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Boosting Women’s Entrepreneurship Via Mobile Money

This post originally appeared on Devex Impact.  It has also appeared in the Huffington Post and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

This guest column was authored by Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and Maura O’Neill, USAID’s chief innovation officer. It is published here as part of Devex Impact, a global initiative of USAID and Devex that focuses on the intersection of business and global development and connects companies, organizations and professionals to the practical information they need to make an impact.

For Marion, the challenge of starting her own business was not lack of initiative — she had plenty — but rather dearth of startup capital. At 20-years old, Marion dropped out of school because she didn’t have sufficient funds for school fees. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where she lives, this is a common trend for many women and girls, one that stretches across sub-Saharan Africa and far beyond. But Marion was undeterred.

Thanks to her friend’s suggestion, Marion latched onto an idea of selling prepaid mobile airtime to financially support her parents and four siblings with whom she lives. She started working at a small restaurant as a server, in order to save enough money to break into the business. Marion saved and saved, and began to sell airtime in bits and pieces. Yet by the time she turned 22 and made the decision to do it full-time, she was 70,000 Tanzanian shillings ($43) short of the 100,000 TZS ($62) required to finance the initial capital. Marion had nowhere to turn to make up the difference. And now this shortage of cash is keeping her from pursuing what should be a tangible dream — to become an entrepreneur and move into her own home.

A woman sells prepaid mobile phone airtime credits. Photo Credit: Devex.

Fortunately, new opportunities that will address Marion’s challenges are emerging.

Mobile technology continues to be an enormous growth industry in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 3.5 million jobs can be attributed to the mobile industry, according to GSMA. With the surge in mobile connections around the world, there is rightly a great deal of interest in using the technology to maximize development outcomes. This includes the delivery of key information and health services, the use of mobile money for those who are unbanked, and the ability to establish social and business networks without having to travel great distances. For women like Marion, this is an enticing pairing of potential long-term employment and enhanced livelihood.

Despite the gains the mobile telecommunications industry has had nationally, there continues to be significant gaps in how much individuals benefit economically from mobile services and applications. This includes the extent to which women have been able to participate in the retail channels of mobile network operators, beyond the sale of top-up cards and accessories that fetch little profit. These retail chains are not only where basic mobile necessities such as airtime and SIM cards are sold and marketed, but they also serve as the frontlines of the rapidly growing mobile financial services industry. This ballooning sector includes mobile payments and savings, insurance purchases and conditional cash transfers, services that are traditionally unavailable for the unbanked — particularly women. The business of selling mobile products and services can be an important income stream but, in most markets, women are not participating on par with their male counterparts.

This leaves Marion and women like her at a distinct and, frankly, unnecessary disadvantage.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, in partnership with leading mobile operator Millicom, or Tigo, have joined forces for an innovative project to correct this trend and maximize mobile financial service opportunities for women entrepreneurs and their communities throughout Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana. This public-private partnership will showcase a sustainable and scalable approach to increasing the number of women entrepreneurs working as mobile money agents in the retail networks of mobile operators…(continued)

Read the rest of this post on Devex Impact.

Follow Cherie Blair and Maura O’Neill on Twitter.

Changing the World for Children

My life changed on that cold January day. It was the day my husband and I walked away from the orphanage, hand-in-hand with the first two – of our ten total – adopted children, having stepped into a realm where it is often winter and seldom Christmas.

Susan Hillis and her family. Dr. Hillis is a senior advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo Credit: Susan Hillis.

That, though, is not what caused “The Change” to which I refer. What changed me is this: I turned around and looked back, to see a sea of faces peering through the chain-linked fence capped by barbed wire.  And this is what their hands were holding: that cold wire fence. That day I decided to do my part to change the world for children – not just my children, but all vulnerable children.

A dream this monumental would only become real if leaders around the world could see it, too. Today, this historic launch of the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity makes me believe that my dream has become yours, and that, together, we will see our dream become real.

We will see nurture replacing violence; light replacing darkness; hope replacing despair. United with global leaders in governments, civil society and business, we will walk hand-in-hand – devoted to changing the world for children.

Dr. Susan Hillis has served in many roles, including mother, nurse, university professor, government official and scientist. Personally, she and her husband have 10 children, eight of whom were adopted from orphanages at older ages. Her experience suggests that hope transforms the storms of life. Currently she works as a Senior Advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her research over two decades has led to 100 publications addressing topics such as adverse childhood experiences, violence, vulnerability and HIV, in the United States and around the world. 

