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01.20.2012

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Thibault Lescuyer

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Babeo – an overall approach for Malagasy micro-entrepreneurs

Faced with the numerous obstacles in the way of female micro-entrepreneurs in Madagascar, the Planet Finance NGO is trying out the Babeo project. This multi-faceted programme has two main goals: to help women in their struggle against the violence they face and to train them to increase their professional income.

Since January 2011, PlaNet Finance has been coordinating a programme codenamed Babeo, aimed at entrepreneurs in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Altogether, over three years, 1,500 women receive information and 300 will follow a custom-designed training course. This European-funded project includes microfinance services as well as psychological help support units and instruction on women’s rights. According to the South-African NGO Gender Links, in Madagascar most likely eight women out of ten are victims of violence.

Supporting female micro-entrepreneurs

They are aged between 25 and 45, live in the Antananarivo area and often have very young children. Some run the grocery stores that are omnipresent on the Red Island, “Nutritious Food Basket” grocery stores. Others sell fruit and vegetables on street markets or run a “gargote” (street restaurant) or sell processed food (pastries or milk products). Their income comes to between 40,000 and 400,000 ariary per week, about 2 to 20 euros a day. All of them were affected by the political and economic crisis that hit Madagascar in 2009. This crisis put enormous pressure on family solidarity, forcing their parents to keep on working. “The majority of women we support bring their children to work. They keep them in a basket, for instance, or under a window of the ‘gargote’ or on their lap,” noted Lizah Ndrialisoa. This thirty-year old woman is one of the brains behind the Babeo project. She joined PlaNet Finance in 2007, after having created and sold off by herself her small business.

Raising awareness about violence against women

Along with the PlaNet Finance team and NGO partners, Lizah Ndrialisoa designed the Babeo project in several stages. The first phase consists of creating awareness: the team visits associations and churches in the capital’s districts and organises various actions in the media. The goal is to help women get to know their rights better. In Madagascar, it appears that 25% of women suffer physical violence. Female entrepreneurs are invited to register with the Babeo training programme.

Psychological help support units

In three districts, from 8 am to 5 pm, social workers trained within the framework of the Babeo project receive women who are victims of violence. Interviews can lead to a home visit or a report to the police station. These three units in fact make up for the lack of public services in this area. The goal is also to create a network of counselling units grouping together the twenty units already identified or set up by the High Institute of Social Work (Institut Supérieur du Travail Social – ISTS) and the NGO ENDA.

How to run a micro-enterprise

Training sessions are another Babeo mainstay. The curriculum is spread out over twelve half-days and groups together personal development, sales training and financial education. The goal is firstly to reassure the participants and build their self-esteem. “We are trying to make them more ‘zen’, in a country where stress is a national disease!" explains Lizah Ndrialisoa. Then, trainers from the NGO C FOR C (Capacity Building for Communities) and Planet Finance teach sales management techniques. From merchandising to financial training, the aim is to help them better develop their small business, without falling into the trap of overindebtedness.

A year after the project started, one hundred women have already taken part or are taking part in these training sessions. While it had been difficult to recruit the first thirty volunteers, more and more women are coming forward, by word of mouth.

At the end of the training sessions, the programme is continuing through visits, which the Babeo coaches carry out at the workplace. This is the opportunity to help them, for example, to better organise their shops, but also to detect problems of violence, domestic violence in particular.

Professionalise the child nursery network in Antananarivo

Another problem that female entrepreneurs have to face up to: how to reconcile professional work with the presence of a young child. In Madagascar, nurseries, whether formal or informal, are rare and family solidarity falls apart. Up against this reality, Babeo identified the first ten nurseries where it would help improve their quality of service. Others will be contacted in 2012 and 2013, with the aim of creating a network of nurseries sharing best practices. It will be open to women taking part in the Babeo project and other women who are interested.

Provide credits, train MFIs

In addition to the financial aspect of training, which builds their awareness of the importance of savings and the risks of overindebtedness, Babeo guides female entrepreneurs towards existing financial services. According to their needs, they will be directed towards partner MFIs, OTIV and CEFOR or encouraged to open a savings account.

Babeo is also working with the MFIs OTIV and CEFOR to improve services provided to women. How can loan officers better serve their female customers? Before granting a microloan, should they ask for the husband’s permission? What should they do when a customer uses the loan for her personal use? Without claiming to bring all the answers, the Babeo team plays the role of copilot and coordinator.

Clearly, Babeo is trying out a multi-dimensional approach, with an ambitious programme that aims to develop women’s empowerment. However, while there are numerous obstacles, there is no question of becoming discouraged. “I admire the Malagasy women. They are fighters and won’t give up easily,” says the former businesswoman.

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