I love my volunteer work for people and places – it is so rewarding to see the progress the programmes we work with make through working with our volunteers.
BUT I love to volunteer directly with the projects too – time constraints mean I can’t do it as often as I’d wish but I managed to find three weeks earlier this year to work with the adult education and women’s empowerment projects we work with in The Gambia.
My skills are SME business skills and mentoring – the ITTOG business course and the No Woman Left Behind (NWLB) initiative (a self help association started by female students from ITTOG) are good matches for these skills. I am blessed to have had a rewarding career – but it has not always been easy – I started working in the mid 1970s – when there was a very thick glass ceiling – I passionately believe in the power of women to bring about change.
I had already worked for over a year as an e – volunteer with ITTOG – helping with the design of a business skills course and mentoring Fatou Hydara the President of the No Woman Left Behind Association and a trainer at ITTOG.
One of the courses supports young women, who have been exploited in their past (trafficking and abuse for example). The goal is to train the women in both cookery and business and personal skills that will enable them to be independent and build the future they want for themselves. The association aims to be a self-support group and network with other women’s associations to support other exploited women in The Gambia. They are doing this through the sale of their products such as pastries and local event catering, and they are about to open their own shop and restaurant. See the end of this article for hot off the press news about the restaurant!
I worked closely with Lamin Bojang the course leader at ITTOG and Fatou.
Lamin Bojang asked me to help in two areas:
- To assist the trainers to deliver modules covering business leadership styles and personal development – particularly self confidence and communication
- To assist in the encouragement of the students to understand and produce business plans
Fatou asked me, if we had time, to
- Continue the work I had done via e-volunteering with her covering leadership and planning skills.
- Help develop NWLB plans to open a vegetable shop and a restaurant – both of which would offer training and support to NWLB members and students.
I delivered four training days for the ITTOG business training course
- Leadership – what is leadership – why it is needed in business different styles of leadership and the strengths and weaknesses of those styles.
- Planning – what is a plan, why is it important and how can we use these plans (simple business plans had already been covered by ITTOG trainers but Lamin wanted this reinforcing in a short sharp interactive session to help the women with their preparations for their presentations the following week)
- Self esteem and self confidence – what are they and how can we build them?
- Communication how do we communicate, why is it important and how can we communicate better?(for the last two modules I was working with course notes that an e-volunteer Sharon, had worked on with Lamin and Adama.)
I worked with ITTOG trainers in all these sessions – the sessions were experiential learning based with lots of role playing, brain storming and games. The students were tentative at first but by the end of the first day they were very very noisy – lots of laughter.
We also held “dragons den” meetings.
We had a panel of 3 dragons – one person from ITTOG – Adama or Lamin – a successful Gambian entrepreneur and me.
All 29 of the students made presentations – what a great result!
The goals of this part of the course were to identify:
- How much of the “classroom“ learning the students were able to apply to their plans
- The strengths of the students that could be encouraged and built on
- The weaknesses of the students – to identify the areas where students needed further support
- To confirm (or not) those students that may have entrepreneurial skills and those that perhaps are better suited to employment. (It should be noted that most Gambians who are employed still need a second source of income which is usually a micro business)
- Possible business ideas that could be supported by an “incubator “programme that ITTOG are developing
Each student was given a maximum of 45 minutes for their presentation and had been prepared to make a short presentation and to expect to answer questions on the following:
- Their idea – and what experience they had relevant to that idea
- Where they would situate their business
- Who their customers would be
- How they would promote their business to those potential customers
- Who their competition would be
- How much money would they need to start the business and run the business (and what that money would be spent on)
- How much they would sell in a period of time – and what gross profit they would make on those sales and what profit they would make after expenses
As to be expected, the presentations ranged from excellent to average with only a handful where the dragons felt the student had not done very much work.
With only two exceptions it was evident that all the students struggled to some degree with the concept of sales margin and the difference between capital investment – running expenses and cost of goods.
This is certainly an area that future volunteers can help with.
Watching the students’ confidence build in the classroom and finally in the “dragons den” presentations was a real highlight for me -the first brainstorming and role playing sessions were very subdued and the students were understandably wary of me to start (trust is an issue for many given their life experiences) – but by day three when I suggested that we did not have time for one game because we were running late – every student without exception asked to remain late.
And now for the great news – the restaurant and shop are open!