Taking Risks & Developing Partnerships with Burma

Nisha Biswal is USAID's assistant administrator for Asia. Photo Credit: USAID.

Last week, over 180 representatives from universities, non-governmental organizations and private businesses joined us in Washington to discuss “Opportunities for Higher Education Partnerships in Burma.” Another 140 people joined us via live webcast. The event aimed to share information with prospective applicants to USAID’s recently announced Higher Education Partnerships.

The current reforms underway in Burma, and this new opportunity for partnership, generated a buzz in the packed room that was palpable. The speakers themselves projected this enthusiasm, among them were USAID’s Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah; His Excellency Than Swe, Myanmar Ambassador to the United States; and Joseph Y. Yun, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Administrator Shah announces Higher Education Partnerships in Burma. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID.

What’s notably different and exciting about this call for proposals is that concept papers, due January 31, 2013, must not only include a U.S. university but also a Burmese higher education institution and a U.S. business as part of the partnership. Our past experience shows us that these kinds of strategic partnerships plant the seed for long-term results that endure even after our own assistance has ended.

And we are focused on the long game — we’d rather take the time to do it right, and do it well, than do it first. That’s why we are focused on strengthening institutions, building capacity and meeting the needs of the people in a way that is efficient and respectful of their own priorities. Our efforts in Burma reflect new approaches that USAID is bringing to development initiatives. As Dr. Shah remarked, “Today’s launch reflects the new emphasis across our entire agency on innovative high impact and local partnerships that bring new thinking and creative solutions to some of the most challenging development problems we face together.”

His Excellency Than Swe, Myanmar Ambassador to the United States, addresses Higher Education Partners. Photo Credit: Pat Adams, USAID.

The Higher Education Partnerships do just that, recognizing first and foremost the extraordinary resilience, determination and optimism of the Burmese people. As I saw during my trips to Burma in March and November, there is a great desire among the people of Burma to engage with the world, and among Burmese universities to collaborate with their counterparts here in the United States. As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun stated during the event, “Now is the time to take risks and develop partnerships with Burma.”

The announcement of the Higher Education Partnerships APS came on the heels of President Obama’s historic visit to Burma on November 19, 2012, which elevated Burma as a key partner in Asia through the launch of the U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity, a joint U.S.-Burma framework to lay the groundwork for a peaceful and prosperous future for Burma.

The Partnerships are one of many ways that USAID—and U.S. development assistance more broadly—will support the path of development and reform that the people of Burma are undertaking. As President Obama stated during his visit, “The United States wants to be a partner in helping this country, which used to be the rice bowl of Asia, to reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.”

Information about the Partnerships and full application details for this funding opportunity are listed at USAID-BURMA-SOL-486-13-000012 on www.grants.gov (search for keyword “Burma” under “Grant Search”). For more information about USAID’s efforts in Burma, please visit our website. A video of the December 12 session is also available online.

Follow Nisha Biswal on Twitter.

Photo of the Week: Reaching out to Youth in Latin America

USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg visits with Honduran youth from Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia at a USAID outreach center. Photo Credit: USAID

Last week, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg traveled with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to visit USAID projects, announce new initiatives, and meet with government officials, civil society, and USAID partners. During December 12th-13th Deputy Administrator Steinberg met with President Porfirio Lobo to discuss USAID’s ongoing work in Honduras, including crime prevention and food security. He also announced a new public-private partnership with TIGO, a regional cell phone company, which will provide internet access, cable TV, and free fixed telephone lines to each of USAID outreach centers for at-risk youth. By 2013, there will be 40 centers in Honduras and 100 throughout Central America as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative.

A Conspiracy of Goodness

Neil Boothby is U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the Administrator on Children in Adversity. Photo Credit: Columbia University.

I’ve found there are some things on which everyone can agree.

  • Children need strong beginnings – health, nutrition and nurturing care – to live their most productive lives;
  • Children grow up best in the care of loving families;
  • Children have the right to live free of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

These truths offer a simple moral imperative, but they are also backed by science. Neuroscientists, pediatricians and economists alike have demonstrated that a promising future belongs to those nations, communities and families that invest wisely in their children. I’ve studied the irrefutable links between the wellbeing of children and the economic and social progress of nations – they provide a compelling agenda for strengthening policies and investments to ensure that all children grow up within protective family care, and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

Following the genocide in Rwanda, over a million reed-thin and weary refugees poured into the Goma refugee camp in what was then Zaire. In the midst of cholera, relief workers brought infants and children to make-shift orphanages in an effort to save lives. Little babies were lined up like loaves of bread on cots, given vaccines to stave off preventable illnesses and fed routinely through IVs. Yet they still died by the hundreds. It’s called “failure to thrive”—the lack of human contact and nurturance required to live.

