My Business Impact in Ghana through Clinton Global Initiative University

cgiuAs a student at the Christian Service University, I learned of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) which engages the next generation of world leaders on college campuses to take concrete steps to address global challenges. So, I made a commitment in 2010 with my co-founders to use bamboo to produce bicycles. Our project was accepted.

Around the same time on campus, our entrepreneurship professor was encouraging us to create self-employment opportunities instead of relying on non-existent white collar jobs.

Ghana Bamboo Bikes The Way Women Work CGIUI started to think of what I could do with my business degree after graduation that would serve my community and create opportunities for youth. That led to the birth of the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. It uses readily available natural resources in the community to address an urgent transportation need in rural communities while creating self employment opportunities for the youth and reducing poverty.

The bamboo bicycle is not a new concept. It has been around since 1894.The first bamboo bicycles were shown at the London Stanley Show of 1894 and caused a sensation. However the use of bamboo never caught on until around the year 2005 when some few organizations and individuals revived the concept and it is now catching on all over the world. Our company’s strength lies in the fact that the bamboo bikes that we build can withstand large loads, rough terrain and inclement weather.

Business Challenges

There were a lot of business challenges, including labor-related problems. As there were no existing bamboo bike builders, we had to invest in training bamboo bike builders and identify alternative people who could perform the functions of the existing builders. We also trained some of the bike builders with multiple skill sets, so that they could replace other positions for a short period of time when necessary.

Ghana Bamboo Bikes CGIU The WAy Women WorkAnother challenge is getting our target groups to buy our products; communities are used to NGO giveaways and we needed to ensure a shift from this mindset so that Ghana Bamboo Bikes was viable as a business opportunity.

In my cultural context where age and gender impact social status, being young and a woman does sometimes becomes a difficulty to contend with. It is the worst when you are meeting potential clients or business partners whom you have never met before, and they look at you with judgmental eyes. This has never stifled my potential or discouraged me, however.

Some people also have this notion that they are more qualified, experienced and have more contacts than me, so they ought to be doing what I am doing, instead of me. I get to deal with all those stereotypes from time to time, but the challenges keep me strong and going.

Defining My Success

To me, success is very specific. It is defined by the ability to train and create direct employment opportunities for 30 people receiving higher wages than most other Ghanaians in similar industries. These 30 people are representing a household with an average of about five people, with the knock-on effect of about 200 people benefiting directly. My efforts have not gone unrecognised, and now I have won over 10 international awards and have been been recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.

Business Obstacles

The major obstacle for businesses, especially women-led businesses, is financing. The financial institutions in Ghana do not support startups, no matter how brilliant your ideas are. I do not know of any active angel investors in the country, except those that exist in name only or on paper. Since many aspiring women entrepreneurs often lack the education, skills, and access to information required to turn their entrepreneurial spirit into bankable project ideas, they cannot access the needed funding from venture capital firms.

The major obstacle for businesses, especially women-led businesses, is financing.

Additionally, aspiring women entrepreneurs lack effective networks that can support learning and leveraging of resources, such as knowledge, business advice and mentorship. Because much of business culture is male-dominated, women tend to be excluded from such circles.

Lastly, women lack the support from their peers and communities to pursue their entrepreneurship. Many societies still discourage women from going into business, and there are few positive role models for women entrepreneurs to inspire them to push ahead despite the odds.

A woman on her bamboo bike.

Overcoming the Obstacles

The passion for success and the ‘can do’ spirit has been very helpful to me. I am focused and have a very clear direction of where I want to be. I see entrepreneurship as a calling, not as a last resort for those who are looking for employment in the formal sector and not finding it. I am also committed to this business and have been investing in it and keep on learning new things.

I always encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to engage in businesses which they are familiar with. They should not enter into a business for financial reasons. That will be a recipe for disaster for them if they do that. I also tell my mentees that no good thing can be achieved instantly – Rome was not built in a day. Also to have it in mind that along the line they might fail. If failure happens, they should not be discouraged but learn from their failure and appreciate the fact that success is a journey wrought with a lot of challenges. Many have failed numerous times. Successful people are able to pick up, dust off, and carry on trying.

I see entrepreneurship as a calling, not as a last resort for those who are looking for employment in the formal sector and not finding it.

Looking back, I feel excited and proud that a project idea which I pledged as a commitment project of President Clinton Global Initiative University has been nurtured into an award-winning social enterprise with several international awards; awards include the 2014 Dubai Awards For International Best Pratices, 2013 UNFCCC Momentum For Change Light House Activity Award (Women For Results Category), World Business and Development Award 2012, UN Habitat/Dubai International Best Practice Award 2012, Samsung/Generations For Peace Impact Award 2012,GIZ Impact Business Award 2011, and UNEP SEED Initiative Award 2010.

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