Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Teaming up with Kiva to Empower the Poor

November 19, 2012

Community Knowledge Worker

We’re proud to announce that Kiva lenders can now support our high-impact Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program!

Through our AppLab initiative, we’ve spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people’s lives through information sharing about such areas as healthcare, business opportunities, finances and agriculture. In Uganda, where we’re focusing on agriculture, we do this through a network of “farmer leaders” nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers. (more…)

Day Four: Charles Grows Coffee – and Changes Lives

November 14, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Charles Chebet, 45, of Uganda’s northeast Kapchorwa district, was selected by his peers to become one of Grameen Foundation’s trained Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) in 2010. With the training and smartphone provided by Grameen Foundation, he has been able to tremendously improve his coffee harvest and connect hundreds of other farmers to advice, technical assistance and equipment loans. Here is his story, from his perspective , as shared with Bankers without Borders volunteer® Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

Before working as a CKW with Grameen Foundation, I was a farmer and I did some small business where I live. Grameen Foundation has now expanded my agriculture experience. By using the phone, I get advice to treat my animals and grow my foods. And because I am a CKW, I also get a little money for helping other farmers. I am supposed to visit more than 100 farmers every month, but I always do more.

As a rural farmer and CKW, not only does Charles learn new farming techniques though his mobile phone, but he is also able to share them with hundreds of other farmers nearby.

I have bought some equipment, which helps me have a bigger harvest and teach other farmers about these practices. We want to help farmers get better fertilizers, chemicals, seeds and tools. Maybe a shop can open here that sells those things. Maybe I can do that in the future.

Now I am growing coffee and bananas, cabbage and vegetables. I also have sheep, goats, cows and pigs. I learn many things by using the phone. We had a banana disease, but we learned that we can use ash mixed with urine to treat the plants. So now we don’t have that problem anymore.

We are six people in my house: me, my wife and four children. My 23-year-old daughter has finished university and is working for an agricultural organization to develop some programs for small households. My 18-year-old son is studying agriculture. My 15-year-old daughter is sitting for exams. My 14-year-old son wants to become a priest, and is going to join a seminary.

I like my work, and I like the farmers that I’m helping in my country. Grameen Foundation is good.

Thanks to your support, Charles and hundreds of other rural farmers near him are able to grow more crops and better support their families. You can help empower more rural farmers in Uganda when you support Grameen Foundation today.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Three: A Ray of Hope for Rural Farmers in Uganda

November 13, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Sarah Mugisha, of Masaka, Uganda, joined Grameen Foundation in January 2009 to help recruit, train and oversee Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). She is now a network and training manager, overseeing a team of 14 people supporting a network of more than 900 CKWs in 30 districts. This network is expected to grow to 1,200 CKWs in 36 districts by next year.

After 10 years of working with organizations to alleviate rural poverty in Africa, I joined Grameen Foundation because it addressed the missing link: empowering small farmers, who make up 80 percent of Uganda’s population, to improve their livelihoods through effective and scalable innovation. By equipping a local intermediary with up-to-date information and cutting-edge technology, we offer a rural development solution that broadens the knowledge base of poor households.

Sarah believes that the vital information provided to rural farmers by CKWs is a ray of hope, letting them know “they have not been forgotten.”

Our smartphones enable farmers to access information on planting, post-harvest handling and fair market prices. We also have information on animal care, weather, service providers and all sorts of advice to help them make profitable decisions. This technology has given rural farmers a ray of hope that they have not been forgotten, and that someone is seriously thinking about their challenges.

Initially, there were some limitations with using the phone in rural areas, but we’ve found ways to overcome them. One of the major problems we still contend with is sporadic network connectivity. We’ve made much of the information we need permanently available on the phone, so it can be accessed without a network connection. But when the CKWs are submitting surveys or getting more updates, they need to find a place where connectivity is good.

The best part of my job is training CKWs and making a difference in people’s lives. When I see the radiant glow in a farmer’s eyes because a piece of information has helped them, that makes my day. Organizations are now approaching our CKWs because of the skills they have acquired, and many want to help them do community mobilization and promote different activities. We are advising them on whom to engage with and whom to be cautious with.

We would like to have a 50-50 mix of male and female CKWs, but it’s difficult, because not many women out there are literate enough to join our program. In Uganda, we have more than 50 ethnic groups and languages, and we can’t translate everything, so the content on the phones is in English. We need someone who is educated enough to be able to look at the content, understand it and then translate it for the farmer. That’s what limits the participation of women.

The sky is the limit for what we can make available to the unreached masses, via the smartphone. That said, we always keep in mind that though we can still reach out and offer support remotely through technology, it can never replace the impact of human touch.

Thanks to your support, our CKWs have helped more than 100,000 farmers in Uganda. Help us reach even more by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Two: A Ghana Field Officer’s Story

November 12, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Williams Kwarah, 32, comes from Navrongo, Ghana. He joined Grameen Foundation in June 2010 as the Technical Field Officer on our MOTECH (Mobile Technology for Community Health) project, and is now a Field Lead/Coordinator.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that there are simple ways of addressing the causes of most of the health problems that rural communities encounter. In addition to the vicious circle of poverty, some of the true causes are lack of access to information and services. I have always had the passion to help bridge this gap, to make health information more accessible to our rural folks – my people!

