Cultural Respect and Working to Reduce Poverty
Efforts to alleviate poverty are difficult but they are achievable, and that's why we sell clothes. Phew! That's that blog written : ) Sorry, there's more to go... There have been many theoretical models, university courses and experts advising on how to do it. So at Origin, we decided to take heed of these sources of information and make efforts to turn them into pragmatism, to generate our own funds to do it and make sure we work with the best guys we can find to make the most of our profits being turned into strategic African cash grants. We have years of experience in Africa through our board members and our founders, however we decided that is not enough to know that what you are doing is the right thing. We seek the evidence that substantiates the claims.
Ringing the charismatic tones of our much loved Nigerian board member Olatunde Olotu, 'it is multifactorial'. There is of course no one size fits all approach to alleviating poverty, but there are a great many lessons to be learned from the people that we work with and their prior experiences. What's more, the Origin team is committed to a process of lifelong learning on this crucial subject. The latest available research points to a number of principals which has paved the way for Origin's efforts in Africa:
- BE LOCALLY LED
Entrepreneurial at a grassroots level i.e. bottom up rather than the old-fashioned top down. Local leaders are in charge. The concept and execution is their idea and their responsibility. Each leader also leads her/his social business under the principles: to put people before profit, and ensure social impact is always talked about and implemented to highly transparent and honest standards. Musa Darbo, in Gambia, is committed to establishing women's initiatives alongside his eco clay stove business. This ensures a type of insurance policy for the women working for and with his business. This is one of the modern day's methods for a poverty-stricken household to account for future disasters but also to build up capital for investments for potential future bright ideas. For more, Esther Duflo and Agidjit Banerjee explain this in far more eloquent and substantial detail in their evidence based approach to poverty as explained in 'Poverty Economics'. Musa and his social business embody opportunity with respect to this latest evidence.
- BE SUSTAINABLE FOR THE COMMUNITY AND THE PLANET
These are social businesses, not sink funds for 'aid' budgets. Each one must also be environmentally responsible. This involves creating good jobs lead by self starting entrepreneurs. Jean-Yves Yonli, director of Nogo Tala Sania (Zero Waste Hygiene, Bambara), in Mali, has installed at the core of his business to remain as close to zero waste that he can achieve with his Sustainable Soap Social Business, Nogo Tala Sania. His surplus produce from his soap making production gets balled up and donated to marginalised members of society in the capital Bamako. This includes disabled individuals, unemployed people looking for work and the elderly struggling to sustain their families.
- HAVE DEFINED SOCIAL IMPACT GOALS
The goal is locally driven but justifiably needs-based. It must focus on the cost-effectiveness of the designed intervention of the business. This is defined and carried out by the local champions who drive the business to its success. Jean-Yves set about to establish good jobs for women in his community. The latest update on this confirms he has employed 31 extra people this year and each of them is happy with the opportunities afforded to them by this business.
- BE REALISTIC AND CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE FOR THE LOCAL SETTING
This is not about Origin dictating what the money is spent on. This is about consulting the community as a whole, identifying inspiring entrepreneurs and donating them the capital to drive their project forward and create opportunity. N. Timolean. Amessa, leading African author on African development, comprehensively explains in his work (and indeed in person as we have been privileged enough to have advice directly from him) that development cannot be embarked upon without an in depth consideration for the cultural aspects of the work and development being done. It is not up to Europeans or Americans (nor Chinese but let's not start that one today) to define how Africa should develop. This should be African lead and this remains at the forefront of our efforts at Origin. In his report of Origin's approach, he explains, 'By providing locals in African communities with funds to invest in business activities of their choice to create jobs for themselves and others, Origin is helping solve this lack of access to capital which is a most common and unnoticed problem facing young entrepreneurs on the whole African Continent.'
Cultural Appreciation: Nothing can be changed without an in-depth knowledge and respect for the local, tribal, national and regional culture. For this reason and for the basic reason of respect, Origin puts huge emphasis on the local people being the leaders of change. They know the lie of the land, the market for their business, the cultural aspects important to every facet of professional as well as personal life and after all, they are the entrepreneurs capable of sustaining the change. Take again Jean-Yves of Nogo Tala Sania. He had set up a small soap business which was doing well. He had seen the necessity for its creation and used his own savings to buy the first machines, pay for rental premises in Bamako and had employed one woman and one man to help him get it started. On a background of humanitarian work, anthropology survey work with NGOs and education, he decided the way for communities in West Africa to take back control of their destiny was to create their own engines for long term lasting change: businesses that have at their core a social impact. All he lacked was capital to increase the scale of his business. In February 2020, Origin donated £850 to him for this with the intention of potentially offering a further cash grant (in 2021) if sustainable good jobs had been created and the business did well on its social impacts, as well as remaining financially sustainable. This also relies on Origin's clothing sales too of course. This year, Jean-Yves' business has gone from strength to strength and now sustains 31 new employees (25 of which are women who were previously unemployed who are themselves thriving), and supplies affordable soaps to over 1000 people every month. Could this method be one of the silver bullet methods to pierce the shackles of the poverty trap? We hope so but we continually seek the evidence.
So, at Origin, we give cash grants to established entrepreneurs alongside training initiatives, encouraging where possible linked microfinance and microsavings institutions as well. For more information on this and the evidence for this, one of the most robustly evidence-supported methods of poverty alleviation, 'Tracing the Consequences of Child Poverty' is an excellent example of how information can be used as evidence to support our organisation's methods. We were also lucky enough to be able to seek advice from one of the lead authors on this book, Paul Dornan, explaining the Young Lives study of 12,000 children growing up in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam over the past 15 years. We eagerly await the sequel of evidence to come from this study.
At Origin, we are committed to a process of lifelong learning and as such, we remain as up to date as possible on recent evidence on poverty alleviation. This is why our social business' methods are the way they are. However the conclusions of the evidence as well as the collective experiences of many are why we really believe the future of African communities lies in the hands of the local inspirational trend setters and entrepreneurs.
They are the leaders and we are behind them all the way!