Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"The Sexy Jewelry Store"

There has been a big push in the recent years to help start micro-businesses and give out micro-finance loans. I have always had this idealistic dream to help start up a micro-business ever since I learned about it in college, but only recently have I actually gotten on that train, which is super exciting. However, our micro-business train is just starting to move and we have a long way until those wheels are moving efficiently and rapidly.

So what is our fine product, you may ask if the blog title has not given it away? To make fun jewelry using locally available products! The creators and entrepreneurs are young women and (brave) men (unafraid to break down gender roles) from the high school who meet in their free time to make earrings, headbands, and rings. My Mozambican counterpart and I bought materials for the girls who received our purchases and industriously began creating different earring styles.

We are using their created products to show them how a good idea put into action can be turned into a profitable initiative. We are trying to teach the young entrepreneurs good business skills such as marketing, keeping inventories and sales records, and having first-rate customer service. The young women are included in discussion on what to do with profits, which we have decided to save part, give a small subsidy to them for incentive to continue, and use the rest for our extracurricular club. The young women have plans to sell their products locally and hopefully take advantage of their connection to the States through PCVs and sell their products there in expositions. It has been awesome to see their minds start turning as they think up possible new products and think of other unrelated business opportunities such as selling popcorn at school during snack break because they are looking for demands and a way to supply those demands.

Hopefully we will get this micro-business train on the right track, one that will continue long after we have gone. Only then, will we have reached our goal. We will have equipped high school students with a skill set to ensure that they can be conductors in their future generation rather than passengers looking for a free ride, which has sadly become the case in much of Africa (and for that matter, too many people like that worldwide). The way international development has been done has left many Africans reliant on handouts when in reality it is better for both the developer and beneficiaries of the development work to work together to focus on building human capacity. In lieu of the old adage that "it is better to teach a man to fish rather than fish for him", our micro-business’ goal for the 2010 year will try to be to get all our students aboard so that new leaders are born and the very capable and intelligent Mozambican young women learn to help themselves!

P.S. I titled my blog “The Sexy Jewelry Store” because it’s a funny anecdote about the entire learning process the young women are going through. One of the instructions my Mozambican counterpart and I gave our young women to inspire creativity was to think up a name for our business. A few returned the next day with this name “Bejutaria Sexy,” and we got the biggest kick out of it. We said, “Thank you girls for the idea, and we get that our products are going to be incredibly sexy because they’re pretty and feminine. However, that’s probably not the most appropriate name because we do not want to market ourselves primarily as being sexy. This is a women’s empowerment group and there are a whole lot of other adjectives that would be a better choice for our public image – intelligent, capable, creative, and so on.” Anyway, they got that after our explanation and we decided upon a more fitting name and that’s that. Little victories.