MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

MEDA's Evolving Approach to Youth Financial Inclusion

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On Friday January 22, MEDA is very pleased to be participating in the International Forum, hosted by WUSC and CECI. The theme of the forum is ‘Inclusive Economies, Inclusive Societies: Collaborative Action for Youth and Women.’ We will be presenting a case study on our approach to financial inclusion for youth. This blog gives a preview of what we will be discussing at the event. Hope to see you there!

What is financial inclusion and why is it important?

Financial inclusion means having access to a range of suitable, affordable services, including savings (formal and informal), loans and financial education. Access to youth-appropriate savings and loan products helps young people plan for their future. Youth-friendly financial services can lead to many positive outcomes, including heightened ability to manage money, build assets and improved opportunities for entrepreneurship. And yet, less than 5% of youth (ages 15-24) worldwide are currently being reached by financial services.

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E-FACE comes to an end: The closing of a fantastic project

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I had the privilege of working on the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) project during its last year of implementation, during which time I was able to research and consolidate information on the project and how it worked with youth in Ethiopia. The project worked with both youth and adults to address the issue of exploitative labour.

Above: MEDA’s Farah Chandani with youth from the Building Skills for Life Program

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Youth Agricultural Sales Agents: Building Youth Entrepreneurship in Rural Areas

This blog shares a summary of the findings and lessons from the E-FACE project’s pilot intervention to build youth entrepreneurship among rural communities in Gamo Gofa and Wolaita districts in Southern Ethiopia. The full case study can be found on MEDA’s YEO website.

The Youth Agricultural Sales Agent (YASA) program provided 250 young people (138 male, 112 female), aged 14 to 17 years, with business skills training to increase their knowledge of markets, as well as life skills training to improve their confidence and communication. The technical and entrepreneurial skills provided by the training program were complemented with start-up kits to transition the youth from exploitative labor to productive work.

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Women as Catalysts for Change: Reflections from a former GROW intern in Ghana

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Why do you focus on women?

Over the last year, living here in Tamale, Ghana, and working with rural women farmers on our Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project- I’ve expanded my understanding of the gender issues in northern Ghana drastically. Here, women and men face many cultural barriers, social expectations and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. In short, gender issues here are complex, messy and deeply rooted in daily routines.

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A 10 year Milestone: Helen Loftin’s Experiences Working with Women Empowerment Projects at MEDA

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It’s approaching the 10 year mark. That is, in February 2016, I will have been with MEDA and in the international development industry for 10 years. I began with the management of our small but mighty value chain development project in Pakistan, “Behind the Veil”. Its design and impact is held as an industry standard for effective pro-poor programming and for women’s economic empowerment and I shamelessly brag about it because I had nothing to do with its design. And as a newcomer to international development, to a Muslim country, and to Mennonites (MEDA), I imprinted in several ways on that project.

We’re much more alike than we are different. We say that often at MEDA when talking about the world around us, our work in it, and the motives and incentives that guide human behaviour.

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Linking Young Entrepreneurs with Nigerian Micro-Finance Banks

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Youth Unemployment in Cross River State was pegged at 46 percent by Senator Liel Imoke, the past governor of Cross River State in 2013 during the commissioning of the Central Bank of Nigeria sponsored Entrepreneurship Development Centres in Calabar.1

With little and near absence of employment opportunities in the Nigerian public sector, youth unemployment has become a great concern for the government of Cross River State Nigeria. While past governments made spirited efforts to find solutions to this through national and international collaborative programs on entrepreneurship and various skills acquisition programs; the population of urban and rural unemployment continues to increase. A conscious probing into the cause of the enigma of unemployment in the state points in the direction of a number of factors such as insufficient skills, access to finance, incompatible/unenforced policies, poor infrastructure, poor educational system, etc.

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Arriving in Ghana

Accra from Jamestown Lighthouse

 

A view of Accra taken from Jamestown Lighthouse

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Asrat's Story: Women As Key Market Actors

Asrat Tadese – Hombolarena Kebele, SNNPR, Ethiopia

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She stood at the door to her house as we approached and with a huge smile, welcomed us in. Asrat Tadese led us to a room that housed 34 egg-laying chickens that she had purchased from a chick supplier in Sodo town.

