In February, all 16 members of Women in Progress met for a roundtable discussion on how to improve the process for bringing in new members. The women developed a new process for growing the organization to 24 members by the end of 2005, as stipulated by a British High Commission grant currently funding WIP’s International Trade Program. The women also discussed ways to improve the apprentice program.
Facilitated by WIP volunteer Ellen Graves, a graduate student studying organization development at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA, the members agreed that their top priority was to find talented women who face significant financial barriers. A candidate will attend an initial interview, where she will be evaluated on her financial need, determination to build a business, creativity and understanding of quality and timeliness.
WIP will conduct a site visit to assess the applicant’s work and financial situation. The candidate will produce a sample piece of work, which will be evaluated for quality and timeliness. All WIP members expressed enthusiasm about this new system, which will grow the organization, increase Global Mamas’ profits and improve the economic situation for more women in Ghana.
WIP members also talked about ways to improve their apprentice programs, especially teaching the girls to save for the future. The women discussed starting a “susu” program through the Progressive Women’s Credit Union. A “susu” is an informal institution through which customers can establish small savings accounts. A “susu” collector will visit the apprentices on a weekly basis to collect small sums for their own personal savings.
In February, Global Mamas batikers Elizabeth Ampiah and Emma Myers moved their Eli-Emma Batik and Tye-Dye business to a spectacular new beachside location just steps from the Cape Coast Castle. With the increased profits they earned as part of Women in Progress, Eli-Emma financed and orchestrated their move from a small, out-of-the-way location to a space in the heart of Cape Coast.
The facility includes a showroom, indoor workspace, storage and restroom facilities for visitors. Elizabeth and Emma expect their prime location to attract more tourists to their batik workshops and will allow them to produce larger orders and hire more employees.
Elizabeth and Emma financed the move with profits earned from their work for Global Mamas. Together with their husbands, they found the new space, negotiated the contract and organized the entire move.
The Eli-Emma expansion is an important example of how, with the help of Women in Progress, women are taking the initiative to to grow their businesses and change their lives.
Wright's husband is currently living in Nigeria. Left alone and with the responsibility of caring for three young children, Lydia is working hard to earn enough income to support herself and her family. Lydia has found it difficult to make ends meet year-round because her orders peak during the holiday seasons, but she has very little work the rest of the year. A lack of steady work also forced Lydia to terminate her apprenticeship program, which meant letting go three apprentices. Since joining Global Mamas only a short time ago, Lydia is excited to have already:
- Found constant work that allows her to earn increased income throughout the year.
- Increased her revenue 150% due to orders from Global Mamas.
- Expanded her business and moved to bring on additional employees.
- Opened an account with Progressive Women's Credit Union and saved 5% of earnings for future business investments.
- Purchased a new hand-powered sewing machine.
- Paid her daughter's admission fees of 950,000 cedis (~$105).
Women in Progress volunteers, Catherine Deane, Natalie Sturman and Gayle Pescud, created a series of design workshops for Global Mamas: Ideas Development, and Color Theory. The aim was to show the women how to gain inspiration from their surroundings and turn this into a completed design and to ultimately advance their own design and color skills. Each workshop was held twice a week for three weeks.
Natalie conducted the Ideas Development Workshop to show the basic method of creating new designs. The women learned how to create mood boards, a source of inspiration and style development, with pictures cut from magazines. The women sat together and clipped images, which appealed to them and arranged them on a poster. The effect was colorful and creative. There was much excited chatter when the women pinned their boards to the WIP office walls. Every board displayed a unique style, a sure sense of color, and an eye for design. The women were animated as they chatted about one another's selection and placement of images.
Gayle facilitated the Color Theory Workshop. She discussed the properties of color and how the mixture of different primary colors can create different secondary colors. This concept is extremely important to the batikers as they mix dyes to generate the exact color that is required for Global Mamas batik cloth. The women also learned about complementary relationships and harmonious color schemes, which is also an important concept as Global Mamas expands its product line. Global Mama, Gifty Saah, was further trained to carry out future trainings with new women entering the cooperative.
Gifty Saah started her career as a teacher, but lost her job when her family was evicted from their home in1997. When her family (husband and two children) found a new residence, she was unable to find a suitable job, so she began rejuvenating used t-shirts with bright batik and tie-dye designs for tourists. Gifty loves batiking because she can produce original, artistic goods and, given the opportunity, creativity flows from her heart. She launched "Giftex Impex" and operated her business in the back of a woman's house in exchange for training her children in batiking. However, after five years her family was evicted again and her husband also lost his job. They were forced to live in substandard living conditions and she worried about the environment's effect on her children. She did not give up and began door-to-door sales to find more reliable customers at restaurants and hotels. The income from these smaller local sales was still not enough to support her family to her expectations. As a member of Progressive Women's Credit Union, Gifty found Global Mamas and has:
- Increased revenue nearly 10 times as a result of batiking cloth for Global Mamas apparel.
- Kept careful records so she can follow through on a plan she created for growing her business.
- Saved over 40% of her profits that she will use for future business expansion.
- Learned computer basics Quickbooks so she can manage her orders, inventory, cashflow, vendors, bills & supplies
- Was able to receive a loan through the Pelican Group to help her purchase additional materials in advance of new contracts and client orders.
- Brought on 1 full-time worker and 3 new apprentices.
- Redeemed an old debt of 5M cedis (~$556).
- Paid for utilities that were previously shut off.
- Paid the school fees of her three children that had previously been sacked from school due to nonpayment.
- Paid advance on part of a community house that is satisfactory for her children.
