Investment and innovation in the Sahel region of Africa

The Sahel region of Africa has been targeted by the United Nations to increase prosperity and security. The countries Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Cameroon, are part of an initiative by the UN, Peacekeepers and African Union.

Urgent issues to be tackled in this vast area include cross-border co-operation between states, prevention and sustaining peace. There is also a focus on climate action and renewable energy. Inclusive growth is also on the agenda along with women and youth empowerment.

The last point is extremely important as nearly 65% of the population in the Sahel is under 25 years old. So the plans include significant and specific investment in education and training.

At the same time, an innovative new service has been launched by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in partnership with Pennsylvania State University. A mobile phone app named Nuru helps farmers identify infestations of the Fall Anyworm parasite that threatens crops and food security in the Sahel.

The app is currently in English with Swahili, French, and Twi being added soon, and more languages to follow. The hope is that the app will support farmers checking their crops, allow them to track disease, give them advice on how to combat the infestations and report findings back to the central authorities. So far the pest – a caterpillar – has affected millions of hectares of vital crops.

Such bold new plans and accompanying innovations are essential in supporting the region. Security can increase along with economic prosperity. And we have mounting evidence to show how essential the involvement of women and young people are in boosting the economy. All these factors are intertwined and essential to overall success.

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Still too many roadblocks for women entrepreneurs in Africa

While women entrepreneurs are leading the way in African countries there are still too many roadblocks.

The Guardian’s Global Development section says these “female rising stars of business are still seen as second class citizens.” Afua Osei, co-founder of She Leads Africa, documents real issues behind the plaudits.

Ms Osei says “women’s ability to deliver on this potential is tightly constrained by a lack of access to support services, sponsorship from business leaders, and supply chains. Pervasive sexism and structural inequalities have created a troubling dichotomy – glorification of African artisans and farmers who are women, but little true interest in cultivating rising female industry leaders.”

One example is in Nigeria where many women are drawn to work in the food and cosmetics industries and start their own businesses. But this involves a drawn out and expensive process of obtaining a licence for manufacturing from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.

In a country where women are more likely to be poor, more likely to be primary caregivers to dependents, and are less likely to be educated the time and resources to dedicate to jumping through these hoops are in scarce supply. This, Osei argues, means, “barriers to entry are too high for them to transform from subsistence enterprises to transformational businesses.”

At the same time, new research from the World Bank suggests that the global economy is losing £120 trillion to the gender pay gap. Women’s share of global capital is 38% – a figure that has increased only 1% since 1995. A lot of the shortfall comes from North America and Europe – where capital is generally larger the difference is a greater proportion.

At the Gardiner Foundation, we believe that entrepreneurship and owning a business is the best way out of poverty for individuals, their families, and their community.

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“No women, no growth” says World Bank

A World Bank study released in May shows how women’s rights affects economies across the world. A lack of rights protecting women, or excessive laws preventing their equality at home and in the workplace, is holding back growth in many countries.

Laws on domestic violence and workplace discrimination encourage women into the workplace. But there are countries where women still lack control over their own finances, property, and business.

In The Guardian’s report on the World Bank study, World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva said, “No economy can grow to its full potential unless women and men participate fully.”

And Sarah Iqbal, programme manager at the World Bank’s women, business and law project, said, “There is no reason to keep women out of certain jobs or prevent them from owning a business. Our message is simple: no women, no growth.”

The report references the growing #MeToo movement. It is hoped that global awareness will improve sexual harassment legislation. Twenty one of the surveyed economies scored zero for protecting women from violence. Only 76 out of 189 countries had legislation on equal pay.

This has an impact on the bottom line of countries’ economies. In OECD countries with a gender gap there was an average income loss of 15%, 40% of that due to entrepreneurship gaps. That being the average the figure is higher in developing countries.

At the Gardiner Foundation, we believe entrepreneurship is the best route out of poverty. We are especially interested in gender equality because of the huge effect it has on economics. The empowerment of women and girls as well as opportunities afforded them has a positive knock-on effect throughout their community and the world.

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70 Years of the World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation celebrated its 70th birthday last week, offering a chance to reflect on its legacy and look at the challenges still ahead.

The WHO began in 1948, the same year as the NHS was formed and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was instituted. It has become synonymous with those human rights and one of its foremost principles is that, “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

  • Since 1948 global life expectancy has increased by 25 years.
  • Smallpox has been eradicated.
  • Polio is on the verge of extinction with only two countries having cases.
  • International efforts have massively controlled diseases like measles, malaria and tropical diseases.
  • WHO partnerships for immunisations are thought to be saving 2-3 million lives a year.
  • Since 1990 6 million more children are living to age 5.
  • The WHO led tobacco control regulations from the 70s onwards.
  • Better, cheaper access to generic drugs for HIV has been championed by the WHO, helping 21 million people get treatment.
  • Governments and agencies have improved reactions to health crises and pandemics with support and data from the WHO, including curbing devastating flu pandemics.
  • WHO’s focus now turns to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer – now the cause of 70% of global deaths.