The room was probably 5 feet by 5 feet with some hay strewn over the floor, and feed and water were placed in small containers in the corner of the room. The room was easily one of the former bedrooms for Asrat’s children, but as a single parent, she was now using that room for poultry and her family slept in the third of the three-room house she owned. My colleague and I asked how she got into the poultry business. She explained how she had received training and support from her village extension officer on how to raise egg-laying chickens and was told with relatively little investment, she could begin making money as long as she cared for the chicks, fed them, kept them housed, and ensured they received proper vaccinations to ward off disease. She was convinced then, that chicken rearing was an excellent income generating opportunity and immediately decided to invest. With the help of the extension officer’s knowledge and connections, she was able to buy a “package” of fifty 45-day old chicks. She made connections to the university close to where she lived and through this, established a consistent buyer for the eggs her chickens soon began producing. Unfortunately, she explained, some of the chickens died due to disease, but by the time the chickens had been producing eggs for over two months, she had managed to sell enough eggs to make close to $75 – money that for her and her family could support their expenses for quite some time. Asrat shared that it was at this time that she was forced to sell her chickens because she had to travel to visit a sick relative. The sale of these chickens made enough money for her travels and a few additional expenses. Once she returned home after a number of weeks of caring for her family, she immediately purchased another fifty one-day old chicks. And these were the chicks we were looking at in the small room. Asrat explained that she was also involved in a number of other farming activities, as most Ethiopian smallholder farmers are, though she believed that her poultry business was an excellent income generating opportunity and was already having visions of expanding it in the near future.

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Impact Evaluation: YouthInvest’s 100 Hours to Success Training

In 2012, MEDA, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), received a grant to administer an impact evaluation (IE) of one of our youth employability interventions, 100 Hours to Success, a training program we developed on the YouthInvest project. Our donor, 3ie, conducts rigorous evaluations of initiatives across the development spectrum.YouthInvest 3

 
100 Hours to Success - a training of 100 hours, covering soft skills, entrepreneurship and financial education - was a key component of MEDA’s YouthInvest project in Morocco. The training provided youth between 15 and 25 years old with the necessary skills to facilitate their transition to either paid- or self-employment. Between 2009 and 2013, MEDA and its local partners trained over 23,000 young people from under-served regions of Morocco on 100 Hours to Success.
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Cautious Optimism – Youth Unemployment and Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015

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Background

Those of us working in youth economic opportunities have been reading about the increasingly alarming statistics on youth unemployment and underemployment. The headlines talk about the “global unemployment crisis facing youth” and articles warn of the “tsunami of youth unemployment” and its “scarring” effects. (1) Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi once told European trade leaders “Youth unemployment is a time bomb.” (2) Is this exaggeration or an appropriate forecast of what’s to come? Here are some facts: 

75 million young people in the developing world are unemployed and hundreds of millions more are underemployedEvery year, 20 million young people enter the labour force in Africa and Asia alone In the Middle East and North Africa, 80 percent of young workers work in the informal sector Youth are three times more likely than adults to be unemployedOne in four young people cannot find work for more than US$1.25 a day. (3)

Yet global economic growth and poverty reduction over the next 15 years will have to be driven by today’s youth. How do we address these staggering numbers to support this population bulge in becoming economic drivers of success for tomorrow?

