serving women (65%), minorities (55%), and low-income individuals (59%).
The Ghanian Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs estimates that as many as 40,000 porters, mostly girls under 18, live in the streets and are vulnerable to child labor, prostitution, and violence. In 2003, the Ghana Statistical Service and the International Labour Organization reported that nearly 46% of these street children had never attended school, and 98% were working. Before she worked for BaBa Blankets, Grace Antor, now a seamstress, worked as a porter. “This business creates jobs for us, and through this work, I am able to feed my family and my children,” Antor says. “I have a vision for what I want to do in the future, and this opportunity is helping me to plan and work toward it.”
Business models such as Brown’s help people in developing countries sell goods with a portion of the proceeds going back to support the artisans.
Brown was sickened by the plight of women in parts of Ghana. Accra and other big cities such as Kumasi and Takoradi are magnets for adolescent girls and young women from rural villages who flee their birthplaces because of dire economic conditions, which systemically deprive them of access to higher education, vocational training, and basic income opportunities. Many of them have been orphaned or abandoned.
CHALLENGES ACROSS THE SEA
Brown managed to break even during the first year of operation, and annual net sales have grown from $30,000 in 2006 to $150,000 in 2007. She has accomplished this thanks to the doubling of her production team to about 10 to 12 Ghanaian women, who, from the first day of operation, began earning five times their previous earnings. As the only U.S.-based representative of her company, Brown sells the products primarily at African American festivals and churches, folk art and bedding trade shows, and via the Internet (www.wondala.com).
It wasn’t easy getting started. Ghana’s frequent and often unexpected power outages affect the ability to produce merchandise on a regular schedule. To address this, Brown purchased a generator. Another problem: In Ghana’s cash-based economy, credit is not as integral to small business development as it is in the United States. Consequently, BaBa
Blanket’s lease agreement as well as its machines and equipment must be paid in advance. This puts tremendous stress on the company’s cash flow and hampers its ability to invest in longer-term business and social-development initiatives. The ever-increasing freight charge for shipping the products abroad, which is currently about $3 per pound, is another challenge.
BaBa Blankets is on track to clear $300,000 in sales by the end of 2008, as a result of implementing a new training, production, and marketing plan that includes the acquisition of new sewing machines, the expansion of its online presence, and the relocation of the business to a larger-about 3,000-square-feet-production house on the outskirts of Accra. Brown says the girls and women of BaBa Blankets have gone from making an average of $1 a day to seamstresses and businesswomen working in a collective that brings in