This year’s 70th anniversary World Health Day had a focus on Universal Health Coverage. Tying back to the WHO’s principles as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Universal Health Coverage is a hugely important challenge.

In a piece for The Guardian, Lucy Lamble writes, “For all its imperfections, WHO still has a vital role. We need its convening power as much as we did in 1948. Its failings reflect our current global health inequality and its challenges the politics of redressing this.”

The Gardiner Foundation believes that Universal Health Coverage is a fundamental part of development. It is integral to, and can be helped by, our belief in poverty alleviation through self-employment and entrepreneurship.

School meals that feed kids and provide jobs

United Nations officials in West Africa have been calling on governments to invest in school meals. Emphasising all the benefits of school meals, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Abdou Dieng, called school meals a “win-win opportunity” for governments.

The issue was highlighted on 1st March – African Day of School Feeding.

The benefits of school meals are wide ranging and have a big impact. At the Gardiner Foundation we like solutions that can have a positive knock-on effect and school meals definitely qualify.

Children who eat a healthy school meal learn better. They are more likely to stay in school and getting a meal at school can be a deciding factor in parents allowing children to attend school and stay on. So their education and their health benefits.

With a better education and better health they can achieve more and have improved prospects for themselves, their family and their community.

It’s not just the children receiving the meal that feel the benefit. The UN notes that the food for the meals is coming more and more from local areas. The increase in school meals leads to an increase in local agriculture jobs, providing an immediate boost to the local economy and improvement in people’s lives.

There is a great example in Burkina Faso where local women collect milk and have started a yoghurt processing plant. Then they deliver their yoghurt to local schools for their lunches. It’s a fantastic example of entrepreneurship that benefits not only the workers but the local community as well.

However, WFPs school meals programme is facing a shortfall of $60 million dollars this year, which means some of the 2.7 million children they are aiming to provide food for could go hungry and be at increased risk of dropping out of school.

“Africa is one of the greatest forces for good in our world.”

The Director General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, spoke at the African Union Summit last week, reaffirming the UN’s commitment to partnership with the African Union, and African countries. He said,  “I strongly believe Africa is one of the greatest forces for good in our world.”

Mr Guterres’ speech lauded the cooperation between the AU and UN. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and African Union’s Agenda 2063 are “mutually reinforcing,” he said.

Other areas of the speech in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, focussed on challenges, with Mr Guterres highlighting addressing corruption, cooperation in peace and security, inclusive and sustainable development, climate change, and international migration.

The AU has designated 2018 as African Anti-Corruption Year in a bid to tackle the problem. It was the main theme of the summit, combatting impact of corruption, tax evasion and illicit financial flows. Mr Guterres spoke of how the international community had a responsibility to tackle tax evasion and illicit financial flows that were depriving Africa of essential resources.

On sustainable development there was discussion of poverty elimination, industrialisation, water, energy, infrastructure and the environment, as well as education and the involvement of women and young people.

This comes at the same time as the UN announced that 59 million young people have been forced into illiteracy by conflicts and disasters. Nearly three in ten young people aged between 15 and 24 and living in countries affected by conflict or disasters are illiterate. The numbers are higher for girls than for boys.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children’s education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies,” said Henrietta H. Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, in a news release announcing the findings.

“An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance.”

These issues highlight the importance of sustainable solutions to alleviate poverty. For the Gardiner Foundation, we believe small business ownership is the best way for people to work themselves, their families and communities out of poverty.

“Health cannot be a question of income; it is a fundamental human right”

The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela, are celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth with the #WalkTogether campaign.

Graça Machel takes up the issue of healthcare writing, “In our ongoing fight for health and justice, let us again recall the words of Nelson Mandela: “health cannot be a question of income; it is a fundamental human right.”

Universal health coverage is a major part of the Sustainable Development Goals – the internationally recognised extension of the Millennium Development Goals.

Health underpins an individual’s ability to live a full life and make use of their other human rights. When full healthcare is not available in line with the standards of UHC it can have devastating effects.

This is especially the case for people already living vulnerably. Healthcare is tightly woven in with poverty, education, infrastructure and other development issues.

Bad health or injury can see a family get into debt. They might need to sacrifice food, or keep children out of education if they are unable to afford it, or it is necessary for the children to work. Not only is there the lost income from the person needing healthcare and little safety net. There are also often high fees for medical services as well as travel and other associated costs.

We have looked before at how these issues can spill over into other areas of life. An accident can mean children leaving school early, affecting their life chances.

Ms Machel writes, “I know from personal experience in southern Africa that affordable, accessible and quality health care is vitally important in building inclusive, prosperous and sustainable societies.”

