Ghanaian women at the heart of social enterprise

This post was first published on ‘Africa on the Blog’ website in honour of Ghana’s 60th year of independence. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m re-posting here. Enjoy!

It’s not business as usual in Ghana. The rise of social enterprises is becoming a major player in Ghana’s economic environment, and Ghanaian women are boldly navigating their own routes, through this landscape.

Gone are the days when being an entrepreneur was only about making profit. Over many years, the ‘social entrepreneur’ has shifted the prism, through which we interpret business success. Using business acumen to drive social and environmental change, the social entrepreneur empowers communities exponentially while re-investing the majority of profits back into the business.

In October 2016, the British Council published the results of an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) survey on the impact and growth of social enterprises in Ghana. Particularly, the study found how the rise of social enterprises is empowering women across the country. Of the thousands of social enterprises believed to exist in Ghana 98 were surveyed. However, the results were still interesting, mirroring what’s been shown in mainstream media.

The tubular grass plant, Bamboo is said to be one of the fastest growing plants in the world and does so abundantly in Ghana. While the idea of making bikes out of bamboo has been around for over 100 years, the socio-ecological enterprise, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative (GBBI) has been riding the wave of international acclaim since its conception in 2009.

Founder, Bernice Dapaah was invited to join the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders in 2014, after winning the International Women Alliance World of Difference Award the previous year.

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Already securing United Nations (UN) funding, GBBI aims to address some of the problems with climate change, poverty, rural-urban migration and high unemployment amongst young people in Ghana. Locals, many without previous training in the manufacturing of bamboo bikes are taught specialist skills; with the workforce being majority women. GBBI provides employment opportunities for (un)skilled workers, while having a direct impact on reducing poverty in rural areas.

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The ODI study, also found that around 40% of social enterprise leaders in Ghana are women. Many have ambitious growth plans, but admit securing funding is one of their biggest barriers. Educational social enterprises are most prevalent and clustered in the capital, Accra. Followed closely by agricultural social enterprises, which tend to be in northern Ghana. However, there are enterprises operating in the manufacturing and service industries. Social enterprises are becoming a staple component of Ghana’s business sector.

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There’s no doubt we live in a digital world, whether you like technology or not, it’s part of our daily lives. Founded by Ernestina Appiah (pictured below), the Ghana Code Club (GCC), an after-school computing club, runs in 13 schools across the country. It aims to empower children to embrace and thrive in this digital age. The Phoenix Project was set up in collaboration with iSpace Foundation Ghana, in summer 2016 to encourage children (especially girls) to use technology as a form of fun self-expression.

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Technology plays a crucial role in the development of any country but it needs to be understood, before it can be implemented and used to provide families with any financial security. While leaning basic computer skills, children attending GCC also learn how to create their own websites, games and animations. These transferable skills will be invaluable to them and their communities, as they become future entrepreneurs, analysts, problem-solvers, engineers or scientists. A few days ago, GCC hosted a hackathon competition, which saw more than twenty schools compete against each other. The wining program was a piano application designed using Scratch programming software. The NPP manifesto acknowledged the importance of computer technology education. The party pledged to provide free WiFi in some educational intuitions and support computer programs for students who want to pursue a career in the sector.

Of course, children are the future, but all sections of Ghana’s society need to play a role in the country’s development. Ghana’s ‘women who code’ network provides women with tech skills to become economically independent. On 6th March 2017, Ghana celebrates 60 years of independence. While the new president stated that Ghana is “open for business” from international investors, Ghanaians are collaborating with each other, carving out their own future.

In his first state of the nation address on February 21st 2017, the newly elected Nana Akufo-Addo, stated that Ghana’s economy has serious problems. Targets of loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) urgent fiscal intervention in 2014 have not been met and high youth unemployment plagues the country. Continuing in his address to parliament, Akufo-Addo stated, “if I were to ask you to tell me what the number one problem was in your constituency, I suspect there would be a uniform answer: JOBS.” Promises were also made to “unleash the suppressed potential” of the Ghanaian economy, so that Ghanaian entrepreneurship can flourish. It’s unfortunate the words of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who (along with others) fought for independence from British rule, are still pertinent to Ghana’s development today. Despite some positive gains, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve”.

