In Mali, one of the largest barriers to women and youth employment is the lack of confidence, poor knowledge and skill base to identify business opportunities, draft a business plan, and establish profitable enterprises.
Common Pastures volunteer Mitchelle Olumide Makanjuola worked with three women’s organizations in Mali this past April, through Winrock International, to assist them in building capacity in business opportunity assessment, and to increase skills to manage new enterprises, including crop farming, processing, and small animals such as chickens.
Association des Femmes Scientifiques du Mali (AFSM)
The first three-day training was with the Association des Femmes Scientifiques du Mali (AFSM). The women learned about communication style and its connection to sales, and the importance of market research. The women expressed the need for access to computers, research and database systems in order to understand their market, competitors and potential customer/audience. Mitchelle briefly discussed how to conduct individual market research with limited information available.
The women had a particular interest in wanting to know more about product packaging, capacity building and market research and assessment. Due to this, the presentation was slightly altered to make time for discussions on how to create market-effective packaging, and how to reduce product size and cost to increase customer accessibility and increase sales.
African Women Leaders in Agriculture and Environment (AWLAE)
Next, Mitchelle met with the African Women Leaders in Agriculture and Environment (AWLAE). There were nine women in attendance, the majority of which were well experienced professionals who were close to or in retirement and serve as mentors to various groups of women in the community. There was also one youth present, which provided great insight on some generational differences, communication styles and perspectives.
The women mentioned they had a few challenges they faced and wanted help troubleshooting, including how to train other women on how to produce and sell various agricultural goods while maintaining quality, and developing packaging and labeling norms in the industry. They also mentioned they found it difficult to attain the equipment and infrastructure needed to increase capacity. The women particularly wanted some tips on how to motivate youth to be involved in the agriculture industry.
Learning more about the issues faced between generations, the women mentioned that “a lot of the youth have begun leaving Mali for alternative job opportunities and do not want to stay in Mali.” They concluded this was partially due to the lack of resources available in Mali, lack of equipment (harder levels of work) and lack of interest in the agriculture industry. A personality exercise helped the women to explore possible barriers in communication when engaging youth. They were grateful to hear from the youth perspective and began to understand that communication style is very important when trying to motivate youth to stay in Mali and participate in the local agriculture industry.
University of Ségou
The training at the University of Ségou was also well attended, however there was only one woman in attendance. Mitchelle and country director Bara Kassambara went out of her way to ensure the woman’s voice was heard, including asking specific questions and her opinion on various topics.
The male participants were very engaged and had lots of questions, particularly on the development of the actual business plan and budget construction. The group had a very good discussion on corruption, the need to properly plan and prepare for future expenses and the overarching need to show credibility to potential funders, such as banks (loans), donors and future business partners. Mitchelle also discussed the need for creativity, innovation and ability to feel comfortable with failure as important aspects of running a successful business.
“The participants seemed to be enlightened at the amount of detail and thought included in developing a start-up and long-term budget, particularly, when forecasting for future year expenses and being able to determine their bottom-line, break-even point and respective selling point of products or services needed to cover their expenses. Overall theparticipants were very focused throughout the training and were able to understand the multiple concepts mentioned. This was definitely confirmed by their show of gratitude following each session.” – Mitchelle