At the Gardiner Foundation we believe that self employment and entrepreneurship can provide a solid foundation to lift an individual, their family and community out of poverty. This has a positive impact on all the other areas of their life including access to healthcare and education. Which in turn can improve living standards and wages.

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The Somalia Partnership Forum on infrastructure and employment

The Somalia Partnership forum has been meeting this week and discussing challenges facing the country. The Somalian government, United Nations and international representatives sat down over two days to talk about investment, infrastructure, humanitarian and development issues.

Earlier in 2017 the threat of famine from a serious drought was averted by the country’s response but it was recognised that many people are still vulnerable to a major disaster.

“Unfortunately, we cannot declare victory, and we have to exercise extreme caution because the situation remains the worst we have faced in recent living memory after four failed rainy seasons,” said Peter de Clercq, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia.

“We continue to need deliveries of humanitarian assistance to the tune of $100 million per month,” he explained.

From the UN News article, de Clercq said that $1.2 billion was raised in 2017 and Somalia’s government was looking to raise $1.5 billion in 2018.

As we see often on the blog, it is all too easy for a drought that could be managed to become a major famine when access to basics like healthcare, education and employment are already tenuous.

President Farmaajo spoke about the importance of socio-economic efforts to prevent radicalisation, citing the need to provide jobs to young people. He also spoke about using debt relief and aid to improve infrastructure saying, “If we are not able to build roads required by our small businesses to bring their produce to market, it would be difficult to meet our stated goal of reducing poverty.”

The Gardiner Foundation knows how interlinked all these aspects of poverty, education, employment, healthcare and infrastructure are. We believe the most sustainable route out of poverty is entrepreneurship and self employment where individuals can raise themselves, their families and their community out of poverty and have a positive impact on all these other areas.

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130 million girls missing school each day

Research by the ONE campaign says that 130 million girls are missing out on school each day and has compiled the ten worst countries for girls’ education. Nine of the worst ten are in Africa.

The full list is:

  1. South Sudan
  2. Central African Republic
  3. Niger
  4. Chad
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Mali
  7. Guinea
  8. Burkina Faso
  9. Liberia
  10. Ethiopia

It should be noted that some countries didn’t have enough data available to calculate their ranking, including Somalia and Syria. Which in itself is not a good sign.

The report does note that poor countries are not destined to perform poorly and highlights Burundi. Burundi has the world’s lowest GDP per capita but performed better in these rankings than 18 other countries.

Nor is spending more money on education guaranteed to bring more girls into schools. Niger and Ethiopia spend the recommended 20% of their domestic budgets on education but are still in the worst ten performers. Factors explored in the research include investment as it affects teacher training and teacher to pupil ratios.

The president of the ONE campaign, Gayle Smith, offered an evocative quote.

“Over 130 million girls are still out of school – that’s over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on. This is not just about getting more girls into school, it’s about the women they grow up to be: educated, empowered and employed.”

Ultimately, the report concludes, “Only 45% of girls are literate, have less than one and a half years of schooling, and nearly 95% never finish secondary school.”

The Gardiner Foundation believes, as Smith says, that “the failure to both educate and count girls in education is a global crisis that perpetuates poverty.”

Poverty and education, along with other issues like healthcare, conflict, disasters, sustainability and infrastructure, are tightly interwound. Poverty threatens education and a lack of education causes poverty. But this link can be made to work in a positive direction too. Alleviating poverty through self employment boosts education and healthcare, providing opportunity and further reduction in poverty.

Africa Week on young people, women and girls

The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, opened Africa Week earlier this month by emphasising the importance of young people, women and girls in the continent’s future. Africa has the fastest growing population of young people in the world.

Guterres said, “We can help make the most of this demographic dividend through greater investments in education, especially in science and technology and by ensuring to enable youth participation in economic development. People need skills that match the needs of today and tomorrow.”

The event also talked about involving women and girls as essential for the future. Across the world, tens of billions of dollars a year are lost to gender inequality. It represents an amazing resource for all countries, certainly those that need it most.

Innovation is also necessary, as in the quote above about the skills needed in science and technology. Also in new approaches to the issues that face the African countries in areas such as economics and sustainability.

The UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 both have central themes of people and the planet, sustainability, peace, growth and inclusivity. The theme of Africa Week was ‘Supporting an Integrated, Prosperous, People-Centred and Peaceful Africa: Towards the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

At the Gardiner Foundation we believe that innovation and sustainability can come from entrepreneurship and that self employment is the most effective way for someone to lift themselves, their family and their community from poverty.

We offer microinvestment and support to people who want to start or expand their own businesses. Microinvestment is different from microcredit and does not involve loans or interest payments.

Small, local businesses can tackle some of the biggest issues their country is facing and cause positive change in education, healthcare, poverty, the environment and infrastructure.