Ghana’s prosperity lies not in the hands of the government alone but in the hands of her own people too. It looks like Ghanaian women are courageously taking on the responsibility in a sustainable way and ready for the challenge ahead.

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A first: Made in Ghana Cars

Kantanka cars made in Ghana. Yes that’s right. An African company manufacturing cars in Africa. The name ‘Kantanka’ doesn’t roll off the tongue like BMW, Toyota, and Mercedes, which is understandable. These brands have been driven for decades all over the world – including in Africa. So can the new kid on the block make a dent in the tough exterior of the global automobile industry from a corner in West Africa?

According to the Africa Report, inflation in Ghana was around 18.5% in February 2016. Unsurprisingly the Bank of Ghana is part of an IMF programme on job creation and economic growth. For developing countries to move up the development index, home grown businesses, whether it be manufacturing, agriculture or services, are key.

The road to production has been long, with inception of Kantanka cars starting in the 1970’s. The Brain child of Kwadwo Safo, Kantanka cars are being rolled onto public roads in Ghana by his son, CEO Kwadwo Safo Jr, who is determined to make Kantanka a household name.

Unfortunately, the $18,000 to $35,000 price tag maybe out of reach for the average Ghanaian, but some businesses and the Ghana police service have started to use the cars. In a country which imports more foreign goods than it should, due to the fledging manufacturing industry in Ghana and the perception that foreign products are ‘better’ than domestic products, Kantanka has a lot of (PR) work to do!  Also, at the moment the Kantanka factory can only produce around 100 cars a month.

Some Ghanaians who can afford it are willing to buy homemade cars BUT want solid evidence that the cars can match up to international cars.

cars in Ghana, African cars
Safo Jr. keen to make his dad’s dream a reality on Ghanaian roads.

Kantanka want the “Made in Ghana” tag to become a slogan of pride and has developed cars for the domestic market. It is the first car brand to be designed and manufactured in Ghana.

Ghanaians are employed at the Safo Technology Research Centre located between Gomoa Mpota and Gomoa Asebu, just outside the capital Accra. Apparently, the research centre is located on part of the land acquired by Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The wood from the dashboard is sourced from Ghanaian forests and the leather seats are manufactured in Ghana’s second city – Kumasi.

Safo Jr. has big ambitions for the Kantanka brand and has already used African movie and music stars to test the cars. These African cars are for sale, watch this space.

Check out the video here and see the cars in action.

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Ghana’s art scene is taking shape

 It’s been 59 years to the day since Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonial rule. Currently there are many issues affecting the country, which will probably reach boiling point during what will be a hotly contested election in November.

Despite all the politics, the country is basking in its burgeoning contemporary art scene. Gallery 1957 is opening in the country’s capital Accra, marking independence day, by showcasing a history of Ghanaian art and the work of current contemporary artists. The Ghanaian art scene has been struggling for decades, requiring funding, but those within the industry, like Creative Director of Gallery 1957, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, are passionate about providing Ghanaian artists, like Serge Attukwei Clottey, an environment where they can produce and showcase their creations, while earning a living from their art.


Ghana art, African art, ghanaian artists
Passionate about African art: Gallery 1957 Creative Director, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim.

 Pic via Okayafrica: Artwork: Ibrahim Mahama. Photo: Alice McCool

Creatives in the diaspora are also drawing on their heritage for inspiration. Ghanaian-American animator Abdul Ndadi created a cartoon, who’s main character, a young African girl called Orisha takes on adventures.

The cartoon has a Pan-African feel, covering Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Gambia and Guinea; from the characters, storylines to the music. It aims to show children a different narrative to what they usually see and provide black children with an additional character they can physically identify with.

