How women entrepreneurs are adapting their businesses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana
By Alyssa McDonald, WAGES Communications Advisor Volunteer, Ghana
Businesses all over the world have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – and Ghana is no exception. To stop the initial spread of the virus, government-mandated lockdowns were put in place, borders were closed, markets were shut down, and Ghanaian businesses and livelihoods were affected.
Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are particularly feeling these impacts, with businesses having to shut down and experiencing loss of revenue, demand, and cash flow, as well as supply chain shortages. Making up more than 70% of global employment and 50% of GDP, MSMEs remain important to our global and local economies and must be prioritized in economic recovery efforts.
In West Africa, 90.2% of women work in the informal economy. Under normal circumstances, these women are often denied access to labour and social protections, and women entrepreneurs also experience challenges with accessing capital. In the wake of the pandemic, many women entrepreneurs in Ghana struggled to keep their businesses running, particularly in the extractive areas where there is not enough sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPEs) in their communities.
Georgette Barnes Sakyi-Addo, the President of Women in Mining Ghana, a membership-based organization supporting women in the extractive areas, says that she is seeing first-hand the challenges that small businesses and women entrepreneurs are facing.
Despite the challenges, women entrepreneurs are not giving up. They are showing their resilience and entrepreneurial skills in the face of the economic downturn created by the pandemic and its succeeding shutdowns.
Women entrepreneurs innovating during COVID-19
Since 2016, WUSC has been working with communities living in extractive areas in the Western Region of Ghana to support MSMEs – the majority of which are women-owned – to grow and benefit from the opportunities the sector has to offer. We do this by providing training and capacity-building support, as well as fostering linkages between community members and local government and private companies.
Through continued hard work, innovation and product diversification, many women entrepreneurs are facing barriers head on and taking control of their livelihoods.
One such woman is Francisca Afful, who had attended multiple entrepreneurship and gender equality training sessions supported by WUSC prior to the pandemic. These trainings seek to equip entrepreneurs with technical and financial management skills, diversification and how to tap into opportunities arising in the extractive areas.
“Business was very good until the global pandemic…and it has really affected my business and sales. During the entrepreneurial and technical training, I learned how to make other products from off-cuts or waste of my fabrics,” Francisca says.
“During the pandemic period, when I realized we were supposed to put on masks, I made samples [of masks using the fabric waste] and decided to take it to the District Assembly. I took a bold step as a result of the knowledge I gained during the entrepreneurship training on linkages. They were really impressed and have given me a contract to make 300 pieces of the masks for the Assembly so that it can be distributed to market women [entrepreneurs] during our market days.”
Francisca has been an active agent of change in her community through her involvement in the Fiaseman Mbaa Yiedie Kuo (FMYK) Women’s Support Group and her leadership in implementing girls’ clubs in Western Region secondary schools to empower female students. The WUSC-supported FMYK Womens’ Support Group was created so that women in the community can influence authorities to increase women’s empowerment, participate in decision-making activities and processes, and support economic opportunities through employment or entrepreneurship for women.
As a community leader, Francisca recognized the need for PPEs in her community and took the issue head-on by producing her own masks. She also started to train other women entrepreneurs on this new skill as a way to diversify their incomes.
Protecting their community through PPE production
In this time of uncertainty, women are working together to create quality health and hygienic products needed in their communities.
On realizing the lack of and need of PPEs, Francisca and other women entrepreneurs asked WUSC for training on making PPEs and other products. On the 17th and 18th of June 2020, WUSC supported two training sessions for women entrepreneurs – ten at each training to abide by physically distancing protocols – from the Wassa East District and Prestea-Huni Valley Municipality. Participants learned to sew two different styles of facemasks and make cleaning products, including alcohol-based sanitizers, liquid soap, household cleaner and disinfectant.
These high-demand products will protect many community members and create an income for these newly trained female entrepreneurs. The group of women also secured a contract with WUSC to make masks and cleaning products to be donated to the local District Assemblies. In addition, WUSC is working to foster market linkages for the provision of PPEs by these women entrepreneurs to private and local government institutions.
Sharing stories of resilience during COVID-19
To highlight stories like Georgette’s and Francisca’s during the COVID-19 pandemic, we produced a podcast looking at matters pertaining to communities impacted by the extractive industry. The first episode focuses on women-led businesses and their adaptations to COVID-19. Through virtual interviews and roundtable discussions, the WAGES Podcast has been able to highlight female entrepreneurs, as well as the government and civil society response to the pandemic focusing on goals of local governance and environmental sustainability.
The WAGES project aims to break the vicious cycle in which local communities, especially women and youth, are excluded from the benefits of mining investments. Through WAGES, WUSC and the Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI), work in three regions of Burkina Faso, Ghana and Guinea impacted by extractive industries. The project works to empower local communities, and specifically integrate women and youth, to participate fully in local governance, economic opportunities and the sustainable development of these areas. The project collaborates with local and national governments, select mining companies, as well as small and medium-sized businesses and civil society organizations to attain those objectives. Global Affairs Canada funds the implementation of WAGES from 2016 until 2022.