Ghanaian Voices: Examining the Causal Relationship between Entrepreneurship and Women's Empowerment in Ghana
Fulp, Colleen F.
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Ghanaian Voices: Examining the Causal Relationship between Entrepreneurship and Women's Empowerment in Ghana Background: The field of Gender and Development (GAD) has been debating women's empowerment programs for several decades; specifically, are these programs effective, culturally appropriate, sustainable? Global Mamas (GM), an NGO in Ghana, aims to achieve women's empowerment and financial independence by giving small business owners in the textile industry of batik and sewing access to increased income generation or employment opportunities. In June 2012 I traveled to Ghana to investigate how seamstresses and batikers working with Global Mamas experience empowerment, specifically autonomous decision-making and financial independence, and secondly, how effectively the two different types of employment models within Global Mamas programs meet the organization's mission of empowering women. Goals of this project were twofold. First, to elaborate how the term `empowerment' is operationalized in the literature and meaningfully understood in practice and in the field, as academics have not yet agreed on a definition of the term. To do so I drew upon previous work by scholars and practitioners and framed a definition of empowerment with clear empirical counterparts: autonomous decision-making and financial independence. Second, to unpack the causal mechanism between business ownership and empowerment, as defined by drawing on wider literature. Much of the scholarly work and practical programs assume that ownership leads to empowerment, few have questioned this causal direction, but it is not without question that it is possible there is a selectivity bias amongst those who might take the initiative to become `owners.' That is these program participants are already empowered to some extent. This possibility is rarely included in studies and my research design specifically sought to ensure that the full range of causal directions was allowed for. Methods: Twenty qualitative, one-on-one, open-ended interviews were conducted, transcribed, and entered into ATLAS.ti. Individuals represented two types of people: business owners that contract with GM and women that are employed directly with GM through the two different business models of Global Mamas and represent all spectrums of age, education level, work experience level, marital status, and time working with Global Mamas demographics. Three rounds of inductive coding were conducted utilizing ATLAS.ti software. To separate analyses were designed based on the data, the first examined data on the two empirical counterparts of empowerment: autonomous decision -making and financial independence and the second compared the two business models within Global Mamas. Results: I found that owning a small business in Ghana does not lead to empowerment, rather, empowered women decide to open small businesses. In analysis 1, this is exposed through the data in both empirical counterparts of my empowerment definition: autonomous decision-making and financial independence. The first counterpart demonstrated strong data on the goal setting and decision-making capability of the women interviewed in this study, specifically on the ways that women autonomously plan for their businesses, make choices about how and when to work, as well as the ways they set and achieve personal, family and career based goals. The second counterpart, financial independence, is demonstrated in the way that women keep their own bank accounts separate from husbands or family members, choose when and how much to spend or put money into savings. The data on financial choices that women make for their businesses is extremely robust, with nearly all decisions being made independently, despite marital status, education level, or time spent working with Global Mamas. In analysis 2 regarding the NGO Global Mamas, my findings show data that compares the two business models. Business model 1, contracting directly with women business owners, allows women to greatly increase their income thus allowing women the capital to begin a savings account and work toward personal, family and career goals. These women also report happiness at their success with the NGO and plan to utilize their savings to further grow their businesses independently in the future. The women in this business model treat the NGO as a tool to reach their professional goals. However, women in business model 2 have not experienced an increase in wealth generation to date, which is reported as a negative effect of their work with the NGO. They do not see many alternate options for income generation in their area, which has led them to becoming employees of Global Mamas, but the high majority of women stated that they would prefer to be part of business model 1 or working in their own shops. One benefit the women do list from business model 2 is that they receive trade training on site, which will allow them to produce higher quality products in their personal businesses in the future. Conclusion: Global Mamas ought to continue to contract with women small business owners, but should also expand this opportunity to women in the regions where they currently only offer business model 2. If women were able to self select into the business model that best fits their needs, whether flexibility and possibility for increased income (business model 1) or stable income and trade training (business model 2), this NGO would be better achieving their mission of empowering women. As it stands now, Global Mamas is rather offering employment than empowerment activities in the regions where they exclusively offer business model 2. If this is the direction the NGO wishes to continue, it would be best to rework their marketing, recognizing the pre-exisiting empowered decision making status of women in Ghana in the productive work sector and framing their work as employment rather than empowerment. This could be achieved through more rigorous monitoring and evaluation. However, if a re-focus back to women's empowerment programs is the priority of the NGO, this could be achieved by implementing a GAD feminist theoretical model to assess their impact as well as outcomes of business model 2 and design new ways of framing their work.