“As an artist I felt a responsibility, even in a small way, to have an image of a beautiful African girl our youth could identify with, doing cool things. The main reason my main character is female is because not only do black women deal with the problem of racism, they also have the added burden of sexism as well.” – Abdul Ndadi 

The cartoon has already had audiences at various festivals, including the 2015 Cannes Short Film Corner and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in Japan. Check out an interview with Abdul Ndadi at OkayAfrica and a snippet of Orisha’s Journey below.

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Featured image collage: Serge Attukwei Clottey courtesy of Gallery 1957 and Abdul Ndadi.

The head wrap: An #African #Fashion

The two-day annual African fashion extravaganza that is Africa Fashion Week London 2015, celebrated its finale on Saturday.  Showcasing the talents of African and African-inspired designers from the continent and the diaspora. For a 5th year running this event was embraced by London once again. More than just a trend, there is no doubt that African fashion is here to stay. Owning the most colourful segment of the fashion industry, African designers can tell their stories through the woven threads of African print (and non-print) fabrics.

African fashion, headwrap, fashion
AFWL 2015
Photo: Mike Rolls

In addition to shows like this, the driving force behind the crescendo of popularity surrounding African fashion has been Africans themselves! In Africa and across the diaspora, social media has given African fashion a voice, with YouTube vloggers and fashion bloggers sharing their own favourite designs and fashion tips with the world, making African fashion accessible. One of the most notable elements of African fashion which has made a crowning comeback over the years within the diaspora is the head wrap.

african head wraps
On the streets of London people can’t resist a peak: Africa at Spitalfields 2015

Head warps were worn by Africans before slavery (where it was used a symbol of poverty and disgrace) illustrating the wealth and social status of men and the beauty, spirituality, marital and social status of women. As time has moved on, the head wrap has become a feminine accessory ubiquitous across Africa; and known by various names including dhuku  and Gele.

head wrap braided kinks tumblr
Picture: Braided kinks tumblr

head wraps
Picture: Bella Africana Digest

Although the head wrap has been a staple in African traditional culture for centuries, it’s becoming a coveted accessory for the young and old, at special occasions and for every day casual wear.

Celebrities wrapping it up! Solange, India Arie & Eva
Celebrities wrapping it up! Solange, India Arie & Eva

What do you think about the head wrap? Vote below!

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Model Mindset: Philomena Kwao is more than just ‘plus-size’

Africa Fashion week London 2015 kicks off in a few days, providing the ideal opportunity to put the spotlight on African models. It’s not easy breaking into the fashion world, especially when you’re black, with short natural hair and ‘plus-size’, but Philomena Kwao has done just that. A Miss Ghana UK finalist in 2008, the London born Ghanaian model has a first class degree in Economics and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management adding to her list of achievements. Not subscribing to the usual stereotypes of the modelling industry and dubbed ‘Britain’s first black plus-size model’, Philomena is challenging what is means to be beautiful.

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I’m not a fan of the term ‘plus-size’, but it’s human nature to categorize things. If you’re a model, then you are a model full stop. The average dress size in the UK is said to be size 16; women such as Holly Willoughby, Nigella Lawson, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are celebrated (whether you like them or not) for their physiques; which are not seen at high fashion catwalk shows but admired in popular culture. The fact is, women (and men) come in different sizes and it’s normal to see this in real life. It’s about time the fashion world starts to imitate the real world, rather than having sub-cultures of modeling. Whether your ‘slim’ or ‘plus-size’, as long as you’re healthy, that’s normal, and seeing different body sizes at mainstream fashion shows should be normal.