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Intern training

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Hello MEDA fans! This is Janelle and I am one of your newest interns from the November 2015 cohort. There are four of us, of which three are travelling to Ghana (one leaving around the end of the month, two leaving in mid-January) and one travelling to Tanzania (also mid-January). We are an eclectic bunch, one from Ottawa, one from Kitchener (that’s me!), one from Saskatchewan (currently living in Barcelona) and one from Kenya (currently living in Mississauga). We all met for the first time the last week of October when we undertook a whirlwind training regime in Waterloo at MEDA headquarters. But you will hear from each of us as we get our internship and our travelling underway. Be very excited because these are top-notch individuals! As I mentioned earlier, we all met in Waterloo for an intensive training program October 26-30 where we were introduced to MEDA, connected with our in-country program managers and underwent security and first-aid training. Every day was jam-packed with sessions from a combination of MEDA vets, newcomers who had been hired out of the intern program and many others who will be instrumental in helping us make the most of our internships, both for MEDA and for our careers. Specifically, we were introduced to MEDA as a whole by the current President Allan Sauder, and the organization’s key operating divisions, such as Private Sector Development, Cross-Cutting Services, Economic Opportunities and Engagement, among others (it can be a bit difficult to keep everything straight). I was very impressed with this dedicated, intelligent and passionate group of people who are responsible for ensuring the programs are running effectively and objectives are being met. Our first few presentations were complete with PowerPoints, but we were able to convince a few to forego the formality and take on a more conversational tone. Apparently a rumour was going around that we were asking all of the presenters to tell us about their trajectory into economic development work. As someone interested in the potential of stories to illustrate organization effectiveness and educate others, I was especially interested to hear how presenters had ended up interested in international development and how MEDA fits into their values, both personal and professional. While the goal of this training week was preparation for our upcoming deployments (some sooner than others), it ended up becoming much more. When I apply for jobs, I prefer to physically go to the office rather than meet over Skype (whenever reasonably possible), which gives me the opportunity to check out the “vibe” or “energy” of the office (it sounds kind of hippie-ish but is more of an overall feeling and first impression). I could not have been more impressed by MEDA! Our first morning, Melissa (human capital generalist, training organizer and all-around great person) gave us an office tour and introduced us to any staffers who were in their offices. Everyone was more than willing to tear themselves away from their computer screens, actually got out of their chairs to shake our hands, ask us where we were travelling and find out more about what drew us to MEDA. If we weren’t MEDA converts after having our lunches provided, as well as hotel and transport for those from out of town, we willingly accepted the “Kool-Aid” after meeting the staff and being introduced to the candy drawer.

I could go on about facts and figures or provide an outline of the organization based on what I have learned, but I’m sure you (like me) are more interested in the people who passionately carry out MEDA’s economic development work all over the world. However, I will mention our sessions on Thursday and Friday: safety, security and first-aid training geared at a Third World context. Over these two days we learned how to work safely in volatile circumstances and how to react in crisis situations (don’t worry Mom, I’m going to Ghana and am unlikely to encounter anything “volatile”). However, MEDA does work in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, or in other contexts where events such as Westgate Mall or a kidnapping situation could potentially happen (thankfully it never has!). This is a training regimen required by all MEDA staff and our “core four” of interns were joined by a few full-timers. We worked through topics such as kidnapping, emergency situations such as shootings, and walked through what to do during an event such as a robbery. While other staffers may have referred to this training as “Did Scott scare the crap out of you yet?” I found it very informative and feel very prepared for any event I may encounter in the field (whether likely or not). FYI, MEDA does not pay ransoms, and this is actually a good thing!

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Access and Marginalization: An Overview of Lessons Learned from the YouthSave Webinar

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On October 9th, 2015 USAID’s Microlinks platform, in association with The MasterCard Foundation and Save the Children, hosted a discussion and webinar titled, “Pathways to Development: Evidence from YouthSave.” The purpose of the event was to bring together researchers and practitioners to share their experiences and insight gained on youth savings, spurred by the completion of the 5-year YouthSave project.

YouthSave, "A Report of the YouthSave Consortium: YouthSave 2010-2015," (Oct 2015): pg 8.

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Keyhole Gardens and Marital Harmony in Northern Ghana

Keyhole GardensHow might vegetables and marital harmony be connected? In the spring of 2014 the staff in MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team may have shrugged and said nothing. By the spring of 2015 they had a different perspective. A study based on a MEDA pilot project in northern Ghana around Key Hole Gardens found that 58% of participants reported increased marital harmony as a result of the gardens. Although surprising at first, the study found that women’s increased access to vegetables allowed them to both cook more diverse food at home, a fact their husbands enjoy, and obtain some financial income which is also viewed positively within the household.

