Our Business Brains program is all about empowering young people — especially girls — with leadership training, life skills, education in sexual and reproductive health and rights and menstrual hygiene management, business management, financial literacy, and confidence-building skills. It seriously covers everything!
In early 2019, we engaged a team to evaluate our Business Brains program in Sierra Leone to determine the impact it was having on girls and their communities. We wanted them to look at the highlights, challenges, and areas where we could make this program even better!
And spoiler alert: the results are pretty amazing!
Now the fun part! After we crunched the numbers and combed through the hundreds of responses, we’re VERY excited to share all of our findings with you.
GIRLS ARE PAYING IT FORWARD AND COMMUNITIES ARE FEELING THE CHANGE.
It is clear that the impact of Business Brains is rippling out into the communities where we work and the change is mainly led by the girls in the program who are passing on the benefits. During the study, we heard from girls who are supporting their families with money (such as buying lunch for their siblings), helping their mothers with record keeping for their family business and sharing books with their sisters so they could go to school too.
“At first, our mothers were doing business but did not know how to sell well but now we are teaching our mothers and they are selling well.”– Girls’ Club member.
“Those who are not attending school, when they are studying we share what we have learnt.”– Girls’ Club member.
It became clear that the program has a good reputation in the communities we work in as a result of this ripple-on effect. The evaluators were approached by boys who wanted their sisters to be part of the Girls’ Club, as well as parents who said they wanted to be trained in business skills as well, so they could have the same knowledge as their daughters. The community is so proud of the program that they are working to make sure that it will be sustainable and not reliant on outside support.
“If I started a project without Restless Development [and One Girl], I would do it with agricultural products – with groundnuts. We would plant it, sell it and then use this to sustain the project.”– Mother of the Girls’ Club member.
“The Business Brains program embodies the way in which the not-for-profit sector should be moving – essentially it is working ourselves out of a job and ensuring the community and program itself are sustainable without external influence and support.
“The impact of the program extends far beyond the participants on the program and this once again highlights the need to amplify [the voices of] women and girls. When you educate, up-skill and invest in women, the whole community benefits. Ultimately, the biggest thing that stays with me through this report is that it is challenging and changing the perception of women and gender.
“This is essential in enhancing the status of women and girls across the globe. This program is something for more programs to aspire to.”
– Shani Cain, CEO of Oaktree.
Teresa* means business. When she was in primary school, she started selling butterscotch and fry cakes to pay for her school fees and to help support her family.
It’s pretty incredible that from such a young age, Teresa has been passionate about her education. And this passion is inspired by her hard-working Mum, who has worked on a family farm since she was a young girl. To Teresa, her mother is her number one role model because despite not having a formal education, everything her mother has done has been for her children.
Tersea also wants to become a role model in her community by becoming a nurse so she can support other young women and save lives.
“I want to be a good example for my friends, and I can, as I am ahead in my education. If I am strong in my education, others will follow me”.
Now at age 20, Teresa is a member of a Girls’ Club within her community — and she wants to eventually lead the club when One Girl is no longer needed to run the program!
*We’ve changed Teresa’s name to protect her identity.
SEXUAL RIGHTS AND PERSONAL FREEDOMS ARE BEING EMBRACED.
Previously taboo topics such as menstrual hygiene, safe sex, family planning and discrimination are now being talked about more openly amongst communities engaged in Business Brains. Participants reported going home and talking to their parents about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – even encouraging them to use condoms to prevent any unwanted children!
Girls have also been sharing what they’ve learned about menstrual hygiene with their mothers, some even influencing them to the point of getting latrines installed in their homes. In fact, 8 out of 10 girls said they felt they had acquired new knowledge about menstrual hygiene thanks to the training and members of the Girls’ Clubs said the use of reusable pads is now very common and publicly discussed amongst members.
“I now know about menstruation and how to take care of myself.” – Business Brains participant.
One of the most powerful changes, however, has been girls feeling empowered and knowing their rights when it comes to their own sexual and reproductive health. Some reported taking a stand against ingrained beliefs of how men should treat women and asserting their rights over their own bodies to their partners and families.
“The businesses have made some of us become financially independent and not to rely on our parents and boyfriends for survival and support. This helped free ourselves from teenage/early pregnancy and sexual abuse by our boyfriends.”– Girls’ Club member.
