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News from Ghana and the Shea Project in collaboration with Planet Finance

Long time, no blog

Hi there, it has been a while since I published my first blog about The specified item was not found.. A lot of things have happened since then, most importantly in our Shea project in Ghana.

In case you have missed the updates from Marie Pons, the project manager from our global partner PlaNet Finance, I strongly encourage you to do to that. She previously posted updates, for example about the feasibility study, her impressions from the field, and more

Now we are in a very critical phase because the first harvest season of shea nuts is over, big buyers are starting to buy now and soon we will see if the work we have done over the last couple of months resulted in true positive impact for the women in Ghana. But let’s step back for a second.

Project Objectives

The initial idea was to create sustainable business models through access to microfinance, education and information technology. Marie Pons wrote about that in her blog Microfinance and ICT meet in Rural Areas, Ghana. The idea is still the same but we now have some very specific objectives in mind. The plan is to start working with a total number of 3000 women, split up into two cycles in 2010 and 2011. The three objectives, which cover economic, environmental and social aspects in the local communities are:

  1. A minimum of 30% increase in targeted women’s shea product income compared to non-program participants by the end of the program
  2. 40% of community inhabitants sensitized have changed their current practices of using shea as a key tree for firewood
  3. 50% reduction of distress sale of key household assets to meet cash during the lean season


Achievements so far

Most activities in the first couple of months were dedicated to group building and education. Right now we have close to 1700 women, which are organized into 90 groups. Each group has women from the same village but a village can have two or even three groups.

The training that the women receive is very basic, but has a huge impact on product quality. And although illiteracy rates in the region are around 90%, all women have a fairly good business understanding and they know how to deal with money – usually much better than their husbands.

I had the pleasure to visit the project area in July. It was very impressive when the women proudly presented their nuts to us. The quality was way better than the nuts you could buy on the regional markets. As said, we are now excited to find out what premium the women can finally achieve due to the higher quality.

Besides the training of the women there were also lots of trainings related to capacity building for the local microfinancing institutes (MFIs). We tested a new volunteering model and selected an SAP employee, who was not part of the project team, to go to Ghana and deliver basis MS-Office trainings to the local MFIs.  See the notes from Claudia Schulz who shared her experience in a series of blog postings.


Information Technology

Wow, is what comes to your mind when you drive through the streets of Tamale, the capital of the North of Ghana. 10 or 15 years ago, the commercials from Coca Cola and Pepsi were all around. Today, each street light, almost every other shop next to the street, all the big commercial screens show the bright red of Vodafone or some other local mobile services provider. Cell phones are everywhere and coverage is pretty good, even in rural areas – the best conditions for a successful implementation of the software components of the Shea project. What were the components again?

  1. Rural market connection: This is the back office system, which covers order management, transportation management, billing and reporting. Version one is installed in Ghana and the team is currently filling it with data.
  2. Cell phones with SMS updates: Right now the team is distributing cell phones to the women groups including related trainings. The women will receive a weekly SMS with updated market information from the markets within their reach.
  3. The marketing webpage for the associations. This is where the women can describe their offerings and hopefully attract new buyers. We are not done yet with the page but I will post it as soon as we are. It’s really going to be a cool page.
  4. Microloan management system: This is the system that is not core to the Shea project but to enable the local MFIs. Craig Cmehil developed the Simple Loan TrackingToday we are live.

Deep dives into all of the four topics above would go too far in this blog. Watch out for further and more frequent updates, including screenshots and demos of the four components above.

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  • Heino, Thank you for an excellent, informative update on this project – I’m excited to see that we are keeping rolling updates to the shea nut project going.

    Question: in addition to screenshots and demos of the tech which is developed for this project, will we be able to video some of the women using their phones interact with the data?  I’m fascinated by this aspect – the rise of mobile applications in Asia and Africa and the different ways mobile devices are used as primary computing platforms.

    • Hi Jeremiah,
      thanks for the feedback. Yes, we have also planned to record some videos about how the fones are being used. Right now we are rolling out the devices, then trainings will take place and finally we will hopfully be able to show the impact. Stay tuned.
  • Great updates, Heino! I also love the pictures from Claudia and Marie. Hope you and the overall teams are capturing the data, artifacts, video/pics at every step. It would be an awesome case!

    I also look forward to seeing how those women react to and use the mobile SMS app. By the way, how do you plan to have them post their offerings on the Web marketing page? Or MFIs do it for them?

    thanks for doing this great work!

    • Hi Li,
      the web page will be a more general description of what the women offer. Not so much an online store. As 90% of the women are illiterate, the page is currently being developed through a mixed team of Planet Finance, SAP, the MFIs, and some volunteers. We want to set it live next week. You will here about it in this forum 🙂