E. Aminata Brown was shopping for produce for the first time in the bustling Agbogbloshie agricultural market, the largest of its kind in Accra, Ghana, when her life changed. As her shopping companion attempted to take Brown’s heavy fruits and vegetables and pile them in a tin pan atop the head of a girl-only 10-years-old-Brown locked eyes with the child. “I saw a younger version of myself, perhaps if I had been born under different circumstances. I could not turn my back on her and still be a virtuous person.” Brown immediately moved to retrieve her goods and peppered the girl with questions. “How old are you? Where are your parents? Why are you doing this?” She was heartbroken by the answers. Brown, 36, a Los Angeles resident who worked in Ghana as a freelance management consultant, knew she had to do something.
In 2000, shortly after her marketplace epiphany, Brown befriended a small group of 12 young female porters (kayayoo) who carry loads up to 100 pounds on their heads or backs in the sweltering heat for as little as $1 per day. A vision began to take shape among them to produce Afrocentric patchwork quilts to export to the United States and Europe to provide a sustainable income, healthcare, and education for the girls and women involved.
Brown invested $30,000 of her own money to launch BaBa Blankets, which makes blankets, duvets, throws, wall hangings, table runners, napkins, place mats, and pillow covers. After locating a site in Ghana for the workshop, she had the interior designed and constructed; acquired the machines, tools, and supplies for training and product development; hired skilled tailors to provide training to the women she befriended. She also paid for healthcare services and offered subsidies to assist with their housing costs.
The blankets are made of 100% cotton and are dyed and quilted by hand. Each blanket is one of a kind and costs $175 to $420. Proceeds are currently used to support 13 Ghanaian women and fund six girls’ educations. In 2007, BaBa Blankets contributed $150,000 to the women and girls, and Brown’s goal is to support 50 girls’ educations by the 2008-2009 school year.
Brown is like many socially conscious African American women who are trying their hand at various microlending and microbusiness ventures to help marginalized women and girls in Africa turn their artisan talents into a livable wage to support themselves, their families, and their community.
Microenterprises are programs or businesses that offer a combination of credit, technical assistance, training, and other business services to disadvantaged people for the purpose of helping them launch small self-employment projects. The participants are usually people who under normal circumstances do not have access to the commercial banking sector. An emerging business trend, these social entrepreneurs are the owners of corporations doing well while doing good-coined a for-benefit corporation.
According to the FIELD Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination, there are 20 million microenterprises in the U.S. and half of them fit the aforementioned characteristics of