Williams (left) helps a pregnant woman register for our Mobile Midwife service so that she’ll receive regular messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy.

Mobile technology is evolving in my part of the African continent, and it is a promising way of addressing most of our public health issues. The best part of my work is listening to our clients talk about how the Mobile Midwife messages have improved their lives, because they can now access quality health information and services readily at their homes on their mobile phones. Our health workers also tell us how the system helps them easily track their patients and give better care, helping them manage client health data efficiently.

The flip side of this is lack of funds to implement other activities that will enhance our services. Because MOTECH is a single project and budgets are limited, it becomes quite difficult to incorporate auxiliary programs that also help rural families. For example, phone ownership among pregnant women in rural communities is relatively low. But we can expand our reach by equipping a trusted community agent with a mobile phone to help women without phones listen to helpful messages regarding good health practices. In addition, providing portable solar charging devices for charging mobile phones in those communities off the national grid power would help many more women access this life-saving information.

Overall, when I lie down at the close of the working day, and I am able to say I have successfully trained 50 nurses on the use of a phone application, helped register 50 clients into Mobile Midwife, and installed two agents to assist clients get the messages – it’s a wonderful feeling.

We hope that our supporters share this “wonderful feeling,” knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of poor women. Please consider helping us reach more poor women in rural Ghana and around the world by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day One: A Ghanaian Mother’s Story

November 11, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Mariatu Manafo, of Ofaakor, Ghana, is thankful for Grameen Foundation’s donors and their support for our Mobile Health initiative in Ghana, known as MOTECH. Through its “Mobile Midwife” service, poor pregnant women and new mothers receive vital care information to help them have a healthier pregnancy and to better care for their baby during the first year of the child’s life. Here’s her story, as told to Grameen Foundation staff in Ghana.

I registered for the Mobile Midwife service when I was in my first trimester. Before the introduction of the messages in Ofaakor, I had lost two previous pregnancies. This was partly because I had to rely on recommendations from some friends and extended family members about the use of herbal medication that they felt was helpful. I hardly ate any fruits or drank enough water during my earlier pregnancies.

Mariatu listens to messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy and raise a healthy baby.

Listening to Mobile Midwife messages every week of my third pregnancy really made a big difference, and now I have my beautiful daughter Salamatu. A message that was really helpful was on nutrition. My husband Nuru took interest in the messages and most often listened to the content with me, perhaps because of the previous miscarriages. With both of us listening to the messages, he realized the importance of eating more fruits during pregnancy, and he often brought home fruits for me.

I am a living testimony to how Mobile Midwife has really helped. Previously, I was more susceptible to the complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. I did not have the necessary information to make decisions regarding my unborn child – I simply did not know the right kinds of food to eat, or how I should care for myself. I did not know when – or if! – to go for medical checkups. Before, I took certain symptoms during pregnancy lightly, but Mobile Midwife empowered me with the right information about pregnancy and childbirth.

Mariatu credits our Mobile Midwife service for helping her stay healthy during her pregnancy, and now she has her beautiful baby daughter Salamatu.

Her husband, Nuru Manafo, added:

As a family, we are now able to save some money – we do not have to visit the health center because of malaria and other common childhood diseases. Some of the messages advised us to always use insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. My wife always insisted that we use the nets and she regularly visited the clinic for her malaria drugs when she was pregnant. I am always thankful for Mobile Midwife in our community, especially because, before, my family knew very little about pregnancy and child care.. The messages encouraged my wife to go to the health facility for delivery and now I am a proud father of a beautiful daughter whom I have christened the MOTECH baby!

Thanks to the support of our donors, Mariatu and  Nuru were connected to vital information that helped them theirr healthy baby daughter, Salamatu. You can help more families like theirs by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Poverty Waits for No One

July 17, 2012

David Washer is a Bankers without Borders® volunteer who recently returned from a project in Ethiopia. Upon graduating from Yale University, Washer began his career in portfolio management at McKinsey & Company, where he currently works as a financial analyst. During his time at Yale, he was actively involved in human rights advocacy and research, and now looks forward to using his knowledge of finance and international development in the service of colleagues overseas.

I’ve always had a healthy skepticism about short-term volunteer projects abroad. But as a Texas expatriate living in a Manhattan closet that passes for an apartment, I started to go a little stir-crazy as my heart for social justice from my undergraduate days began to beat again. The irony of it all? As an undergraduate, I had plenty of time – but no true, concrete skills to offer to development organizations. Once I began my work career, the opposite initially held true.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

I began to research and critically examine different service opportunities, and eventually came across Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders (BwB) program. Convinced that through this program I could help empower others to lead sustainable, grassroots development in their own communities abroad, I decided to join. I was not disappointed. ‪Once I became a member of the Financial Modeling Blueprint Reserve Corps, BwB provided me with the training, templates and tools I needed to apply my financial analysis and modeling skills in a development context.

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Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders® (BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

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