February 28, 2013 by sabrinafreire
This past December, I had the opportunity to travel to Accra, Ghana with an organization called Global Brigades. More specifically, I was able to attend through the microfinance program. I did not predict the true change that this trip would lead to. Ghana would completely transform my perspective on business, and the path that I wanted my life to go in.
Global Brigades is a student-led organization that strives to work towards sustainable development through interactions between students and communities. Global Brigades has various programs available to develop the economic and health-related sectors in various communities. At this time, Global Brigades is working in Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, and most recently added, Ghana. Ghana was chosen after evaluating the need in communities, possible economic growth, and the safety level for students. Ghana was seen as a developing country that had the potential to become economically independent once educated.
Global Brigades took one year to evaluate selective communities using various criteria to determine who would be open to change and financial assistance. The goal of a microfinance brigade is to ultimately start a community bank to encourage members to open accounts and save at low-interest rates. More than likely, in the areas where Global Brigades works, loans are only being offered at interest rates upwards from 15% making it rather difficult for community members to invest their money. In addition, it is very common for community members to not be within a reasonable distance from a bank. For these and other reasons, it is crucial to grant these community members access to a local bank to encourage savings. Besides opening a bank, microfinance brigades work with individual families to devise a savings plan to meet their future goals. In groups, we were able to travel household to household to meet with families and learn about their current lifestyle and future goals. The majority of the community members were looking to either save money to be able to send their children to school, expand their household, or raise funds to invest into their current business. The reality of economic growth is that, it takes money to make money. It was absolutely necessary for these families to start saving money for their future investments. This was a way to begin to break through the poverty cycle. Holistically, the microfinance program serves as a way for communities to begin sustainable development.
A family that worked towards a financial savings plan
Being in the community revealed so much of Ghana’s history and culture. The people were open to change, and looking forward to getting a handle on their finances. For me, the greatest challenge in working in the communities was seeing the difference in attitude towards savings. The concept of putting money away for the future was almost a foreign concept for many community members. Tracking expenses to see potential gains or losses was something that rarely occurred in local Ghanaian businesses. Many community members worked and lived for the day itself, often giving little thought of future finances. This does not go to say that the importance of the future was not recognized by the community members, but it was often difficult to budget accordingly based on limited salary. The desire to learn existed. It lies on brigaders to break through the uneducated financial culture to begin to see a change. We had the opportunity to travel to Kakum National Park and to go see the Cape Coast Castle. Kakum National Park is one of the most famous national parks in Ghana with a canopy walkway hanging over 40 meters high. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings walking across the bridges to look down at the beauty of the rainforest underneath. Cape Coast Castle was easily the most beautiful sight in Ghana. A place with such tragic history was ironically so beautifully set. Here, was when we truly got a snapshot of Ghanaian history and culture. Traveling to the local markets and interacting with locals was a great time. We had the chance to see local foods, attire, and shop as the locals do. Discovering the rich culture of Ghana was an added benefit of attending this brigade.
Kakum National Park
After studying the culture of the individual communities and of the country as a whole, we were able to create possible investment opportunities that would produce economic development in the area. Specifically, the community I was located in was fishing based. The common issue that community members had was the preservation of their fish. If we could find a way to preserve the fish longer than a day, then the community members would have the chance to sell the fish on the market at a higher price, ultimately yielding higher profit. As a group, we devised a plan for the creation of a freezer. Of course, the details were tedious. Our group was completely responsible for the business plan, profit reinvestment, and who would lead the business operations. It took careful consideration in deciding what was best for the community. Since we were only in country for ten days, we could only create a basic plan for the building of the freezer. The business plan, research for material, and implementation of the freezer is now a joint effort between our brigade and the team located in Ghana. We are now working together to find the materials necessary to complete the project. The Global Brigade team in Ghana provides updates on the progress of our business plan up to a year after the brigade. In the end, we hope that our financial plan would create the potential for future development for the community members.
Local market located in Mankessim, Ghana
This was the first time I had seen business and social development come together in perfect harmony. Global Brigades gives students the chance to understand the cross-section that business can have with social development. I highly encourage any student that is looking to explore real life application of business practices to look into becoming involved with the Global Brigades chapter here on campus. Ghana was unforgettable experience that impacted me not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. Coming back to school to continue my studies in finance now had a purpose. I understand that working can now have a greater purpose than simply having a career. I want to work towards social development using my business skills. Currently, I am looking for ways to apply my newly discovered passions to my studies here at UT. I will continue to pursue cultural studies and apply it to business. The humbling feeling from being back has changed daily perspectives and provided motivation for the future. I have a new path I want to follow. McCombs will help me achieve my goals and pursue my passions.
For more information on how you can get involved with Global Brigades, visit their website at: http://www.globalbrigades.org/.
More specifically, if you want more information on the upcoming brigade to Panama in May with the chapter here campus, visit: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/400301086690092/.
Finance, May 2015