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Scaling in Practice

Youth Econ Opps Conference - Nicki Post

A few weeks ago I attended the annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit in Washington DC, hosted by Making Cents International. This event is always a great convening place for the who’s who in youth in development, including: funders, implementers, policy makers, youth leaders, companies, educators, and researchers. This year, the event brought together over 450 stakeholders from 50 countries to exchange knowledge, effect practice and improve the performance of youth economic opportunity programming worldwide.

MEDA’s Senior Project Manager of Youth and Financial Services, Nicki Post, with Rani Deshpandi of Save the Children and Ata Cisse of UNCDF, – panelists at the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, 2015

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Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution: Unpaid Care Work and Greater Economic Inclusion for Women

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From Sept 30-Oct 1, the SEEP Network hosted its 2015 Annual Conference in Arlington, VA. For those that are not familiar, the SEEP network is “a global network of international practitioner organizations dedicated to combating poverty through promoting inclusive markets and financial systems.” This year’s technical topics followed four tracks: Financial Services and Technology to Promote Resilience, Private Sector Partnership Models, Small-scale Producers in Resilient Agricultural Systems, and Women's Economic Empowerment.

Among the many great discussions and presentations was a plenary session on Thursday, Oct. 1 entitled Beyond Access: Catalyzing Women’s Economic Empowerment in Market Systems, which had as one of its panelist Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender. Caren brilliantly opened the session with a great introduction to women’s empowerment and why it should be a focus for development. In her remarks, she cited a recent McKinsey report estimating that if women could participate in the economy in the exact same way that men do (i.e., complete economic parity), it would add up to $28 trillion to the annual global GDP. In other words, this would add to the global economy roughly the economies of the US and China combined. (1)

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The Role of Parents and Families in Youth Financial Inclusion

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.
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Should we be working in Myanmar?

Burma Blog AI started working in Myanmar almost two years ago. At that time, in order to have access to a phone I rented a sim card for over 200$; ATMs were non-existent and Yangon was still relatively traffic-free. My first assignment for a large INGO was to study three separate markets in the country’s central dry zone. I looked at goats, groundnuts and plums. The latter, seemingly banal as a crop, turned out to be the more exciting of the three. A plum farmer could channel the components of her plums to five separate markets, from dried fertilizer to juice, to fire fuel and Chinese medicine.
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Opportunities for ICT Innovations in Myanmar

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As Myanmar slowly opens its doors to the world, can it also leapfrog some of the biggest failures in development?

One of MEDA’s newest projects to launch in Asia is in Myanmar, also referred to as Burma.  A country in the midst of transition and change is slowly reducing barriers to foreign trade and influence, and opening its once closed borders to global firms. Myanmar now finds itself in the crossroads at the 21st century’s technology boom, with global powerhouse neighbours such as India and China, the country has a unique opportunity to learn and apply lessons learned in the entry to a globalized economy and marketplace. Managing the economic boom that will result with the influx of capital and infrastructure to ensure equitable distribution and equal access to new opportunities is no small challenge. And many international donors, such as the Canadian Government are seeking to provide support by facilitating economic growth in less developed areas, such as the country's ethnic states.

MEDA’s project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, focuses on reaching 25,000 women farmers and entrepreneurs in two of these states – Southern Shan and Kayin. MEDA plans to increase access to these new opportunities in rural areas of the country, targeting women in select value chains with high growth potential. And as the enabling environment gradually improves to foster private sector development, the potential for new economic opportunities for rural women and men also grows rapidly. Activities will focus on achieving women’s economic empowerment with the proven benefits to the larger household and community. As in other countries, women farmers in Myanmar have less access to land ownership but are able to access inputs, seeds, and extension services. However, gender differences in access to land and credit affect the relative ability of female farmers and entrepreneurs to invest, operate to scale, and benefit from growing market opportunities in their respective communities.

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Incentives, Subsidies, and Complementary Services to Promote Youth Financial Inclusion

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blogg, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in the world’s least developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access a range of economic opportunities over the course of their lives. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Usage and Dormancy of Youth Accounts

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blog, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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