USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Igniting Africa’s Tech Revolution

The recent growth of tech startups in Sub-Saharan Africa is starting to create a buzz.

And what’s not to be excited about? Tech companies created in Africa, by Africans, to address local and global problems have untold potential to change the world.  After judging a recent Global Innovations in Science and Technology boot camp in West Africa, venture capitalist Scott Hartley said “providing guidance for the top 1% of innovators likely improves the lives of the 99%.”

Personal computer usage in Africa is exceptionally low at 2% and internet penetration is only about 14%.   However, with indications that tech start-ups, tech hubs and internet usage across the continentare rapidly growing, the prospect for growth in the technology sector is significant.

Nonetheless, the hype has begun to overtake the growth.

One central challenge for startup tech companies in Africa is the simple fact that great ideas and viable business plans don’t mean much without access to financing. And financing for startups in Africa, especially in the tech sector, is difficult to come by.

Gaps in the market make it challenging for the tech ecosystem to develop.  Across much of Sub-Saharan Africa, people struggle to access the technological conveniences– broadband internet, reliable power supply, internet availability.  In many African countries, governments are still working to reform regulations and policies to make it easier for investors to reach entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the tech sector in Africa is considered high risk. Everyone speaks of the same example of success (read: M-Pesa), but investors are hungry for additional examples of risk paying off.

To top that off, the tech space is, by its very nature, less tangible to investors compared with brick and mortar businesses that sell traditional goods and services.  While a risk-taking culture has long developed in tech hot spots such as Silicon Valley, investors in sub-Saharan Africa tend to be more conservative and risk-adverse.

To close the gap between investors who are ready to invest but can’t identify startups with viable businesses and the entrepreneurs who are ready to scale up but can’t access financing, USAID partnered with Microsoft, Nokia, DEMO, and the State Department to launch the first-ever DEMO Africa. DEMO Africa, to be held in Nairobi on October 24-26, will feature 40 of the most innovative entrepreneurs from across Africa who will launch their products to a group of world-class investors, businesses, and media.

Through DEMO Africa, USAID is attracting, rather than replacing, private sector financing for economic development in low-income countries.  Entrepreneurs creating tech startups don’t need access to traditional aid, they need access to financing to grow. And to free up financing, we need to sensitize investors – venture capital funds, banks, and nontraditional financial institutions – to the tech sector. We need to create an appetite for investors to start investing.

Turning a great idea into a viable and profitable business model is difficult, but DEMO Africa is helping move Africa’s startup tech sector closer to ignition.

Gender Equity Through Education

Regina Anek, a Deputy Director for Gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria state, just saved a 14-year-old girl from an early, forced marriage. She was empowered to intervene as a result of a series of trainings she received from a USAID-supported girls education program that provides mentoring training to teachers and education officials to encourage girls not only to enroll in but also to complete secondary school.

USAID’s Gender Equity through Education Program has strengthened the education system by addressing financial and infrastructure barriers, social and cultural barriers, and institutional barriers to gender parity in education, through scholarships; advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring; and institutional support. The mentoring training gave Regina skills to intervene in situations where girls face communal pressure to drop out of school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community to stop the matter,” Regina explained. “Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me to accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case.” Regina added that after weeks of negotiating and educating the girl’s parents and community leaders on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society as a whole, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

These USAID-supported mentoring activities are meant to support girls within and outside of the educational structure to address broader social and cultural issues that keep girls from completing their education.

Survey data indicate that while 30 percent of boys in South Sudan complete the eight-year primary cycle, only 17 percent of girls do. The legacy of war in South Sudan is one factor, but girls’ education is also hampered by other social, cultural and financial barriers that hinder them from either enrolling in or staying in school.

One cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty in communities has been cited as a major reason that parents give their daughters in marriage in exchange for some financial security  for the family, but some cultural norms also dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. The community at school and outside of school stigmatizes older girls in school, which adversely affects their school attendance. With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls who were married at an early age are able to return and complete secondary school.

