While the legal entity is usually a business or a non-profit structure, it’s the way that entity operates that defines it as a social enterprise. There’s widespread consensus that social enterprises must be driven by a social, economic or environmental mission, derive half their income from trading rather than grants or donations, and return profits to the organisation.
In Ghana, with its population of 24,7 million, stable political conditions have encouraged social enterprise start-ups and they’re addressing society’s most urgent needs. According to the 2015 Ghana Labour Force Survey Report, Ghana’s unemployment rate that year was 11,9%. Of the employed population, 4,2 million – or 52,5% – were engaged in the informal sector, where workers’ wages are low and conditions uncertain. They’re mainly farmers, fishermen, petty traders and crafters.
In this context, social enterprises in Ghana are playing vital roles in income generation and fair job creation.
Global Mamas, a non-profit organisation (NPO) that operates as a social enterprise and is a guaranteed member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, has been in operation since 2003. Founded by two former Peace Corps volunteers to Ghana, US-born Renae Adam and Kristin Johnson, Global Mamas’ mission is to provide sustainable livelihoods by producing fair-trade products. This empowers the women they work with to make a living wage that supports them and their families.
“We do this by connecting craftswomen with customers around the globe,” says Adam, who lives in Ghana and has managed the organisation since its inception. “We open doors to overseas markets and pay fair wages, which means the women don’t just subsist, they set long-term goals and reach them.”
With sales of US$903 000 in 2016 – of which 31% was paid to producers the organisation is making a measurable social and economic impact. Adam explains: “Some women are building their own homes, others are buying industrial sewing machines to grow their businesses. Lots of women are employing new apprentices and every one of their children is enrolled in school. In addition to their own children, they sent another 117 children to school in 2016.”
These outcomes are rare. Data from the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Ghana shows that just 26,6% of the population finished primary school, 20,6% completed junior high school, 9,1% graduated from secondary school and only 7,5% finished higher education.
In view of these figures, Aggie Cole’s story is inspiring. Cole is a battier who joined Global Mamas in 2003. “Besides improving my batik skills, the income I’ve received from Global Mamas means I’ve been able to support myself, my husband and my daughter in our undergraduate degrees. My daughter is now studying corporate administration and management at university. I feel very proud,” she says.
Starting with just six women in 2003, today Global Mamas works with over 350 producers, mostly women. They’re batikers, seamstresses, bead-makers, jewellery-assemblers and shea butter producers who make the products for Global Mamas’ fair-trade fashion and skincare range.
A small office in the USA, headed by Johnson, distributes across North America, providing the all-important access to international buyers. While Global Mamas has attained enviable longevity in a sector in which many start-ups fail in the first five years, the team has experienced a number of challenges during its 15-year journey.
“We’ve faced terrible internet connectivity problems and the quality of batik fabric has been an ongoing challenge,” says Adam. “We supply thousands of yards of fabric to batikers every year and we were losing significant money, because we couldn’t use the poorly dyed fabric. We held meetings and batikers suggested a payment structure for ‘first-class production’, which pays a significant bonus if they achieve it.
A year later, over 90% of batiks were ‘first-class’. [The batikers] were paid well and we’ve saved money. We got through the challenges because we’re focused on long-term relationships and we consult each other to problem-solve,” Adam says.
Looking forward, Global Mamas’ plans will set precedents not just in Ghana, but globally. “We’ve raised funds to purchase land to build the world’s first Fair Trade Zone (FTZ), located about 90 minutes outside Accra,” says Adam. “And we’re seeking funds for the entire FTZ. It will employ 200 craftswomen and will include an early childhood learning centre for workers’ children and a Fair Trade learning space for
visitors. It will be scalable and replicable for African conditions and show that you can have fashion production in a factory setting and still be socially responsible and 100% fair-trade.”
When asked what she’d advise others planning to start a social enterprise, Adam says: “Ask what communities want and need, then find markets and work together to make it happen.”
