Si Nafa means “the benefits of Shea.” The women’s cooperative was started over twenty years ago and although headquartered in Kita consists of over 15 villages in and around Kita. When I first arrived their primary activity was to produce Shea butter and produce “Bogolan” fabric. Through my time here I have worked with them to come up with other revenue streams and hopefully become better organized. From the beginning it was clear that Sabou was the key to any success with the women. It is structured such that most of the women are worker bees while Sabou is the queen bee. All the women listen to everything she has to say. When I came here I saw there were a lot of women who really didn’t do much and just hung out at the center. Maybe they didn’t have anything to do, maybe they were just taking a break, or maybe they were looking for something to do. Either way Si Nafa’s primary activity of producing Shea butter was an activity that only took a few months out of the entire year. Meanwhile they had the space located in the center of market all the time. After coming up with several ideas and discussing them with Sabou we decided to build a restaurant. A restaurant would serve several purposes: 1) provide the women with a new revenue stream by taking advantage of their ideal location in market, 2) provide work for some women, 3) allow the women’s cooperative to use profits to fund other activities. It’s been about half a year since we started operations and so far it’s been very encouraging. We’ve settled on the people who work at the restaurant and they’ve been able to get into a rhythm and we have actual customers who aren’t Tubabs like myself but most of the people who go to the restaurant are locals so in that sense the activity is sustainable. Because of the restaurant they have electricity at the center now and they are even generating a small profit.
Another idea I had was to start a magasin de stockage which is essentially a granary. The concept is I would use funds to construct a place to store the grain and use funds to purchase the initial grain as well. In Mali price fluctuations are predictable so prices for grain are low at harvest (around January) when grain is abundant and the price increases in August during hungry season. It’s possible to buy grain at 200 CFA/kilo during harvest and if they only store the grain and wait until hungry season to start selling they can sell it for upwards of 400-500 CFA/kilo. In a country without investments or a commodities market this (along with cattle raising) is the next best thing. It helps the women’s cooperative earn a very good return with not that much work while providing a service to the community since demand far outstrips supply when it comes to grain during the hungry season. The hope is they would use the money they earn to buy more grain for next year while using profits to either help women directly or invest in other activities.
Other than that I won’t really have much more time to do much else. I will try and spend the rest of my time trying to get people better organized. Operations are based in Kita but the organizational structure is almost nonexistent. I will try and bring in a trainer (basically a consultant) to come in and tell them what steps they need to take moving forward. Everyone in Kita is very smart but a lot of it is street smarts and they lack the managerial skills needed for a large network such as Si Nafa. My hope is that she’ll be able to come in and highlight what’s important so we can start working toward a better managed organization that has the power to actually help its constituents from the ground up.
Maybe the West’s approach to development is far too simplistic. We tend to think of everything in dollars and only ask “more or less.” Money at the end of the day is just one tool that can be used to combat extreme poverty. It’s the easiest but we tend to discount the value of things like good education and access to good information, perhaps those things ironically cost too much time and money. If I had to do my service again maybe I would have just worked at a local school teaching a class to young kids about finance and accounting. Because when it comes down to it we have different tools at our disposal that aren’t inherently good or bad but it all depends on how we use them.