USAID’s efforts in supporting girls’ education in South Sudan date back to 2002, when scholarship support was provided to girls to complete secondary school and join teacher training institutes. This was aimed at encouraging more women to join the teaching profession, because research indicates that targeted recruitment of women has a correlation with girls completing school. USAID provided more than 9,000 scholarships through this program to girls and disadvantaged boys in secondary school and more than 4,400 scholarships to students in teacher training institutes in South Sudan and the “Three Areas” on the Sudan-South Sudan border (Abyei,  Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan).

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Malawi

“Pounds of Prevention” is a series of short articles that illustrate how disaster risk reduction works and why it is important. Take a behind-the-scenes look at aid work in action, long before the disaster occurs. How is that possible? Read on!

A farmer in Malawi demonstrates how she diverts water from a main irrigation channel to a row of crops. Photo: Helen Ho, USAID

Today’s installment, Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Malawi highlights our work in the southern parts of the country where prolonged dry conditions and macroeconomic forces have combined to drive up food prices, making it especially difficult for poor and vulnerable households to grow or buy enough to feed their families.

Throughout the past decade, however, USAID has worked to improve people’s ability to weather and recover from these types of shocks. In partnership with a variety of groups, USAID is helping farmers to access capital and credit, conserve water and soil, grow different crop varieties, and construct small-scale irrigation systems.

Got Milk? 300,000 Kenyan Dairy Farmers Do

Kenya dairy farmers participating in USAID program. Photo credit: Robin Johnson/USAID

As a Dairy Value Chain Coordinator, I help Kenyan farmers apply innovative ideas and technologies to increase milk production by changing the way they manage their dairy cows.  I’m able to do this through the USAID-supported Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program, which aims to increase the quantity and quality of milk produced by smallholder farmers, and to link them to the growing market for dairy products. By teaching the dairy farmers more efficient techniques, production has increased, raising incomes and helping them adapt to unforeseen environmental shocks and stresses.

The dairy sector in Kenya contributes 14 percent of agricultural GDP and four percent of overall GDP, and is growing by five percent or more each year. We’ve worked with the Government of Kenya to help produce a National Dairy Master Plan with the objective of achieving a seven percent annual rate of growth in the sector.

Sara Maiya is a Kenyan farmer who, wanting to learn how to better allocate her resources and get the most out of her herd, attended one of our workshops.  As a result, Sara began to grow her own fodder, manually cutting and storing it to preserve it for the dry season. She dug a shallow well to have water for her cows year round. She adopted a zero-grazing approach, which we recommend as a best practice for farmers with small plots of land.

As a result, Sara has seen her milk production increase from 5 liters to 15 liters per day per cow. As her yields increased, Sara went from selling her milk to a local milk café to joining a dairy farmers’ cooperative that bulk sells her milk with other farmers who in turn sells to a commercial dairy processor. Along with the other farmers in the cooperative, Sara has instituted new techniques to adapt to Kenya’s changing cycles of rain and drought. By adapting and using these new techniques, they are producing a larger and more reliable quantity and quality of milk, creating a reliable source of income in the commercial dairy market.

I’m proud to have helped bring this knowledge and technology to 300,000 smallholder dairy farmers, like Sara, across Kenya. Through farmer-to-farmer outreach and through thousands of private sector service providers that have emerged as the Kenya dairy sector grows, our goal is to ensure these transformational approaches to small holder dairy farming continue to grow and expand to all 1.5 million rural Kenyan families that keep and maintain dairy cows.  We hope that long after this program has ended, Kenyan farmers will continue to increase their economic resilience despite recurring droughts and the subsequent spikes in staple food prices that result.

Video of the Week: Irrigating Market Gardens in Senegal

USAID’s Senegal mission has been working with local farmers and craftsmen in Fatick, Senegal to help increase vegetable production in market gardens and strengthen the local economy.

