Poverty is a huge barrier preventing girls from attending school. In Sierra Leone up to 80% of the population live on less than $2 a day.
It’s not uncommon for students to go to school without lunch, or other essentials like medicine. After one of our scholars fainted in class due to hunger, we realised we needed a sustainable solution to address this. The girls suggested we support them in starting their own small business so they could earn money to buy their own food, and beyond that support their families and themselves after they graduated.
What a great idea.
Here’s the problem
In Sierra Leone high rates of unemployment mean that there aren’t a whole lot of formal jobs available for girls, even if they graduate from high school. So we needed a way to empower them to earn an income so they could support themselves, and their families, while they’re in school – and for after they finish as well.
And the solution: Business Brains.
In 2012, we began a small trial program with 16 girls at a rural high school. Each girl was given a $40 grant to start her own small business. Many of the girls started selling items such as rice, kerosine and other small goods. The trial was such a success that we ran another pilot.
This time it was with a larger group of girls: 78 of our senior secondary scholars. We partnered with a local organisation in Sierra Leone, Restless Development, to create the training. Together we co-designed a curriculum that covered things like financial literacy, basic bookkeeping and customer service. We called the project Business Brains, but we also included components of life-skills and sexual and reproductive health so that the girls were equipped with more than just business knowledge – they had life-knowledge too.
The second trial went gangbusters, so in 2014 we partnered with Restless Development to scale Business Brains up and roll it out across 23 communities and schools across Sierra Leone, and to date we’ve reached over 3,200 girls in school with the training.
But that’s just the beginning.
See Business Brains in Action.
Reasons To Love Business Brains
EMPOWERED YOUTH, EMPOWERING OTHERS
We love working with Restless Development because they are so aligned with what we do. They are a youth-run organisation, and all the Community Educators who deliver the Business Brains training are awesome young Sierra Leoneans. They get trained up in how to run the classes, and get valuable leadership experience that they wouldn’t have elsewhere. And lots of the Community Educators are young women themselves!
SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS FOR GIRLS
Our Business Brains curriculum empowers girls to generate income which can help support themselves and their families while in school, and beyond their graduation as well! They also learn about their rights, and feel empowered to make informed decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health- particularly in relation to menstrual hygiene management.
EQUALITY IN AND OUT OF THE CLASSROOM
We love that through Business Brains, we can reach both girls and boys – together! The Business Brains classes run during school, and by teaching boys and girls alongside each other we’re facilitating an environment where they are learning crucial livelihood skills and health knowledge (including traditionally taboo topics like Menstruation) together – as equals. They get to have important conversations, share information, and learn from each other.
Girls Clubs – Reaching girls out of school
Realising that some of the most vulnerable girls who could benefit from Business Brains aren’t in school in the first place, we wanted to find a way to reach them too.
So we worked with Restless Development to set up Girls Clubs – a version of Business Brains that reaches girls who are not in school for whatever reason. Many of these girls and young women were forced into child marriage, or fell pregnant as teenagers. And these clubs are a vital safe space for them to meet with other girls and women their age, be educated about their rights, and be empowered with business and life-skills training.
We reckon that’s pretty damn cool.