What the heck is Graeme up to this summer?

Well I am employed by Engineers Without Borders Canada as a Junior Fellow, which is 18-month job/internship consisting of three parts. First being 6 months of learning and preparation, 4 months of working in one of EWB’s ventures in Africa, and 8 months of sharing my experiences and learning with my chapter and U of S’s next junior fellow.

 

So what most of y’all are probably interested in is what I am up to this summer. Well I am embedded in Kulemela Investments. Kulemela Investments is a business that believes it is possible to make money by doing good. At Kulemela we see that small-scale farmers lack access to fair and reliable markets for their produce. We are investing in various points along the agriculture value chain in Ghana to increase food security and competitiveness in agriculture markets. If you wish to learn more check out their website here.

 

So now you know what Kulemela is about but you still have no idea what I am doing… Ok well essential I am designing new financial products that mitigate financial risk and provide a positive social impact. In the past Kulemela has provided loans in the form of fixed asset financing, working capital financing, and production financing to help grow small and medium-sized agribusiness. These are all very traditional methods of financing that are offered at any bank in Canada. How ever banks in the developing world have refused to provide these kinds of financing options to small and medium business. Currently credit is only available to very large business from traditional banking institutions and impact investing firms that can absorb $250,000+. Over the past 40 years there has been a huge push to provide basic banking services to the working poor and because of these efforts millions of people now have access to banking and credit services from microfinance institutions.

 

This has left a gap in the market making it almost impossible for entrepreneurs to grow their business from micro enterprises that can only handle a few thousand in investment into ones large enough to take on $250,000 in financing. Now providing financing to entrepreneurs in the area of $10,000 – $100,000 the so-called missing middle in financing isn’t an easy task. This is the stage where an entrepreneur will really have to start managing their cash flows and become business savvy quickly or they will fail. The due diligence cost of researching and entrepreneur and business will be almost the same for a loan of $30,000 or $200,000 making the profit margin on a small loan almost non-existent. This is why banks and impact investors only deal in large loans and microfinance institutions have largely gotten around this cost by charging very high interest rates, providing loans to groups of individuals, and being mostly non for profit.

 

If you are interested in learning and doing more to solve the problem of the missing middle financing click here.

 

I am spending my summer trying to develop different financial products that are specifically designed for small and growing business and entrepreneurs in the developing world. I will be focusing on the maize, soy, and poultry value chains and developing financial products that mitigate in unique risks in each sector as well as the challenges of providing financing to entrepreneurs that have little to no collateral and may have yet to develop the business know how to handle a large financial investment.

 

The goal is create a more competitive market so small-scale farmers receive the highest price for their produce. This will be achieved by growing small and medium size business the more the sector grows the more competitive it will become. New jobs will be created, small-scale farmers will earn more money, food security will increase, and poverty reduction will occur.

The bus from Accra to Tamale takes about 14 hours and cost $20 the flight cost $50 and takes 45 minutes. I took the bus down to Accra but splurged on the way back.

The bus from Accra to Tamale takes about 14 hours and cost $20 the flight cost $50 and takes 45 minutes. I took the bus down to Accra but splurged on the way back.

The world cup really showcases the diversity within Kulemela.

The world cup really showcases the diversity within Kulemela.

A meeting between me and a group of female soy farmers

A meeting between me and a group of female soy farmers

This is a maize sheller it is pretty much the greatest thing ever I could write a whole post about the need for mechanization in agriculture.

This is a maize sheller it is pretty much the greatest thing ever I could write a whole post about the need for mechanization in agriculture.

In Country Training

Our last evening in Canada was spent at EWB head office where they held an awesome send off party for the JFs. How. By the time I had awoken the next day the house seemed empty the JF’s headed to Uganda, Zambia, and Malawi had already left for the airport not to be seen again for 4 months.

Before stepping off the plain in Accra I was greeted with the familiar and pleasant combination of 30+ degree heat and 100% humidity which was the first thing I noticed or should I say felt on my previous arrival in Ghana. It is an unforgettable feeling for a person who use to climate consisting of freezing dry winters and scorching dry summers. This feeling is quickly followed by another, which I am all too familiar with and don’t have such fond memories of, that is the feeling of uncontrolled and never ending back sweat.