See related videos on the Senegal YouTube page and visit our website to learn more about USAID’s Water Programs.

Technology Partnerships set Young Kenyans up for Academic Success

The classes were very quiet as we entered; students were all glued to their laptops, barely noticing us entering their classroom.  Finally, they all stand to greet us, still with one of their hands on either the keyboard or mouse. As acting Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Education I visited several schools where the Ministry is piloting the Accelerating 21st Century Education (ACE) program in partnership with USAID, Microsoft, Intel and Cisco. I wanted to see for myself how our Kenyan students are benefiting from the use of information and communications technology (ICT), and hear for myself the opinions of students and teachers on the integration of ICT in their curricula.
ACE was designed to advance the Ministry of Education’s efforts to improve the quality of education through the use of ICT in both the training of teachers and as part of classroom curricula. The project trained 296 teachers, college tutors, head teachers, principals, and education managers in ICT competencies, and more than 1,000 laptops and other ICT equipment has been deployed to selected learning institutions.

Stephen Otoro, a student at Mwijabu primary school was quick to tell me how laptops have helped him and fellow students to stay in school. “Before, classes were boring and by 4:00 PM, we all left school to play. Since the laptops came, we stay in school until 6:00 PM because it is now interesting to learn. We even come on Saturday because we enjoy,” he says.

Michael Pascal from Mtomodoni primary school is determined to become a surgeon and is happy that the computers are helping him learn about science, which is his best subject. “I have promised my parents that they will have a surgeon in the family,” he says proudly while holding his laptop tightly in his arms.

Madam Grace, a teacher from Mwijabu primary school, used to spend a lot of time searching for information for her students but now she is able to access student assignments and grade performance from the server and send the information to the head teacher. “We are also happy to see that students no longer carry heavy bags full of books since most of their school work is stored in laptops,” she says with a smile.

Seeing students from Kibarani School for the Deaf in Kilifi using laptops to learn, with assisting software like Multimedia Instruction, was a confirmation that ICT is a fruitful tool for all the children in Kenya.

I thank USAID, Intel, Cisco and Microsoft first for joining me on this trip. The robust pilot introduction of ICT into 23 schools and three teachers’ training institutes has provided valuable lessons that inform the Government of Kenya’s planning for rolling out the use of ICT to ensure that all children in Kenya have access to quality education.  Thank you.

See more comments from  Professor Godia, students, and teachers.

Today is World Humanitarian Day

The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day reminds us that helping those in need is a universal value. In the midst of every disaster and conflict, there are also inspiring acts of courage, generosity and selflessness. I am continually awed by the people I meet around the world who take great risks, who are moved to act in ways they never imagined, and who dedicate their lives to alleviating the suffering of others.

Humanitarian values are not owned by any one group but, rather, are an expression of humanity shared by all–from the Tunisian students who organized convoys to help those coming across the border from Libya to Sergio Vieira DeMello, a great humanitarian whose life of service and tragic death in Iraq in 2003 inspired the establishment of World Humanitarian Day in 2008.

At USAID, we were recently reminded of the great cost and sacrifice individuals endure to help those in need when the life of USAID Foreign Service Officer, Ragaei Abdelfattah was taken in Afghanistan, where he has served for the last fifteen months. We honor and acknowledge the risks USAID and State Department civilians take across today’s arc of global crises—and the sacrifices made by our committed implementing partners—in an effort to save the lives of others.

I have just returned from Mali, where more than 100,000 people are internally displaced from their homes due to violence and conflict in the north. Many have found refuge in communities in the south, where families are already stressed by ongoing drought but still open their homes to those who have even less. International aid workers are organizing to find ways to provide support in those areas difficult to access in the north, where food and medicine are in short supply and many of those families that remain do not have the resources to flee. I met a mother in Mopti, Mali, who fled with her six children. She told me how much she valued the “chain of solidarity” she has experienced since being forced out of her home and the tremendous help she has received from the people of Mali and from people around the world. This solidarity—and show of humanitarianism by fellow Malians and the international community–provides her with hope and vital support at a time of great need.