A social enterprise based in Accra (population 4,1 million) is transforming both plastic waste and lives. “Here, affordable drinking water is packaged in square, non-biodegradable polyethylene plastic bags, not bottles. They hold 500ml and the problem is that there are no public rubbish bins, so people throw the plastic bags everywhere and they’re clogging up gutters and beaches. The lack of recycling services made me want to do something about the mess,” explains UK-born Stuart Gold, who’s lived in Ghana since he established Trashy Bags in 2007.
An NPO, Trashy Bags’ core business is producing a range of fashionable bags and accessories by upcycling these plastic drinking water bags. “I think we’ve up cycled at least 21 million bags since the start,” says Gold. “We turn them into courier bags, backpacks, duffel bags, Smart Shoppers (a shopping bag that can be folded and zipped up to fit into a purse), laptop bags and sleeves. And now we’re upcycling discarded PVC billboards into a range of satchels and handbags.”
Elvis Aboluah, a Ghanaian citizen, is the Projects & Marketing Director and shows visitors around the airy workrooms where, in each room, two or three seamstresses sew to turn the plastic bags into products. Besides a positive environmental impact, Trashy Bags is having a strong social impact.
“The work has really helped our 25 workers, because it’s hard to find jobs in Ghana,” Aboluah explains. “Some workers were homeless or unemployed when they joined us. We train them and provide good conditions and pay. We also laugh a lot.” George Attah, Trashy Bags’ Showroom Manager, personifies the organisation’s impact on workers in the informal sector. “George was a caretaker of the units I first
lived in here and he was treated very badly; they didn’t pay him anything,” Gold explains. “One day, he asked me if he could have a job and he started here as a cleaner. He then moved into the showroom, sorting out everything from computers to invoicing. He’s run the showroom very reliably for four years now and the opportunity has completely changed his prospects.”
Asked what keeps him going, Gold says: “We’re an environmental business and I enjoy educating people about plastic. We’re employing people, mainly women with children, who otherwise wouldn’t be employed, and they’re happy here.”
In the Brong-Ahafo Region of central Ghana, a duo of determined social entrepreneurs is disrupting the status quo in the agricultural sector. Co-founded in 2013 by Ghanaian Kwami Williams and American Emily Cunningham, Moringa Connect aims to improve lives by training farmers to cultivate Mooring oleifera – moringa trees. Known as “the miracle tree”, the health benefits of moringa leaves and seeds have been utilised in its native India and across Africa for centuries.
“Gram for gram, the leaves of the tree contain more iron than spinach, more protein than yoghurt and more calcium than milk. The seeds also contain nutrient-rich oils, so we also train workers to process the leaf and seeds for our product lines,” says Williams. Williams and Cunningham have experienced a few lows along their entrepreneurial journey. “In the beginning, farmers weren’t taking care of the trees; they had no incentive to do so [as they had] no access to markets,” says Williams.
“And building relationships and trust with farmers was difficult because they’d been disappointed by similar projects in the past. There had been funding from government or NGOs for tree rearing, but no follow-through with regard to market access. The farmers told us they wanted access to markets and once a few farming families reaped the benefits of their harvest and saw that we weren’t going anywhere, more
farmers and communities joined in.”
After much trial and error, the pair realised they could help farmers best by managing the entire vertical supply chain. “We provide the tools and training the farmers need to grow moringa well, and a
guaranteed market,” Cunningham explains.
“We purchase moringa leaf at fair prices so farmers earn four to 10 times what they’d earn elsewhere. And we process the leaf in-country, which creates jobs.”
The organisation has made a huge impact in just five years. “We’re working directly with 2 900 small farming families throughout Ghana now, and we’ve created 80 processing jobs. We recently launched Ghana’s largest certified organic moringa farm and we’re processing the leaf into oil for True Moringa, our skincare brand, and powder for our superfood snack brand, Minga Foods,” says Williams.
Of Moringa Connect’s plans for the next five years, Cunningham says: “We aim to reach over 30 000 farmers and plant over 10 million moringa trees to help combat deforestation and malnutrition.