Be The Change Academy: A smart formula created to enhance empowerment of young women in Liberia
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talents in the world”.
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential rival of the U.S. President and former U.S. Secretary of State once said, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talents in the world”. Clinton’s assertion is a sad truth. Women all over the world continuously have to battle inequality and illiteracy. Although some countries are doing remarkably well to balance gender disparity, the ratio of women to men in the employment sector is a shameful challenge for any developing nation.
In Liberia, the percentage of women in the legislature to date has not exceeded 15% since the country’s independence. Meanwhile, the average participation of women in the cabinet and other government institutions is experiencing a drastic free fall. A recent report by the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) shows that more than 77 % of males are literate compared to 54% of females. Yet women remain the drivers of the local markets in Liberia with 80% providing active participation.
Although women play a major role in turning Liberia’s economic wheels, there remain many in need of enhancing their entrepreneurial skills. For this reason, these women often abandon the markets and ultimately often find themselves with men who physically assault them. This creates an overwhelming number of single mothers living in slum communities, serving as the breadwinners of their families. These women send their children to schools, pay house rents, and provide the daily meal for their homes. For them, business is the only route for survival in Liberia’s challenging economy. Allowing little room for the business to evolve.
What could be done to address this situation, ensuring that Liberia produces successful women entrepreneurs?
The solution does not only rest on the shoulders of the government but the private sector and civil society organizations. Recognizing the growing need to improve the business sector and enhance the entrepreneurial skills of women in Liberia, Youth Crime Watch of Liberia in partnership with Peace Child International, launched the Be The Change Academy (BTCA) with the sole purpose of nourishing illiterate women with a foundation of entrepreneurial and business skills, creating a friendly avenue that will guide them in making smart decisions for the future.
Established in 2004 with the goal of grassroots participation in leadership and peacebuilding activities after the brutal civil war in Liberia, the Be The Change Academy (BTCA) program has trained over 3,194 illiterate women between 2013 and 2017 with the support and funding of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). In 2018 we are expected to graduate 1,440 illiterate women, with 330 from the first cohort of 6 local communities in Paynesville graduating in May, followed by the second cohort to be conducted in Sanoyea, Bong County and Paynesville, Montserrado County. This will bring us to the completion of 9 cohorts reaching 4,634 beneficiaries by the end of 2018.
The program primarily targets illiterate women from local communities. These women are nurtured during informal gatherings: creating a space for them to keep focus and collaborate with one another. Trainers conduct the training through interactive sessions with the aid of tools – such as a descriptive poster designed to show examples that to relate to what happens in their local markets and lives.
How did the BTCA’s business management training in Garza community improve understanding?
“At the onset of the training, the trainees found difficulties in understanding the model because of their level of comprehension. However, we all became more engaged and practical during the training sessions. The model is tailored in a way that it creates a picture in the trainees’ mind and enables them to think as well,” Haja Kemba, BTCA trainer.
“The topics we covered were market research, business plan, budgeting, profiteering and loss. These interactive lectures guided the trainees to understand the importance of laws, culture, competition and environment before starting a business as well as budgeting, marketing and profiteering techniques to improve their businesses. At the end of the ten weeks training, the trainees recognized their pitfalls and clearly understood the significance of business management.” Haja stressed.
For his part, Mr. Edwin Kamara, Program Manager of Youth Crime Watch of Liberia said 1,500 business plans have been supported since the inception of the program. Mr. Kamara said that Youth Crime Watch of Liberia has worked with both the ministries of Education and, Youth and Sports in enhancing their technical and vocational programs. “We have conducted training in three counties: Saynoyea Bong county, Paynesville, Montserrado county and Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. The second phase of the business management training for 2018 is expected to benefit illiterate women in Bong and Montserrado Counties”, Mr. Kamara concluded.
In addition to the training, Youth Crime Watch of Liberia facilitates links for beneficiaries to access diverse service providers to create opportunity aimed at improving their businesses. The organization is currently negotiating with financial institutions for graduates to access credit facilities.
Ms. Darlyn Quaye, a resident of VOA community and 2018 beneficiary of the BTCA program said that the training was helpful in a lot of ways and appreciated the organization for such an amazing initiative. “We learned in a friendly environment that united and connected us with the lectures”, she said. Ms. Qaye who is the owner of a small-scale soap making outlet catalogued the lessons learned during the training and said she is thinking about opening a beauty salon. “Due to the lack of beauty salons in our community, many women walk long distances to fix their hair”, Ms. Quaye said. “I am going to use my business and beautician skills to run the salon”, she outlined.
Certainly, Hillary Clinton was right. For too long we have neglected the untapped reservoir of talents in women, especially those illiterate and below the poverty line. The Liberian government and many other initiatives need to invest in the BTCA program and similar support training, especially those crafted at empowering women with basic management skills to improve their lives and expand their businesses.
Written by Elvis, Youth Crime Watch Liberia