Building Forward Together

Posted on 10/27/2021

Big problems, like solving poverty, demand transformative solutions and strong, collaborative partnerships.

On Oct. 21, 2021, Grameen Foundation and a panel representing several of its local partners in Ghana shared how playing to each other’s strengths can bring about real change.

In Ghana, we have found that women in poor communities not only face challenges accessing finance to grow their businesses, but also widespread gender-based violence (GBV). More than 27% of women in rural Ghana face physical GBV, and 34% face sexual GBV. In addition, gender norms often constrict women to managing the home and children, and limit their ability to start and grow successful businesses.

Grameen Foundation, along with HealthKeepers Network, RISE Ghana, Ghana Developing Communities Association, and MTN Ghana, has launched Women Entrepreneurs in northern Ghana to gain Access to Integrated Networks (WE-GAIN), which pairs access to digital financial services with gender equity training and support.

WE-GAIN is a project of the global Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and implemented by the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA-ROLI), Grameen Foundation, Search for Common Ground, and Center for International Private Enterprise.

Here are some takeaways from the panel discussion.

Alfred Yeboah, Regional Director for Africa, and Francis Arthur, WE-GAIN Project Lead, Grameen Foundation

We are adapting our successful Grameen Mittra Community Agent model in India for northeastern Ghana, onboarding 90 existing community volunteers as digital financial services (DFS) agents. We’ll provide them with a tablet and a digital learning platform so they can deliver business skills, financial literacy, and health training tips to women entrepreneurs in their neighborhoods. The agents will also be trained to deliver gender-based violence services.

We are planning expansion of more than 15,000 additional Community Agents over the next five years, and anticipate a multiplier effect from the female agent network--DFS, microenterprise, and reliable service delivery will create opportunities for women entrepreneurs across the region.

Awal Ahmed Kariama, Executive Director, RISE-Ghana

“We’re from the northeast region of Ghana, with roots in rights-based approaches to women’s economic empowerment and reducing child marriage. We are terribly concerned about how poverty in northern Ghana has suddenly been increasing, and exacerbated [due to the pandemic]...So we’re really excited about WE-GAIN, and how it goes beyond economic empowerment to address structural issues and dynamics that perpetuate poverty, especially among women.

“With our knowledge on the ground in terms of community rapport, we are able to mobilize and address the key critical issues that tend to undermine the participation of women.

“We’re also looking at promoting best practices in GBV responses. We cannot impose GBV responses from America to Ghana, but rather [we need to] co-create best practices with local communities and ensure sustainable buy-in for these approaches. We want to localize gender and social inclusion efforts so that within households and communities, issues of safeguarding and diversity are a core part of our community dialogue, so that women can exercise their agency and men can be able to stand up against gender-based violence.”

Dr. Daniel E. Mensah, MBA, PharmD, FGDP, HealthKeepers Network

“HealthKeepers Network is an organization that supports community-based agents that distribute health products and services across Ghana. Our community-based agents were initially only women, but now we include men and youths. We have expanded to include family planning programming as well as maternal and newborn childbirth products. In terms of impact, we have helped create healthy families and also provide additional sources of income to improve livelihood. [Our agents] have gained recognition in the communities they work in, and access to affordable and quality health services to promote healthy communities.

“Many HealthKeepers and community members are unbanked, and we’ve implemented a mobile money project in Ghana. One of our aims was to progress agents to become mobile money agents, so this is a dream come true. We believe we’ll bring them into financial inclusion, and they can bring financial inclusion to other women in their communities. Improving access to health and gender-based violence services is a key feature of this program. We want to improve safety and security for the healthkeepers.”

Abdallah Mohammed, Technical Adviser for Food Security, Livelihoods, and Business Development, Ghana Developing Communities Association (GDCA)

“The Ghana Developing Communities Association has been active for 35 years, providing access to quality education and strengthening community-based organizations across the regions of Ghana.

“GDCA seeks to empower the socially excluded in Ghana. We focus on four key areas: Civil society and government participation, food and water security and climate change adaptation; access to education; and organizational development. We provide education for 350,000 children and have influenced the government to improve educational policy.

“The role we’ll play in WE-GAIN will be to bring our decades of experience to on-the-ground implementation of the project. We’ll support mobile money agents and deliver services to the communities we’re working in.”

Ruth Badoo, Senior Manager, MFS Operations and Service Delivery, MTN Ghana

MTN is a digital financial service provider in Africa, and one of the largest and most successful companies in Africa. MTN provides phone and mobile money services to over 17 million people throughout Ghana.

“Research has shown that some categories of women are not as advanced when it comes to adopting new technologies, so it takes a bit more effort to get them on board. So for us, we believe that women are strongly influenced by word-of-mouth testimonials because they come from an established, trusted relationship. Female customers are more likely to visit other female agents. They build a certain rapport and discuss certain things that are particular to the female gender so it’s easier for them to go to these female agents to perform transactions. Once we get a good number of women on board, they will also serve as influencers in their communities and by extension, will collaborate on the network’s efforts to get more people on board, so from our perspective, this is how we’re looking at it.”

What does success look like for WE-GAIN?

Panel participants offered several measures of success, including:

  • Women no longer being boxed in by the assumption that they cannot own or operate businesses
  • Women becoming empowered in their household and their community, with support from community leaders who are able to engage in enterprises that move the needle
  • Government and community participation in poverty reduction
  • A reduction of gender-based violence in the area

Key to all of these successes will be supporting the Community Agents as the project develops. “We’re focused on what is happening with our Community Agent approach,” said Steve Hollingworth, CEO of Grameen Foundation. “They are critical to bringing financial services to the region. Now is not the time to be complacent, but to redouble our efforts to reduce food security and empower women.

“We view the strategy as a way of connecting the poor to the digital economy, and [create] an example of how DFS, health services, gender-based violence resources can all be provided by Agents...All of us working together helps us overcome [the] very significant barriers that keep the poor down, that keep women down.”

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