By Emilie Kimball
In May, WIP volunteers Sarah Austen, Sarah Casanolia, and Kiley O'Brien helped to set up and organize a website which would promote four cultural workshops run by the Ghanaian women members of WIP. The workshops include learning to Batik, learning the Kpatsa dance and the use of the "talking drums," learning how to prepare traditional Ghanaian cuisine, and a glimpse of a Ghanaian fishing village and insight into a fisherman's way of life.
Sarah Casanolia visited several hotels in the Cape Coast and Elmina area as well as in Accra, in order to introduce WIP's expeditions to a broader crowd to attract more attention. She left posters explaining what Ghana Expeditions had to offer in exchange for advertising the hotel on the new website. Sarah Austen and Kiley O'Brien focused on designing and writing interesting content to put on the website to interest the tourist masses.
Participation in these traditional African workshops generates income for the local women and helps tourists expand their knowledge of many aspects of the Ghanaian culture. These workshops last about a half a day (3-4 hours) and are run by motivated women such as Antoinette who leads the drumming and dance workshop. In 1999 she received the Art and Critics and Reviewers Award which is given out by the National Theatre in Accra.
Sarah Austen, Sarah Casanolia, and Kiley O'Brien created the website to generate more awareness of the Ghana Expeditions aspect of the WIP program. Check out the website now at http://www.ghanaexpeditions.com
Continuing efforts to grow its customer base and support the women of Ghana, Global Mamas has expanded its web site, www.globalmamas.com, and will develop a new collection with several items for babies and women in summer 2005.
The expanded collection will include new styles of baby dresses and women’s skirts and dresses. Alice de Kruijs, a WIP volunteer and fashion designer, is working with WIP leadership and retailers in the United States and Europe to create the updated styles. She will also develop new batik patterns and embroidery designs.
In addition, in March, Women in Progress launched a new Handcrafting section of its web site. The pages contain information on the crafts of batiking, tie-dying and sewing, designed to attract more customers and other traffic to the site.
The Handcrafting section includes directions on how to batik and tie-dye. The step-by-step instructions use photos and short instructional videos featuring the Global Mamas to describe the batik and tie-dye process.
The language in each Handcrafting section has been optimized for search engines. Using Internet research, WIP included specific key words searched most often to ensure that its site will appear higher on popular search engines like Google and Yahoo.
WIP created the Handcrafting section with the goals of educating its consumers about the way its products are created, and increasing overall traffic to its eCommerce site.
In March, WIP accepted two new seamstresses, Charlotte Bart-Plange and Hannah “Mansa” Darbah. The women were selected through an application process agreed upon by the WIP members at their February meeting.
Charlotte Bart-Plange, a native of Cape Coast, began sewing almost 25 years ago. She worked out of her home and struggled to find consistent business to keep her afloat.
Charlotte once had apprentices, but had to let them go when she didn’t have enough business. Charlotte worked hard and succeeded in securing ten permanent clients, and was able to move into her own store three months ago.
With her new profits sewing men’s shirts for Global Mamas, Charlotte hopes to bring on more employees. “They will help me expand my business,” says Charlotte.
Mansa, owner of “When Jesus Says”, has been a seamstress in Cape Coast for the last seven years. She opened her own shop three years ago. She runs a successful business, but knew that she could do more.
Mansa has begun sewing Global Mamas’ new yoga bags. She will take on more projects as the clothing line expands.
With her new profits, she plans to expand her business in several ways. She would like to move to a new store, take on new apprentices and employees and buy a new electric sewing machine.
“I am so happy,” says Mansa, of her new work with Women in Progress.
In May 2000 the U.S. Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which serves to promote the economic and political development of Sub-Saharan African countries. To facilitate this, AGOA encourages Sub-Saharan African countries to work towards good governance, the rule of law, and a market-based economy. This is reflected in the criteria used to assess the eligibility of each country. AGOA also provides eligible countries the opportunity to export goods duty-free and quota-free into the U.S. In turn, this will assist economic development and strengthen U.S.-African trade relations.
In March 2002 Ghana was designated as an eligible country under AGOA. It has also been designated as a Lesser Developed Country which provides Ghana with even greater trade benefits. More specifically, as a Lesser Developed Country, organizations such as Women in Progress have the ability to export hand-made apparel sewn from the cloth of any country. As it is difficult to get cloth locally, this extended benefit serves Women in Progress well.
Under the current legislation, the benefit to Lesser Developed Countries only extends until September 30, 2004. Fortunately, a new bill called AGOA Bill III is currently before Congress, and it proposes to extend the benefit until September 30, 2007. The additional time would help Women in Progress to jump start our full-scale exporting program. Thus, we are hopeful that the new deadline will be extended.
by Comfort Koomson
It is good for a man and a woman to get married and have children because a man cannot stay alone, and neither can a woman. Marriage is a living creature, something we consider natural. It is in our Holy Bible that, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created male and female” (Genesis 1:27). And also in verse 28 it says, “God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” A woman alone cannot have a baby; neither can a man, but the two of them can together have a baby. So it is the responsibility of both of them to look after the children. Both of them should sit and plan out the upbringing of the children. They are the gift of God to them. They have to make sure they do not do anything on their own; instead, they should plan everything together. Both of them should decide everything by the sharing of ideas. This is important in every marriage to help the family stay together. Also keep in mind that the man is the head of every family. If the man and the woman do not agree on anything, and they do not sit down to discuss anything concerning the marriage together, separation will come. This will break down the marriage, and the family will never stay together.
Comfort Koomson is the owner/manager of New Era Textiles and has been working with Women in Progress for over a year. Her motto is: “Determination is the key to success!”