Today is Women’s day and we are working for women in 3 different ways: We are providing free HIV testing and counselling during Women’s Day celebrations in Buea, facilitating a movie screening and discussion on sexual harassment and sexualized power with staff of GIZ and the Cameroonian Government, and we are also raising money for the amazing women and girls that inspire us every day. (TODAY 30% BONUS ON ANY DONATION!).
This article tries to celebrate them and the progress of our economic empowerment program.
In 2014 our best participant was a girl who had a hairdressing saloon and was making 40$ dollars a month. Now the average girl is doing slightly below 100$, our top 10% is making 200$ a month, and our best girls are making 150$in a single market day, starting mechanic shops or buying a motorbike and hiring somebody to work it as a taxi.
This was a gradual reform that began in 2015 and accelerated in November 2016, when the program took the form it has now. Although we keep adding things (loans, this January, incentives to save, in the next few months). It all boils down to a lot of trial and error and a bit of influence from the lessons and materials of big players such as GiveWell, Innovations for Poverty Actions, GiveDirectly and GlobalGiving who have the drive and resources to keep pushing to know what works and what does not work in development.
There’s a group of girls that are doing huge profits out of trading. Sometimes you hear how farmers are being abused by the “middleman” who gives them a horrible price and sells at a huge profit. I suspect some of these girls are the middleman, and they are not as mean as they paint them. Girls closer to their 20s than their 30s, who had to drop out of school due to an unwanted pregnancy and are now sustaining a family and still dreaming of reaching University one day. Girls like Marie, Prenet or Priscelia. They go to far away villages and buy bananas, tomatoes or other produce from farmers. Normally they walk on the way up and go down with the load on a hired motorbike. Then they sell to somebody going to Douala (biggest city in Cameroon) or go there by themselves, where they risk losing everything if prices have changed. “I can’t do that mistake again, I got the contacts of all the women in the market and keep checking the prices” says Prenet.
Gladys was one of those “banana traders” until she saw something better. “All these bike boys, they complain all the time of having to go to town to buy any small thing. So I decided to open a garage.” She did not know anything about the business. “I talked with my brother, who took me to Bamenda [this is a 7 hours ride] where we met a man that has done the business for long. I spoke with him and he made a list of everything I needed to start this business. I still have the list. Now the bike riders are so happy.”
Then there are the “gas stations”. For a while we have been hesitant about showing their picture or talking about what they do, because it’s technically not legal. Blanche and Judith. “I was the first person to sell petrol in this village, all these girls are copying me”. They have small stands in their community where they sell gas to vehicles all day long. We advise them to gradually divert, because it’s illegal and because it’s very volatile, but we don’t impose or punish them. There is no other source of gas, legal or illegal for several KM of distance.
Blanche’s numbers were so good that one could think maybe she was faking them, but you can’t really fake a motorbike. Last November she pulled her savings and got her first bike. She showed us all the papers, including a signed contract, stamped by the legal authorities, binding her “driver”, the person that will be using her motorbike, to give her 50$ a week until an agreed sum is reached. At that moment he will own the bike and she will have made a 40% profit on the deal and go on to purchase another bike or pursue any other investment.
Blanche is very close to be considered graduated, and she probably won’t qualify for the next set of grants, but we will keep borrowing money to her at a low interest, we definitely want to see how far she can get. We have opened a small credit line to help our girls, who have escaped extreme poverty, transition out of poverty completely. We started borrowing to 9 of them, this week they all paid back their first term, some gave 2 payments at once, one even gave 3.
We have many girls who are not at this level, and they are still amazing. All of them make together, on average, a monthly profit of around 45,000 francs. This means it takes a girl two months to generate more money than what we gave her. (30+50,0000 francs grants), amazing when you consider that more than half of them never really did business before the program.
We want to thank you for reading about them and for considering a donation, but most specially, we want to thank them, they make all our work worth it.
P.D: The girl that had that saloon, Claudine, is today managing 4 businesses at the same time, none of them is a hairdressing saloon. She’s our project picture.