Poverty is a huge barrier preventing girls from attending school. In Sierra Leone up to 80% of the population live on less than $2 a day.
It’s not uncommon for students to go to school without lunch, or other essentials like medicine. After one of our scholars fainted in class due to hunger, we realised we needed a sustainable solution to address this. The girls suggested we support them in starting their own small business so they could earn money to buy their own food, and beyond that support their families and themselves after they graduated.
What a great idea.
HERE’S THE PROBLEM
In Sierra Leone high rates of unemployment mean that there aren’t a whole lot of formal jobs available for girls, even if they graduate from high school. So we needed a way to empower them to earn an income so they could support themselves, and their families, while they’re in school – and for after they finish as well.
AND THE SOLUTION: BUSINESS BRAINS.
In 2012, we began a small trial program with 16 girls at a rural high school. Each girl was given a $40 grant to start her own small business. Many of the girls started selling items such as rice, kerosine and other small goods. The trial was such a success that we ran another pilot.
This time it was with a larger group of girls: 78 of our senior secondary scholars. We partnered with a local organisation in Sierra Leone, Restless Development, to create the training. Together we co-designed a curriculum that covered things like financial literacy, basic bookkeeping and customer service. We called the project Business Brains, but we also included components of life-skills and sexual and reproductive health so that the girls were equipped with more than just business knowledge – they had life-knowledge too.
The second trial went gangbusters, so in 2014 we partnered with Restless Development to scale Business Brains up and roll it out across 23 communities and schools across Sierra Leone, and to date we’ve reached over 3,200 girls in school with the training.
But that’s just the beginning.
This is Sarah, one of our Business Brains students during our pilot phase – she started a small business selling homemade butterscotch.
SEE BUSINESS BRAINS IN ACTION
REASONS TO LOVE BUSINESS BRAINS
GIRLS CLUBS – REACHING GIRLS OUT OF SCHOOL
Realising that some of the most vulnerable girls who could benefit from Business Brains aren’t in school in the first place, we wanted to find a way to reach them too.
So we worked with Restless Development to set up Girls Clubs – a version of Business Brains that reaches girls who are not in school for whatever reason. Many of these girls and young women were forced into child marriage, or fell pregnant as teenagers. And these clubs are a vital safe space for them to meet with other girls and women their age, be educated about their rights, and be empowered with business and life-skills training.
We reckon that’s pretty damn cool.
BUSINESS BRAINS IMPACT
RESPONDING TO EBOLA
Ebola had a huge impact on the rollout of Business Brains, because schools were shut down during the outbreak, from 2014 – 2015.
During the Ebola crisis we were able to pivot and respond to the emergency by joining Restless Development and a coalition of other NGOs in a mass mobilisation across Sierra Leone to reach thousands of people across communities with vital Ebola education – equipping women and girls with critical prevention information to help halt the spread of the virus.
Reaching women and girls was a particular concern for us because of their traditional role as caretakers of the family – they were often at the greatest risk of contracting the virus because it was their job to take care of sick family members.
Through the mobilisation campaign run across 96 communities in Sierra Leone, we reached over 6.800 women and girls with Ebola education, and an additional 7,331 men and boys.
And since the Ebola outbreak was declared over in late 2015, Business Brains has hit the ground running and by the end of 2016 we expect to reach an addition 3,800 women and girls through it. That’s a LOT of Business Brains!