I looked into the eyes of many of these Rwandan babies who “failed to thrive”. It was an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. In a brief moment, I witnessed the flicker of God-given potential dim – a desperate fight at first, then resignation and a ghost-like stare until death. It’s the opposite of when I looked into my own son’s eyes and, for the first time, he recognized me and responded with delight!

Last year 6.9 million children died from preventable causes. We have the science to explain what happens within the bodies and brains of children who face deprivation, exploitation and danger. We have the evidence that demonstrates how early intervention break cycles of poverty, inequality and violence. We have empirical data that shows investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle. We have other champions and partner organizations on the ground prepared to roll up their sleeves and scale up what is proven to work. We work with governments all over the world that are prepared to partner to do more and better on behalf of their children in need.

In June, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted the Child Survival Call to Action. As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF) will be released. It is a testament to the fact that the U.S. government takes the science – and the investment – seriously. With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity – children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster.

The Action Plan I have helped to develop outlines objectives that will deliver ambitious and positive results for children. It also identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.

Yet, this work is about more than science, or sound economic investments. It is about the miracle and potential of each child, and our profound duty to care for our children, and in so doing, protect our future.

I have spent 40 years working to create a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger. The U.S. Government Action Plan moves us closer towards this vision. I invite you to join this global conspiracy of goodness.

Dr. Boothby has taken a leave of absence from Columbia University, where he is the Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, he has lead several research initiatives, including the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Learning Network—a constellation of over 150 agencies working in 32 countries on the development of an evidence base for efficacious child health and protection programming. Through the CPC Network, Dr. Boothby established university based research centers and graduate training programs in Africa, Asian and the Middle East.

USAID Reforms Aim to Strengthen Local Institutions and Systems

Susan Reichle is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning. Photo Credit: USAID.

This post originally appeared in The Guardian.

“No country wants to be dependent on another. No proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid. No family wants to be beholden to the assistance of other … But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop – moving from poverty to prosperity.”

These words from President Barack Obama on 22 September 2010 at the United Nations embody the changes underway at USAid as we reform the way we engage in development. For a while we have known that development takes time, evidence demonstrates that our resources are best spent when we invest in strengthening the host country institutions so that they can stand on their own. This does not only mean working directly with governments so that they become the ‘owners’ of their future but with local civil society, the private sector and others as well. This has not always been the case.

As USAid and development came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the agency utilised both large scale projects to address development challenges, and placed USAid staff in host country ministries and local organisations to stimulate reform. In the 1980s, we shifted some of our resources to ‘non-project assistance’ by conditioning support to host country governments on their adoption of policy reform in specific sectors. The 1990s brought a period of downsizing for USAid during which significant staff reductions shifted resources towards institutional contractors and NGOs with whom we partnered to achieve development results.

Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by USAid at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin. Photo Credit: Mohammed Ballas/AP.

In 2005, the international development community endorsed the Paris Agenda for Aid Effectiveness. Three years later in Accra, Ghana, the international community once again put country ownership high on the agenda to move the needle of development. Just a year ago in Busan, South Korea, the international community recognised that all development actors, including the private sector and emerging donors, were critical to ensuring resources were aligned behind host country priorities to achieve development impact.

Since taking office, USAid administrator Rajiv Shah has initiated a series of reforms under USAid Forward to create new approaches to development by working directly through local systems to improve sustainable results.

This transition to localise aid means that we will be testing a host country’s ability to “use their own pipes” – whether that is a government ministry or civil society. While this approach comes with its own set of challenges, it requires a change in mindset – from both inside and outside USAid – which includes a willingness to manage and mitigate risk and to focus on the long term.

The challenges notwithstanding, I am optimistic that these reforms to USAid’s development model will succeed. They began three years ago when officers around the globe called on the to develop a business model that embraced aid effectiveness. We had demand from below as well as from senior leadership at the top. This occurred at the same time as the international community was calling for local ownership and country system strengthening. The stars were truly aligned.

