degrees Celsius. For many, that’s the “Goldilocks zone:” Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

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Making a difference in Myanmar

Female politician

As you know, it is early days for our Myanmar project, Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW). But after a period of dotting i’s and crossing t’s as we built our team and laid our foundation, I am excited that we are beginning the “real work” and seeing areas that, with your generous support, will make a difference for the lives of women in Myanmar.In June, MEDA helped to support the first-ever vegetable and fruit trade fair in Southern Shan state, where I met a woman grower and mango processing operator. Trade fairs are a great way to network and we made many connections, including one with an organic buyer who has since met with our team to explore opportunities. I saw a lot of potential at this fair, but what I didn’t see were many women farmers! So next year, we want to sponsor women to attend the event, raise their profile, and even create an award for best woman farmer of the year. While other organizations may do similar work to us, no one is focused on women, reminding me of MEDA’s unique opportunity in Myanmar.Some of IMOW’s work will also focus on women’s savings group. In one village we visited, the first female politician was just elected (pictured below). She attributes her decision to run to the increased confidence and speaking skills she gained from participating in the savings group. MEDA will be working to help groups like hers go to the next level and encourage even more women to take leadership roles. We hope our efforts in villages in other parts of the country where there are no savings groups at all will result in similar stories of confidence-building and empowerment.

Recently we visited two villages where we heard familiar stories of women’s economic roles in Myanmar: Women share equally in farming, are active in the marketplace, are recognized by men as better price and deal negotiators, and typically handle household finances. Yet the man is still the head of the household and is more visible. He is the one who attends meetings and receives training to build his capacity. He receives invitation to events such as the kind of trade fair we participated in. Women remain behind the scenes. But strongly behind the scenes.Perhaps this G. D. Anderson quote I read just last week sums it up best:“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”

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Another development buzz word: Apiculture

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Often in developing countries, rural women and youth have unequal access to and control over critical resources and inputs that are required to start-up and maintain a business, such as land, savings, information sources, training, etc. As such, identifying low-cost income generating activities for women and youth has been a hallmark of MEDA’s economic development projects.

In Nigeria, MEDA is currently partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Cross River State (CRS). The project is titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) and it has just released its first phase of funding to winning applicants of its Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan (YEBSP) competition. (1)

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Upper East Adventure (Pt. 2)

On our last morning, we visited the village of Tongo Hills and the nearby Tengzug Shrine. In order to go inside the community, we had to pay a fee and ask the chief himself for permission to enter his palace and take pictures. He was an older gentleman who looked a bit like a professor with his round glasses and white hair. He was reclining on cushions on his throne where we introduced ourselves and shook his hand. The chief has 23 wives, about 150 children and there are about 350 people who live in his compound. Tradition dictates the buildings are not allowed to have thatch roofs and are made completely of mud, with flat roofs where people sleep outside during the warm season.

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Upper East Adventure

Part One of a two-part series on an awesome adventure by our interns in Ghana.

Hi friends! Janelle and Sarah here. July 1st is Republic Day in Ghana (and also Canada Day) so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and travel to the Upper East Region. This area falls directly east of the Upper West, where we live, and borders Burkina Faso to the north and Togo to the east. Our destination was Bolgatanga and nearby Paga, which are located about smack-dab in the middle of the region. Even though it’s only a few short hours away from both Wa and Tamale, the terrain is vastly different from any we have seen in Ghana so far. There are rocks everywhere! Nevertheless, it seems to be more fertile there, or at least they have received more rain than in the Upper West, because everything was very green and the maize and millet were already knee-high.

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The Babati Team

Jambo and greetings from Babati, Tanzania. As some of you may know from my previous blog posts, my name is Daniel Simonson, and I am the business analyst/gender intern for the MASAVA project. I have been posted in Babati for almost two months now and have had the opportunity to better understand the inner workings of the MASAVA project. With that in mind, this new blog is intended to keep you up to date on the daily ins and outs of the project from the perspective of the field. Through these bi-weekly posts, I hope to convey some of the challenges and successes we face as a team in the field, and the solutions that we arrive at. I would like to begin by introducing the members of the team that work in the field. In addition, I will introduce other members of the team in future posts.
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