After making our way through border security, collecting our luggage, and lastly customs we were greeted by some fellow EWBers. In classic Accra fashion the power was out across the city so when we arrived at our guesthouse to find it devoid of people, closed due to the power outage we set off again to find a place to stay with a running diesel generator. Now please don’t get the idea that Ghana is a country without a functioning electrical grid on contrary it produces more then enough electricity for itself and even exports power to neighboring countries. Power outages are rare outside of Accra and as a result when in Accra you get use to the constant hum of generators.

After a nights sleep we were off to Kumasi for our in country training. Kumasi is only 250km away from Accra no greater of distance to travel then from Saskatoon to Regina so would expect to arrive in about 2 ½ hours. But in actuality the drive takes almost 6 hours because of the never ending traffic and “road construction”.

In country training felt a lot like pre departure training only the classroom was a lot hotter and what we were learning all of a sudden seemed a lot more relevant. Highlights of in country training included meeting the African Junior Fellows who were selected from various universities across Ghana. Meeting the Voto Mobile (www.votomobile.org) crew in person that only a few weeks ago the entire usask chapter was talking to over Skype in my living room. Mark and Sean Boots are a big part of the Voto team and are fellow usask boys.

In country training was over all to soon and it was time to say our goodbyes. I was amazed how close the group had become after only knowing each other for 2 weeks. But it was time to leave the safety net of the group and start the next chapter in my JF placement. Early in the morning I set off for Accra looking forward to catching up on some much needed sleep while in the relative comfort of the air-conditioned bus.

But what I had forgotten was that it was Sunday morning in Ghana. Ghana is often considered one of the most if not the most religious country in the world with 96% of the population claiming to be actively religious. Previously living in the north of Ghana an area composed of a majority Muslim population I had gotten use to the song like call the prayer that was heard every day 5 times a day. I was much less familiar with the not so passive ways of preaching evangelical Christians often employ in the south of Ghana and I imagine similar to the style commonly found in bible belt of the USA. I may not have signed up for it and whether I liked it or not for the next several hours I was about to experience an early morning mobile bus sermon.

Pre-Departure

 

It’s been 2 weeks since I left Saskatoon so it’s about time for an up date.

I have made it to Ghana with only a couple awkward run-ins with security agents in Toronto and Frankfurt. Tomorrow I will be leaving for my village stay and I am already behind on my blog posts so here is a quick update of what my first week looked like as an Engineers Without Borders Junior Fellow which from here on out will be abbreviated to EWB JF to save me the embarrassment of misspelling the words engineers, without, borders, junior, and fellow.

Pre departure training in Toronto

My first week was spent in Toronto living out of an old town house in the little Italy district of Toronto. This was quite the experience itself to best sum it try to imagine 24 people living in a small and very cramped house. Due to the age of the house there was only enough water pressure to operate one of its two showers at a time. Moving about the house was not always easy seeing as almost every inch of floor space was either covered with a mattress or somebody’s stuff.  I once again apologize to all who had to endure my bear like snoring throughout the night. The cramped living space provided an atmosphere full of lively discussion, debate, and laughs.

Most of the days were spent in a U of T classroom learning about gender issues, development history, health and safety, frameworks, human centered design, were just some of the topics covered. Highlights included George’s (cofounder of EWB Canada) Q & A session, visiting the EWB head office, and my Kulemela practical exercise.

For the practical exercise Ingrid (my fellow junior fellow who is also working for Kulemela this summer) and I were given the task of locating and interviewing an urban farmer about their experience with accessing private sector financial services in Ontario. This was followed up with a trip Toronto’s financial district to learn more about what financial services are available to small farmers in Ontario.

Possible the most embarrassing thing to come out of the week was my break out performance as the future king of hip-hop, Jf Rj Smalls. I was able to display my lyrical genius with a short performance of the 3 Jf commandments which and no way resembled Biggie Small’s 10 crack commandments. Mix tape coming soon?

Well time for bed I have to be up early tomorrow to beat never ending traffic jam that is Accra. After I return from my village stay I’ll be posting another update about my first week or so in Ghana

 

Lovely Circle of JFsEwb Head Office

Learning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cya later Saskatoon

Hopefully I have remembered to pack the important things. Just waiting to catch my flight to Toronto where I’ll be spending the next week in a series of preparation classes to prepare me for my summer as an Engineer Without … Continue reading