All over the world, humanitarians put themselves in grave danger to reach those most in need, from Syria to Sudan, from northern Mali to Afghanistan. Yet despite the risks, our collective commitment to humanitarian action is enduring.  When and where there are people in need, we will be there to help.

On August 19th, I urge everyone to take a moment to honor those who have devoted and, in too many cases, lost their lives to humanitarian action; to those who acted on a moment’s notice to provide help; to everyone who believes in the importance of reaching out a helping hand at a time of need.

In the spirit of this year’s U.N. World Humanitarian Day theme, “I Was Here,” I urge all of us to do something good, somewhere, for someone else. And as we commemorate this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate the courage of individuals and the commitment to helping others that unites us worldwide.

Fly-Tying Deals Bring Sweet Success

I grew up along the swampy shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, where fish is our favorite meal.

When I travel home to my village, over 300 miles from Nairobi, I enjoy watching rural family members hook worms or other insects to a fishing line before casting it out into a local stream and reeling in tilapia, trout, catfish, mudfish, and more.

But around Lake Victoria, villagers fish for food and income—not for fun. It amuses them to think that people might fish as a hobby.

At a recent USAID event though, I met an entrepreneur named Carol Mbutura who showed me that some Kenyans also make a good living from this hobby—supplying lures to the leisure-fishing industry. Carol was showing off a large display of dainty, hand-tied fishing flies created in Kenya and destined for overseas markets.

I knew there was a story here: Fly-tying is not a traditional Kenyan craft.  How on earth did Carol get into the fly-tying business?

She told me the cottage industry dates from the 1930s when a young Englishman came to Kenya to recover from a broken back. Mad about fishing, he taught some local Kenyans to tie fishing lures. They then started selling to British settlers—for catching trout imported from Britain, which still inhabit highland streams today.

More recently, an American company called Flydeal began buying flies from Kenya.  Carol Mbutura had developed a shipping company based in Nairobi—and Flydeal hired her to send the products to the United States.

Keeping up quality and production numbers from 10,000 miles away, however, proved increasingly difficult. So four years ago, the Flydeal asked Carol to step in, manage production, and become a business partner.

USAID has helped Mbutura and other African entrepreneurs take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows duty-free imports of some African products to the United States. In 2011, training provided by USAID AGOA Resource Centers has sparked millions of dollars in new trade deals, which benefit both U.S. and African businesses and spur economic growth.

With Carol to supervise, sales have grown several times; Flydeal now provides jobs for approximately100 full-time and 50 part-time Kenyan workers in ten factories around Nairobi.  Together they produce 7,000-8,000 dozen of lures a month. The company sells mainly online and exports worldwide, though United States is the primary market.

The delicate but tough, hand-made lures resemble little creatures that fish might eat: flies of course, but also frogs, tiny fish, baby mice, cockroaches, grasshoppers, butterflies, mosquitos… Recently, the factories have begun making jewelry, too, from the feathers, beads, and wires used for lures.

Carol’s advice for other would-be entrepreneurs:  “With your own work you must have patience, perseverance and tolerance; don’t ever quit if someone lets you down, be it a customer or supplier.”

Next time I visit home, I’m going to bring some Flydeal flies with me. I want to see if Kenyan fish go for them—and what my cousins say about using these artsy artifacts instead of an old-fashioned worm.

Women Learning about Leadership through Rural Radio

The radio station near Thiès is small and cramped, yet bursting with activity. A young woman before a microphone is talking to a disembodied female voice from a nearby village, trying to maintain an audible signal from her mobile. Finally, a signal gets through and the woman recounts, in rapid Wolof, the results of a community meeting that just ended.

The reporter is among 60 women reporters who were trained through a two-year USAID grant to the Rural Association for the Fight Against AIDS, a local organization that expanded from its original mission to administer the program.

