As Peace Corps volunteers in Ghana, Renae Adams and Kristin Johnson worked on projects to empower rural women.They witnessed firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit of Ghanaian women.
After their time in the Peace Corps, they returned home and graduated from business school. Years later they “got burned out by corporate America…” and went back to Ghana to form a nonprofit organization, a cooperative, dedicated to the economic empowerment of women in the areas where they had worked as volunteers.
“Kristin and I
have a passion and that is business,we love making business work, and we love
to see the impact that it is having,” says Adams.
They formed an organization called Women in Progress and for its marketing arm they chose the catchy title Global Mamas. Kristin Johnson works on marketing from her base in the U.S. city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Adams is works in Ghana, where for the last six years she has been training local women to both make and market their products. “The women we work with in Ghana are super talented…and they are entrepreneurs from when they are five years old and sell items on the streets,” she says. “So they know what they are doing where business is concerned.”
In Ghana, as in
many parts of rural Africa, women hand make clothing mostly for themselves and
their families. They sell the rest at
the local market. But that does not
usually give them enough income to support their families. So Global Mamas
gives them access to the international marketplace, exporting the clothing made
by the women to markets in the United States. “The products are beautiful and sell
themselves,” she says. “Right now we have more demand than the capacity….”
The organization helps more than 400 women throughout Ghana. It is recognized as a fair trade manufacturer and distributor, which means its members are the primary beneficiaries of the proceeds from the clothing sales. A woman earning an income changes the socio-economic balance in these societies. It reduces the traditional economic inequality between men and women. “The biggest success you can really see is that by helping them export their products they are gaining real income,” Adams says. This in turn improves the standard of living of not only the women, but also their communities.
To Adams, a critic of the current foreign aid systems, “helping women gain economic independence is the most effective way to reduce dependence on foreign aid.” Given the challenges they face on a daily basis, Adams is encouraged and inspired by the women she works with. “One of the things that keeps me going is the transformation of these woman…Their confidence is almost unreal…”