Does “a path always exist”?

7 May 2010 at 01:59 6 comments

In Fon, Alidé means “a path always exists (for the very poor).”  This is a touching sentiment matched by the equally strong social mission of the Kiva field partner that bears its name.  During my time as the Kiva Fellow placed with Alidé, I’ve been impressed with the institution’s passion and perseverance.  When I meet borrowers, I consistently see illiterate women who are able to send their children to school and praise Alidé for their success.  It’s easy to start thinking, “wow, there’s really something to this!”

But then there are also the times when I step back and realize that most of the women are selling the same items.  They almost always do what their mothers did before them and most of the time it’s retail: be it selling food, toiletries, fabric, or something else.  Now I don’t have any problem with retail in general – I mean, we need these goods – but in a country with a high rate of unemployment, which drives fierce competition, it’s hard to add value to these products, which are almost always imported and therefore identical woman-to-woman.  With the amount of people desperate to sell their wares, the prices of these objects are extremely low and their ROI is pennies at best.

Sure Alidé’s loans allow these women to maintain their businesses, and sometimes even grow them, enabling them some financial security, but I have to wonder how long will this last?  If these women are selling the same thing as their mothers and their mothers’ mothers, what will their kids do?  Is it really possible that a toothpaste selling business can continue to grow with each generation?

It makes me question if perhaps you need an entrepreneurial class to move out of poverty — a group of people that invents things, creates things that can have a value beyond their importation costs, and ensures enough of an economic flow to sustainably create more infrastructure?  I wonder if that’s something that can come through the education of the current or even next generation?  Or do you just need a Gap to come in and open up a factory and give more of the population employment?  How do you get more people generating income and enable and empower their families, their communities, and their country to develop?  I’m not sure.  What do you, Kiva Fellow’s blog readers, think?

Marie Leznicki is a Kiva Fellow serving her placement with Alidé in Benin.

Entry filed under: Africa, Alidé, Benin, blogsherpa, KF10 (Kiva Fellows 10th Class). Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. johanna  |  17 May 2010 at 16:30

    hi m,
    like Jeff said, these women are already sending their children to school, which can open new forms of creative thought and an good indication that things are changing.

    miss you. 🙂

  • 2. Jeremy Farkas  |  9 May 2010 at 03:22

    I wholeheartedly agree that education is the key, but one that is not easy to achieve. I’m in Kenya right now working to promote access to safe drinking water and am seeing the same issues you’re discussing. In many parts of the world, the upper class does not do their part to further the development of their country. Without public funding, school fees are often impossibly high, if schools are available at all. Without education, it’s difficult to grow a successful business, and so the next generation goes without education. It’s a tough cycle to break. I believe in the value of promoting access to micro-finance, clean water, etc., but I question how much of any impact we can really make without first opening up education at a massive level in the developing nations.
    -Jeremy Farkas

  • 3. Edwin  |  7 May 2010 at 13:39

    Value is hierarchical, and is derived from increased specialization of the division of labor, which comes from education, as wellas experience.therefore the best prospects for the developing worldis to increase access and spending on education, which acts aa a multiplier on income.

    More on this in

  • 4. Ron Turley  |  7 May 2010 at 11:06

    Marie: Great questions. Wealth is grown by adding value. If a business person opens a store in a village that does not have one and used to require a trek of an hour or more to the nearest outlet, value is added, people have more time to grow things or work on a business or to simply enjoy their time.

    But in a crowded market place, one more store REDUCES the business of the other retailers. Investing in greater productivity is the only way to generate wealth. When I go on the site to re-loan my money, I am frustrated to see the number of retailers. I search for farmers, tailors or manufacturers of some sort. I feel much more confident that these businesses will pull people out of poverty.

    If I may go on a bit more…I remember, years ago, travelling in Africa. We came to this one village where there had to be seven or eight young kids on the street trying to sell us small paper cups of peanuts. They would have taken a half cent more than the peanuts had cost them. I suspect they could spend all day at this and not sell one cup.

    Hang in there, though. I agree with Jeff that education of the next generation is a hopeful sign.

    Ron Turley KF11

  • 5. Fehmeen  |  7 May 2010 at 07:47

    Economic development is difficult to achieve if people simply buy and sell stuff (without making anything, without adding any value). This would also limit the profits of these women.

    These women may want to look into manufacturing the items they sell (like the famous Mufia Khatun, in Prof. Yunus’s book). It will get rid of intermediaries in the supply chair and improve sustainability and profits.

  • 6. Jeff  |  7 May 2010 at 03:25

    “illiterate women who are able to send their children to school”

    That is, perhaps, the answer. The next generation will not think the same way as the current generation.

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