Sixty young women, each from a different village, received training in the fundamentals of journalism and operating the station’s equipment. Some are recent high school graduates, while others come to work with babies strapped to their backs. Husbands of the married reporters are overwhelmingly supportive of their wives’ work. “My wife doesn’t ask me for money in the morning any more, and I’m fine with that,” quipped one spouse.

True enough, the women receive a small stipend for their work, and they earn it. On a visit to one village, USAID’s partners saw that the women were relentless with their pocket cassette recorders, taking down nearly every word uttered in an official capacity. By the time the team had traveled to the next village, the broadcast from the last village was going on air.

The women do more than just report the news though. They organize and facilitate “listening groups” in their respective villages and discuss issues that many of their fellow female villagers might not have even previously considered. What are their rights when it comes to land tenure? How can they access credit to start up a small market business? How can they access health care without bankrupting their families?

They openly discuss touchy issues like young girls who go to the city in search of domestic work only to return pregnant; they talk about domestic and even family sexual violence, which emboldens victims to seek justice with local authorities.

“Women are learning what leadership is through this program,” said Mme. Daba Dieng, chairwoman of the committee that manages the radio station, Ginikou FM. She says that by producing and providing content to the programs, “these women are becoming essential members of their communities. Their interface with the village brings change. The rights of the women are much more respected.”

USAID Hosts Annual Ramadan Iftar

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Last night, together with USDA, we hosted our 10th annual Iftar—a tradition also reflected in the field as Missions host dinners in recognition of this important time. As President Obama has said, Ramadan is a chance to honor a faith known for its diversity and commitment to the dignity of all human beings. A faith deeply rooted in its commitment to caring for the less fortunate and reaching out to those in greatest need.

These are values that are reflected in the founding of our own nation, the vibrancy of our diverse national community, and in the work USAID does every day across the world.

Around this time last year, we were working together to respond to devastating drought in the Horn of Africa and address the urgent needs of 13.3 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. Although the worst of this particular crisis is over, we know that 1 billion people still go to bed hungry every night across the world. And we know that there are steps we can take right now to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and lay the foundation for a safer, more prosperous future.

That is the vision of Feed the Future,  President Obama’s global food security initiative that brings together the expertise of a range of U.S. agencies. Today, we are:

  • Bridging our long-standing commitment to humanitarian assistance and food aid with increased investment in agriculture, nutrition, and governance;
  • Harnessing the power of science and technology to deliver transformational agricultural research, like drought and disease-resistant tolerant seeds;
  • Supporting safety nets and innovative insurance programs that are the backbone of farming in the United States.

We are also working to dramatically increase private sector investment in agriculture—bringing companies, local smallholder farmers, and partner governments together to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty and hunger in a decade.  So far, more than 45 global and local companies have committed more than $4 billion—to expand seed production and distribution, establish small-scale irrigation systems, and source for food for global supply chains.

Our focus on strengthening food security isn’t just limited to Africa. In the Middle East, we’re working closely with smallholder famers to improve the efficiency of water and land use. This effort is especially critical in a region already classified as water scarce—which possesses less than one percent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources. At the same time, population growth rates in the region are averaging over 2 percent, increasing pressure and competition for resources.

Launched in 2010, the Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative works across eight countries to connect American universities and their local counterparts with the smallholder farmers who need that information the most, spurring joint research on important issues like desalination, irrigation, and energy with the ultimate goal of helping farmers grow more food with less water.

Challenges like water conservation and food security are immense, but we know that we are more than equal to the task if we harness the ingenuity, passion, and commitment across the world.

That’s the idea behind open source development. Development that doesn’t dictate answers, but paves the way by bringing the creativity of the entire global development community to bear on today’s problems.

By doing so, we not only overcome the greatest challenges of our time, we continue to lift up the values that are celebrated during the month of Ramadan—and that we carry with us every day in our work.

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