Jennifer is building the capacity of rural women to utilize widely available but idle natural resources and turn them into consumer products thus creating an opportunity to shift the focus of the local economy from subsistence to developing and maintaining viability of local natural resources.
The New Idea
Jennifer is creating local industries for rural communities by identifying abundant, underutilized natural resources like rattan, bamboo, and straw. On top of that, she is training local women to make finished consumer products made from rattan, bamboo, and straw for existing markets in Ghana that are currently being supplied by imports.
While other local enterprises use bamboo and rattan to produce for an export market, Jennifer is identifying opportunities in develop supply chains for finished consumer products between existing local markets and rural communities.
Her demonstration project has trained 10 young women in the production of woven bamboo goods, increasing the beneficiaries’ incomes and providing electricity to their community. It has sparked intense interest from neighboring communities and from the citizen sector that see the model’s potential to provide long term financial security for their institutions.
Over 60% of the population in Ghana lives in the rural areas and depends on subsistence agriculture for survival. Agriculture, which accounts for 50% of the GDP and employs over 85% of the work force, is small scale and scattered, made up mainly of smallholder farmers. More than 30% of the population lives below the poverty line.
In much of Ghana bamboo, rattan, and straw grow abundantly in the wild and go unutilized. The value of these natural resources is not appreciated by the local population who lack the skills and the knowledge necessary to create wealth from them. Despite the work of the government and the growing citizen sector to connect the grassroots to ongoing development efforts, there are significant gaps in service delivery. Efforts are concentrated on developing cash crops like cocoa and cassava and a supporting industrial base.
Private sector institutions that utilize bamboo and rattan focus on making big export products like flooring and furniture and do not engage the communities as partners but merely employ locals as factory workers. Donor dependent projects are frequently not scalable and implemented in a top down style that denies the communities’ control or access to outputs. This has created hostility to development partners that are not sensitive to local needs, aspirations and agency.
Jennifer believes that rural farmers need to increase their incomes and sees the utilization of the resources that surround them as the key to introducing them to new employment opportunities.
Jennifer studied the market and observed that many of the goods that were being imported cheaply from Asia and the far East where made from raw materials that were abundantly available locally; especially bamboo and rattan. Further research convinced her that the skills needed to make these products could be easily acquired by rural populations with little or no formal education so she set about creating an institution that would provide the necessary capacity building to communities that lived near these natural resource reserves and provided them with access to local markets for their finished products.
She identified several villages to pilot projects for the production of rattan and straw goods where resources were available locally but production was being outsourced. She met with the elders and traditional authorities of her beneficiary community and explained to them that she could help women in their communities increase their income. At first they resisted her ideas, fearful that the women would end up with more income than the men and would become “ungovernable.” Thus, she had to take her first set of 10 trainees out of the rural community to an urban center for training. In order to overcome the resistance, she developed a plan for the community that meant that for each of the finished products that the trainees sold they would put aside a certain amount of money that would go towards an electrification project of the village.
Currently the trainees have returned to their communities and have the capacity to produce 10,000 units of cable monthly. They have received several supply orders, the largest being an order for 500 conference bags. Jennifer’s organization currently handles the marketing and distribution of the finished products. Available bamboo stocks are of the short-node variety and limit the range of products that can be produced so, to increase the range of products, Jennifer has also started the cultivation of a wide-node bamboo plantation within the community.
Her pilot has attracted considerable attention from the development community and the government. A number of community based citizen sector organizations are interested in her model and want to incorporate it into their sustainability plans. Communities neighboring the beneficiaries have also requested training and support to set up their own projects. The government has recognized the potential impact of her model and is considering using it in local industrial development and enterprise growth. Jennifer is currently working with a group that specifically wants to scale up the production of the project with woven-bamboo goods.
Jennifer grew up in a military family that moved around the country a lot. When she graduated from the university she rebelled against her father and went to work in the development field. By 1998 she had started thinking about the sustainability of citizen sector organizations and how to move away from the sectors heavy reliance on donor aid.
By 2005 after more than a decade working in the field she started her own initiative, the Center for Development Partnerships, aimed at creating self-reliance and sustainability among citizen sector organizations and community-based development organizations. An encounter with a failing fishing community in 2007 that needed to desperately find alternative livelihoods led her to develop her idea. Jennifer has received international recognition, and is currently the head of the Ghana chapter of the World Association of Non-governmental Organizations (WANGO), a coalition of organization that address humanitarian and development issues in the non-profit sector.