“I think it is very interesting indeed to draw a link between a business program and sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women and girls. Creating safe spaces where topics such as periods, sex and contraception can be discussed leads destigmatisation and a wonderful openness and sharing about these topics in the broader community.
“Women’s bodies are often taboo to talk about, and as a result, women all over the world grow up not understanding their own bodies. The cloaked nature of normal processes such as menstruation, sex and sexual health holds women back from opportunities. It’s interesting to see that this program is working to address this in two ways. By teaching sexual health, it is empowering women with business skills, and my teaching business skills, it is empowering women in the area of sexual health. The Business Brains program is creating safe spaces where conversations about women’s sexual health can be had. When women share stories and personal experiences with each other they often undergo a process of transformation where they go from feeling isolated in their experience to feeling like a part of a collective. This has health outcomes: it may mean that women are able to understand their body is normal, or it may mean they are better able to recognise when their rights are being violated.
“From my experience working with women who share stories of gendered-violence, this is a hugely transformative moment for them in understanding their rights, take ownership of their bodily autonomy and demand better from their community. I am especially excited about the link between business and female sexual empowerment. Economic empowerment is so important for women and it’s so good to see that by achieving financial independence through Business Brains, women are becoming less vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy and sexual abuse. While we aspire to a world where women don’t fear sexual assault and child pregnancy at all, it is heartening to see that women can avoid such outcomes for themselves to an extend by becoming financially empowered through business. This is a great start.”
– Zoe Condliffe, the CEO and Founder of She’s A Crowd; a tech-enabled social movement to end gender-based violence: driven by data and powered by the stories of women.
When Ruth was just 15 years old, instead of focusing on her senior years of high school, she was getting ready for her wedding day. Not long after her wedding, Ruth became pregnant – and she was forced to drop out of school.
But Ruth never gave up on her dream of one day making it to her graduation! Following the birth of her first child, she was more determined than ever to finish high school.
Enter our Business Brains program!
When Business Brains started up in her community, Ruth became a member of a Girls’ Club, where she learnt how to start a small scale business so she could become financially independent! With the skills and support she received through Business Brains — matched with her incredible determination — she eventually saved up enough funds to return to high school! Talk about hustle!
*We’ve changed Ruth’s name to protect her identity.
GIRLS ARE BECOMING CONFIDENT LEADERS
Business Brains has given girls a belief in themselves. There was an overwhelming sense of belonging amongst participants. They are now part of a group that is encouraging them to go back to school and finish their education, rather than being marginalised in the community for dropping out or being unable to attend. Many girls commented on their pride in their school uniforms, shoes and bags, and the lessons in self-care (such as with menstrual hygiene) has given them a dignity and sense of value they previously didn’t feel.
For girls who never attended school, are at risk of dropping out, or were forced to drop out due to teen pregnancy or early marriage, we created Girls’ Clubs in 30 communities. These clubs are safe spaces for girls to learn new skills and discuss the most pressing concerns they have as young women in their community.
And Girls’ Club members are seen as an inspirational and united group of peers!
“We feel much more confident and know that the future is more secure for our lives. Our confidence level has changed regarding our future because we now make informed decisions over our careers.” – Girls’ Club member.
We’re constantly inspired by the extraordinary strength of the young women in our programs.
Fatima* has lost nearly every member in her family.
Yet despite so much loss, Fatima has nothing but hope for her future. When Fatima saw an ad to become a volunteer in our Business Brains program – she didn’t hesitate to apply! Her application was successful, and she was able to move into a community house with other Business Brains volunteers.
Fatima is proud to talk to different community members about Business Brains, and it didn’t take long before she became a role model and leader for other girls and young women. In fact, Fatima won an award for the Best Volunteer! And all of her hard-work and success has meant she’s ready and confident to enter the workforce, using all of the skills she’s learnt through the program!
*We’ve changed Fatima’s name to protect identity.
Older Girls’ Club members are mentoring other girls outside the clubs and also assisting younger members with their businesses and training.
“If I am strong in my education, others will follow me slowly.” – Girls’ Club member.
There were also multiple accounts of girls who completed the program becoming Head Girls at their schools and beginning to speak out in assemblies as a result of the program and their new revered status!
“I want to be a good example to my friends as I am ahead of others in terms of education.” – Business Brains participant.