When Selassie Tay saw Grace for the first time in 2015, he was immediately reminded of his mother. Standing in the middle of her mud house in Sogakope, Ghana, Grace had a basket on her head and was heading to one of her several odd jobs, the money from which she and her three children barely eked out a living. The children weren’t in school and often went hungry because Grace struggled to put food on the table.
For Selassie, the sight of Grace’s dilapidated house and weary expression was not unfamiliar—as the son of a single mother and brother to two sisters, Selassie knew the heartbreak of this situation well. From his experience with his mother, he also sensed that, despite the bleakness of Grace’s situation, that she wanted—and was capable of—more. As it turned out, much more.
Soon after Selassie and Grace met, Grace enrolled in Selassie’s non-profit business and vocational school for women—a venture inspired by his mother. The school, open to unemployed women in the rural parts of the Tongu district, provides a free, comprehensive 21-month incubation and acceleration business program that prepares and supports women in becoming entrepreneurs. This social venture started off as Tongu Youth Agenda for Development in 2014, but is now known as eyata.
The school offers six vocational courses—the most active one being fashion design—and trains the women in business management and leadership. After 16 months of training, the women attend a finance workshop which provides them hands-on financial skills to help them develop their businesses. After that, they are encouraged to join a self-selected savings group and open a bank account to access microloans and pensions. Pensions, in particular, are extremely important for the women to acquire as older women in Ghana who have no money are often branded as “witches” as they must rely on others to survive.
After 16 months of training, the women receive five additional months of mentoring at the start of their own ventures with the school providing assistance in registering the women’s businesses and marketing their goods. Out of the 30 women who have gone through the program, 28 of them have successfully started their own business enterprises—including Grace, who can now afford to take care of her family.
In 2018, TPP awarded Tay a $1,000 grant to support his school. With that money, he was able to transform a classroom to hold double the number of students. In the future, Tay wants to build a four-unit classroom to expand the school’s reach, as the demand for his services has increased and attracted interest from women more than 300 miles away. Tay is currently pursuing additional funding options to help him build that classroom. He’s also raising funds on the GlobalGiving platform to extend the training and startup support services to 10 more women this year.
Tay’s mother’s health has declined, due in part to the strain of the many jobs and long hours she’s worked in her life, but despite her not knowing the extent of her son’s non-profit work for women, Tay knows she’d be proud of him.
“It’s important for women to earn money because they invest in their families. When a woman is positioned to be independent, it naturally translates to benefit other family members. It allows them to feed their families, put their children through school, and buy health insurance in case they or their family members get sick. It’s time to end that trend [of older women being forced to beg on the streets]. It’s time to stop limiting women’s potential.”