At the time, the agency was in the middle of almost doubling the size of its foreign service. This allowed more officers to engage directly with host country counterparts in government, civil society and the private sector. Given that the majority of the foreign service officers now have fewer than five years in USAid, we had fresh eyes and energy to undertake new approaches to development.

We developed new diagnostic tools to mitigate risk, created planning rubrics to ensure that we choose capable and appropriate institutions as partners and invest in high quality evaluations, which we feed back into project design and implementation. This emphasis has changed the way we do business. For example, we seek to strengthen a country’s health system even as we work intensively with partners to deliver medicine. Similarly, we engage in policy dialogue to achieve systemic education reform while constructing schools in conflict zones across the world.

In the end, we believe that this new way of doing business is an opportunity. It gives us tighter focus on local systems as well as a broader reach to engage more citizens, which, we hope, will result in more sustainable outcomes and proficient use of taxpayer dollars. Just as you would trust a new driver to take the wheel in order to learn how to drive, we must trust our host country partners to drive their own results.

This trust comes with responsibility and requires a commitment by host countries to transparency. Citizen activism, open government and true partnership are key ingredients to strengthening country systems which ultimately moves countries from poverty to prosperity.

Susan Reichle is assistant to the administrator at USAid

Albanian Farmers Weather Changing Economic Environment

A view of greenhouses upon entering Goriçan, Albania. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

Just after arriving in Albania, I accompanied Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs,Phil Reeker, on a visit to Goriçan, a small village tucked in the lush, green hills of central Albania, to meet with a group of farmers assisted by USAID. Upon entering the village, it was evident that agriculture is important to this community. Nestled in Goriçan’s rolling hills and valleys are dozens upon dozens of greenhouses dotting almost every corner of the landscape. In the last 10 years, a group of enterprising farmers have invested heavily in greenhouses, making it possible to harvest year-round production of high-value vegetables. The result has been a transformation of not only the village landscape but also the economic livelihoods of the community.

Unforeseen by Albanian farmers 10 years ago, but increasingly apparent today, their investments have created an important buffer for the community now faced with a return of guest-workers, primarily from Greece, and other consequences of the economic crisis impacting Albania and the region.

Two members of the Hortigor Farmers Association who recently returned from Greece in Goriçan. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

Like many rural communities in Albania since the 1990s, Goriçan lost many young workers who migrated as guest workers to Greece and neighboring countries to escape the widespread poverty and instability that characterized Albania’s post-Communist transition. While many left, some farmers remained, and with the early support of USAID, helped lay the foundation for transformational and sustainable development in the community. Starting in 2003, USAID sent two farmers from Goriçan (along with others from other parts of Albania) to specialized training in Croatia and Hungary, and helped the community establish Albania’s first farmer’s association named “Hortigor”, and provided grants to rehabilitate roads and build a consolidation warehouse.

Today, Hortigor members from Goriçan and 10 surrounding villages own 45 “hectares” of greenhouses. These have become major producers of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants in Albania. In fact, I learned that Hortigor member greenhouses represent one-third of all greenhouse area operating in the village and 15 percent of all greenhouses in Albania!

USAID Albania Mission Director Jim Barnhart and others at the DCA Signing Ceremony. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

USAID assistance, in recent seasons, has reached more than $2.8 million dollars in export sales from Goriçan and the surrounding areas, but future developments and investments will depend on the availability and access that many farmers have to commercial credit. To date, there has been little lending in Albania. I was very pleased to sign, as my first official duty as Albanian Mission Director, a Development Credit Authority agreement with two local banks. It is our hope that our $15 million dollar loan guarantee will help to lower barriers to credit, and encourage banks to offer appropriate loan products to enterprising farmers in communities like Goriçan. This marks a logical transition for USAID Albania to move from traditional technical assistance towards sustainable, private-sector led growth in the sector.

As a leader in agriculture development, and as a result of USAID’s smart and targeted development assistance, Goriçan is well-positioned to absorb the skills and know-how of returned migrants from Greece, and implement them at home. I look forward to following the community’s progress as it seeks to expand into large-scale commercial farming that will be able to supply large, reliable and high quality agricultural produce throughout the Balkan region. I am proud of the work that USAID Albania has done to support the agriculture sector and I look forward to future engagement.

