Fellow Since 1993
Association of Women in Development Experts
This profile was prepared when Lucia Quachey was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
Lucia Quachey is building an appropriate local model to support rural women's small-scale business start-ups. Her approach is informed by her own considerable success as a business entrepreneur and is highly critical of the usual bureaucratic, exogenous small business support model.
The New Idea
When successful business entrepreneur Lucia Quachey began to examine the small business support programs for rural women in Ghana, she was appalled. "The programs were foreign to rural women's culture and experience. They were often led by non-Ghanaians, typically men, and tended to be highly bureaucratic. These programs typically remove the women for a few days to Accra rather than working with them in their own environment. The programs also have often used materials inappropriate for illiterate women. They were, in effect, lectures at women, even when delivered in a one-to-one situation. It is no wonder that their results were uniformly poor."Challenged by this state of affairs, Lucia set about developing an appropriate local model based on her own experience as a female entrepreneur. Her approach is rooted in a mutual journey to discover what "we women already have." She tells villagers, "I don't have anything to give you. I'll show you what you have and what you can do." Lucia is quick to point out that this approach is different from how the conventional development agencies practice "participatory development." She says, "The development bureaucrats all talk about participatory methods, but they do not begin to practice them in Ghana. How can a project that is conceived in government or an aid bureaucracy allow for real participation when there is so little understanding and practice of what that is? Where are the examples? Who are the people who can lead such processes?"Lucia's answer to these questions is to turn to the women themselves, whose considerable business acumen is enhanced through role playing and "doing." In order to ensure that her own program is not bureaucratic and remains close to rural women's experience, the organization that Lucia set up to implement her method draws heavily on the volunteer participation of other successful women executives, identified through the Ghana Federation of Business and Professional Women, which Lucia co-founded and for which she has served as national president.
Even though women make up 80 percent of the agricultural and informal sectors of the Ghanaian economy, most of them live at meager subsistence levels. The country's inadequate education system leaves 49 percent of Ghanaian women illiterate, limiting their educational opportunities. Insufficient access to capital and to appropriate, affordable technology also limits their chances of improving their financial situations.Rural women work long and hard at jobs such as grain processing, yet at the end of the day earn almost nothing for themselves. Lucia's research found that the women were skilled at basic production activities, but often lacked a business-like approach to their work; they needed to upgrade planning and managerial skills in order to scale up their activities. The reigning exogenous, bureaucratic rural women's business support programs, however, are not working. They tend to be designed and led by foreigners and paid for by foreign aid. Government programs tend to be conventional and bureaucratic, as alien to the life experience of rural women as the aid-driven programs. Despite the high tide of rhetoric about "participatory development," there is little evidence in practice that rural women can be more than mere receptacles of these programs.
Lucia is refining her alternative approach for rural women small business support and beginning to spread it beyond her pilot throughout Ghana and beyond, into Nigeria and Cameroon. Two principles lie at the core of her model: first, that women know most of what they need and that what is most useful is an intelligent observation and feedback process, and second that successful businesswomen can and will be effective volunteers to support rural women start-ups.The program begins with a one- or two-day session in which the basics of banking and marketing are discussed. Participants divide into groups of five to play the different roles in "mini-markets" and conclude with an analysis of each group's "profits and losses". Later, back home, each group discusses and chooses one of 50 enterprises that have been suggested by Lucia. Then they draw up a business plan, for which Lucia provides an initial small capital loan that helps them to obtain additional finance. Thus, the women in this rural area have diversified their endeavors from traditional ones, like pottery, to ventures such as school uniforms and smoked fish. Lucia uses women's group solidarity to maximize success. She organizes her clients into groups that work to make sure that each member makes optimum use of borrowed capital. She also closely monitors each client's success and requires carefully prepared accounting reports every three months. She trains a leader chosen by the members of each village group to help direct the project and one coordinator in each village to supervise in her absence. The leaders in the pilot villages form a committee to discuss and direct the ventures.The initial small capital loans are typically repaid within a year. The repayment amount is then designated for use as a loan guarantee fund to facilitate access to commercial finance. This amount is used to establish a common fund that will serve as a guarantee for loans from conventional banks that are typically used by the group to fund larger-scale business ventures. Lucia believes that initiating a process that leads the women to expand their business by accessing the banks is her most significant breakthrough achievement. In her pilot village, for example, twelve groups involving 60 women have joined together to acquire 120 acres with a commercial loan to establish an agro-forestry project. The loan to buy the land was obtained after an exciting role-playing session in which the woman playing the bank loan officer proved to be a more exacting inquisitor than the loan officer himself!For members of her groups who earn a regular income and have entered the mainstream of business (employing people, showing a profit, and paying taxes) Lucia has a cooperative housing and mortgage plan. Using her connections with the rural building industry, she is also planning a community building layout that uses local and non-conventional building materials.Lucia created and coordinates the Association of Women in Development Experts as the institutional vehicle for her vision. While she herself specializes in entrepreneurial skills development, the Association is comprised of a team of womenin both staff and volunteer roleswho bring a range of skills and experience that enables the Association's activities to move beyond straight economic activities to wider community needs, such as health, education and infrastructure development. Her team includes program analysts, nutritionists, and experts in rural technology. Volunteers help to develop visual training materials, posters, "rural TV" (turning scrolls), and flip charts for the first stage of training illiterate women. Wherever the Association operates, small business support activities are leavened with, at a minimum, literacy and nutrition education.As the Association expands throughout the country's rural districts, it is learning the best way to deploy staff and volunteers to service local chapters. The Association coordinators visit approximately three villages in an area to learn their problems and assets, and to identify potential leadership before initiating the training program. Regional representatives of the Association are also given a two-week training program with several follow-up ones. The Association piggybacks on the extensive office infrastructure of the Council on Women and Development, which has offices and coordinators in every region.
Due to the fact that her father worked in Cameroon and Nigeria, Lucia grew up in Calabar, Nigeria. She graduated from the Singer Sewing and Designing School in Lagos with a degree in industrial dressmaking and designing. She subsequently built up a clothing production business that became highly profitable.A founding member of the Ghana Federation of Business and Professional Women and active in a number of other women's organizations, Lucia has been involved in development work since 1985. Her efforts include setting up a revolving loan scheme, mobilizing women into cooperatives, operating a self-supporting mobile clinic, and being involved in adult education classes for illiterate members of her church parish.