I have always loved the number 3. As a professional in the fine jewelry industry, symbolism is everything. Deeper meaning to be found with every number, every color, and each and every aspect of an object- tangible or intangible.
As I reflect back on my insightful first two days in the village of Mutungo with BeadforLife’s 12th Street Business School cohort, I am amazed at the fundamental principles and the manner in which they are taught to women at the base of the economic pyramid. Women whose daily earnings average between $.60- $1.25 a day before the 6 month entrepreneurial training sessions. As I sat at the side of the make-shift classroom of over 75 women , I observed so many things that grabbed my attention- causing me to pause, and take a mental snapshot in my mind. Things like the number of children, some showing signs of Kwashiokor- a common type of protein deficiency seen in children living in third world countries- sitting on their mother’s lap quietly while she focuses on absorbing the life-lifting content from Rachel, Clare, and Joanita- the dedicated, hardworking, and compassionate trainers of the Street Business School program. I noticed that this mobile classroom was in effect a local village church, which seemed the most appropriate setting for the trainings which began with some combination of a dance circle followed by the most lovely group song of praise, which I have listened to over and over on a recorded video since experiencing the joy in the room that day. The spirit just filled the air after the women thanked God for the day, and for the blessings He has bestowed on each and every one of them. I could just feel the shift in the air, a peace swirling around with the heavenliest of scents.
The first session I attended focused on the concept of finding capital and starting small. For homework the previous session, the women were asked to bring in an item they could use for capital to launch their small business. This was like a show and tell of sorts, and really changed my perspective on what it takes to get a small business off the ground. As the women were being encouraged to think of themselves as the fundamental capital generator- not the capital itself, I thought about the challenge this poses to women who are so desperately lacking in self- confidence- a result of living in extreme poverty and the interwoven web of difficulty this encompasses for their entire lives. Imagine asking a middle aged woman with no more than a primary school education, with 3-6 children in tow to believe that she is the most important factor in starting her own business and changing her life forever. She, not the money, will be the starting point. Her idea, her belief in her business and belief in herself. This was incredibly awe-inspiring to witness this level of teaching, engagement, and the level of belief BeadforLife has in the implementation of it’s proven, tailored entrepreneurial training model. Thanks to my kind-hearted and lovable Luganda translator and BeadforLife colleague, Coach Clare, I quickly copied into one of my spiral bound notebooks the powerful message given by Coach Rachel to the group. “I want you to be different, to start a change in your family today. You are not poor. Your head is poor. Unless you understand that capital is you, you will not succeed!” Coach Rachel stands about an inch over five feet tall, petite as can be, beautiful braids in her hair with fuchsia colored tips dressed in an ankle length skirt and cardigan set carefully chosen that morning to present her best self in the most professional light to the group. Her strength maintaining the attention of such a robust congregation is a fine example of the phrase, ” where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The fortitude in her voice, compassion in her heart, and life-force in her aura captured my heart, compelling me to share it with you all. These three coaches working together as a team to improve the lives of women who would otherwise be written off will forever stay with me, and it is truly an honor to share with you how dedicated they truly are, not to mention the stamina they possess to go into the field and repeat this work day in and day out. It is not easy. My hat goes off to each and every field-worker in the world. Having walked a few weeks in their shoes, they are now my unsung heroes.
As stated by BeadforLife:
“We believe strongly that entrepreneurship; particularly female entrepreneurship, has a critical role to play in driving economic growth, reducing poverty, creating self-sufficiency and solving some of the the large scale development problems we are facing. Our Street Business School is designed to reduce poverty by supporting female entrepreneurs in their development of self-sustaining micro enterprises and enabling them to become agents of their own change.”
Adapted from the proven 18 month “Beads to Business” model which focuses on income generating opportunities through the creation of and sale of recycled paper beaded jewelry sold in international markets, the Street Business School was born. The school has 3 core components- taken from the Beads to Business program- including a rigorous selection process, tailored business content adapted for small-scale start ups in developing nations, and a focus on relationship building and mentoring. The beauty of the Street Business School model is it’s scalability. It is not dependent on outside markets for growth, and allows for an increased enrollment of women at a lower cost per participant. These two holistic programs envision the poorest of women empowered and enabled to start sustainable business ventures rooted in the local economy.
I appreciated each aspect for different reasons, but something about the mentoring stood out to me. There is a beautiful, mutual respect between trainers and participants in the Street Business Program as is evidenced by the use of the appellation “coach”. Each woman believing she has something valuable to learn from the other. What a lovely sign of respect, and shared humanity. I found myself humbled- as I , too, was learning about business training. It felt like I was a participant in the class, not an observer. I was a participant.
To end the 3 hour session, a previous Street Business School graduate with thriving businesses shares her story in front of the group- reinforcing the efficacy of the teaching, as well as creating buy-in by current enrollees. I listened as Hadijah Kirombe stood up in front of the class and gave a detailed account how she was able to lift herself from poverty as a direct result of the trainings she received- offered at no charge by BeadforLife. Hadijah shared how her life had been transformed. She began by selling off 30,000 UGS worth of unused, discarded items she had been holding on to, and invested that money into materials allowing her to weave beautiful Nubian style mats. Moving from door to door and within various markets, a skill referred to as ” kutembeya”, Hadijah began to have a steady stream of income. She stressed, ” as a single mother, I didn’t undermine any job. Each time the trainers spoke to me they spoke to my heart, to me directly… as if I needed to hear it in order to change.” Addija continued to impress upon the class with her detailed explanations of exactly how she managed to turn the tides of poverty away from her. She now sells mushrooms, makes her own briquettes, weaves intricate “katinge” mats, and has taught her children to knit- so they can help create products for her to sell which will in turn be used to fund their school fees! Addija then shared how she travels to local prisons and purchases hand made bags made by the incarcerated women, and resells them along with her other wares. How impressive to see her willingness to give back after all she has been through.
As the session concluded, Hadijah left with the group with a nugget to consider,
” Try to keep your emotions balanced. When bad things take place, be happy- and keep on going….. and be sure to use them [your children] as often as possible to help you- teach them your skills.”
May you be inspired by Hadija, the coaches, and yourself to begin a venture you never dreamed possible. Remember: Start Small. Start with you.
To see a photo of Hadijah and learn how you can invest in a member of the Street Business School for as little as $46, please click here: http://vegas.ignite1million.org