Still, I am mindful of the continued need and the pressures that the Eurozone crisis is putting on Albania, particularly its rural areas. Approximately 50 percent of the Albanian workforce is active in agriculture, and despite progress in developing the sector in recent years, Albania still has a 9:1 import to export ratio for agriculture. Small landholdings, weak property rights and rule of law concerns have also inhibited growth. Clearly, there is still room for improvement.

FrontLines Releases November/December 2012 Issue

frontlines banner graphic

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about the continuing benefits of projects that have graduated from Agency assistance, and how new organizations and programs are energizing development work around the world. Some highlights:

  • Indian children at one of Pratham Education’s “learning camps.” In September, Pratham Education Foundation received a $300,000 grant from USAID as one of 32 winners of the multi-donor All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development. Photo Credit: Pratham Education Foundation.

    All Children Reading is USAID’s latest push to break the cycle of illiteracy and introduce the developing world’s youngest citizens to the joys and benefits of learning to read.

  • Bring together the tech savvy and the humane-minded and the result is USAID’s first Hackathon – a confab with both groups working together to design workable solutions to hunger worldwide.
  • In a boon to justice and equality for Kenyan women, some of the country’s all-male, local courts are going co-ed.
  • Latin American & Caribbean chief Mark Feierstein says he was proud to help close USAID’s Panama mission this year: “It’s the development milestone that our partner countries strive to achieve—to reach the point where they can propel their own development without the need for foreign assistance.”
  • The Global Give Back Circle started six years ago as a small mentoring program, but now offers a range of services to more than 500 vulnerable women in nine countries, who each vow to pay it forward.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, please subscribe.

How I Was Inspired to Solve Global Problems

As a senior studying public relations, I never thought about working abroad. I had the epiphany one day and decided to include international development in my career plans. I was attracted to the idea after Dr. Shah’s visit at Howard University on October 15. I was excited to learn and understand my role in international development, if there was one. Dr. Shah gave me hope that international development has a place for anyone who is willing to serve.

Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks to students at Howard University on October 15, 2012. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams, USAID.

The event opened with an inspiring and appropriate video by the university’s Communications Department, highlighting the efforts of School of Dentistry students who helped Haitians develop dental hygiene products during the annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program. The opening presentation conveyed the commitment and passion Howard students have for international development and set the tone for the event.

While being a student at Howard, I participated in two domestic ASB programs: New Orleans and D.C. These two, week-long service projects changed my life. The people who were affected by me and other Howard students mentoring their children or cleaning their environment were extremely grateful. When I watched the video of the students in Haiti, it inspired me further to do international development because of the strong interest I already have in helping people.

However, the opening video was just the beginning of my inspiration to be involved in development.

Howard’s Provost Dr. Wayne Frederick spoke on the legacy of Howard’s commitment to international development. He stated that “opportunity remains promise”, which was the perfect transition into honoring the late Congressman Donald Payne, a pioneer in international development policy and his family.

“Howard University’s mantra is social justice,” said William Payne, Donald Payne’s brother. He continued, “And, I believe my brother’s work embodied social justice.”

Dr. Shah commended Howard for its work in international involvement, and excitingly introduced the new Donald Payne Fellowship at Howard University, giving more students the opportunity to go abroad and contribute to America’s positive contribution to humanity’s global needs. The fellowship provides up to $90,000 in benefits, and funds a two-year Masters degree for fellows and provides them with internship opportunities on Capitol Hill and overseas.

This was my favorite part of the event because it gave me insight on a great opportunity to catapult my interests in international development! Now, as a graduating senior, this fellowship is definitely something I will look into as I plan the next stages of my life! Overall, the fellowship is a great opportunity for all Howard students, and I am proud that my school was a part of it.

At the event, a USAID video which quoted President Kennedy, who created USAID over 50 years ago, stated, “Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man.” The Donald Payne Fellowship will give students like those at Howard, a resource to help solve global problems.

For more information about the USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship, visit paynefellows.org.

 

Video of the Week: Clean Cookstoves: Saving Trees and Lives in Tanzania

This video features the work of a USAID funded project “Building Actors and Leaders for Advancing Community Excellence in Development“ (BALANCED). BALANCED focuses their efforts to combine sustainable livelihood generation, natural resource conservation and empowerment of women through the provision of clean cookstoves. This is just an example of one of the USAID funded population, health and environment (PHE) projects that focus on addressing development in an integrated fashion, and conserving natural resources while simultaneously improving the lives of people, especially women and children.

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