After winning a national modelling competition with Models1, Evans and Cosmopolitan UK Magazine in 2012, Philomena went on to win the Rising Star award at GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement awards) that same year. Philomena signed with Ford Models and flew across the pond to NYC to commence her (unplanned) modeling career.

plus size model, black model, fashion
@philomena Kwao

In December 2014, Philomena was introduced as the latest brand ambassador for Torrid in the U.S. She recently created The Lily Project, connecting young girls with inspirational mentors. Having darker skin is unfortunately uncomfortable for many women, and an issue which has been debated within the black community many times over; in a recent interview Philomena recounts one of her most memorable experiences with The Lilly Project.

“I received a question on my Tumblr about how I’ve learned to love my dark skin. I remember it clearly because the girl in question listed all the bleaching products she had tried and was reaching her wits end with desperation. She wanted to try out an injection or something before she saw my picture and decided to message me. It touched me because I remember not always being so confident in my size or my skin colour. I wanted to be lighter like all the celebrities and beautiful women I knew….”

African Prints, AFrican fashion, kente cloth

Obviously more comfortable in her skin, Philomena continues to walk that walk, demonstrating that there is beauty in intelligence and what you have on the inside too. Sometimes what we think is a hindrance can turn out to be an asset.


Philomena Kwao has a model mindset.

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Africa at Spitalfields: Love Chin Chin review

Welcome to the first review of the food blog section of this site, featuring a tasty West African snack. Known as Chin Chin / Achomo in Nigeria and Ghana respectively this snack is popular among the African diaspora.

It all started with a sunny Monday, the second Bank Holiday of this month (25th May) is always a welcomed bonus, and Pop Up Africa at the famous Spitalfields Market in the city of London didn’t disappoint!  There was live music, dancers, African drummers, food, clothes, accessory stalls and good vibes. Just want I wanted on a sunny Bank Holiday.

Everyone knows food is a staple in African culture; as well as traditional dishes there were also cake/pastry stalls on display. When there is so much choice, you need to have a strategy!

African market, Spitalfields MArket London
‘Africa @ Spitalfields’: the pop up is popular!

Like any good market it was bustling, so I weaved through the isles making a mental note of which stalls I wanted to explore further and after a few seconds of deliberation my first stop was the “Love Chin Chin” stall.

Chin Chin West African snackI liked the colourful and friendly set up of the stall whose staff were happy to answer questions and share some history of this family run business. Intrigued by the packaging branding, the cinnamon, vanilla and lemon flavours, I bought 2 packs!

£1 for each 70gram pack or 3 packs for £2.50 (I think this was an offer only available at the ‘Africa @ Spitalfields’ market day).

African food snack, food, west African food
Chin Chin Lemon flavour, put a smile on my face!

I remember my mother making this moreish snack when I was young and you’ll be sure to find it at parties, weddings, christenings, naming ceremonies and other social events. It’s easy to get Chin Chin wrong by using too much oil but Love Chin Chin got it right.The right amount of rapeseed oil, the right amount of sugar and the hint of flavours.

Love Chin Chin has provided a tasty and convenient way to get hold of some Chin Chin, when you don’t feel like making it yourself. You can pick up packs at various Tesco stores.

Want some sweetness in your life? Then have some Chin Chin in your life! I actually finished both packs before taking a picture of the snack itself :-), but for some pictures, just pop over to the Love Chin Chin website.

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#Ghana Independence

Fifty-eight years to the day, Dr Kwame Nkrumah and his comrades announced that Ghana gained independence from Britain.

There was so much hope, joy and celebration. Victory was sweet, but has the “Warrior King” been victorious?

Ghana Kente

Nine years after this momentous day on 24th February 1966, the Nkrumah government was overthrown in a military coup instigated by Colonel Kotoka, Major Afrifa, and Inspector General of Police J.W.K. Harley, with a little help from the American CIA.

Usually independence days are met with celebrations but unfortunately when ‘celebrating’ those on the African continent; they induce more questions upon reflection:

Why can’t Ghanaians get the government they deserve to act responsibly for the good of the WHOLE country?

How can Ghana be an oil producing nation, the world’s second-biggest cocoa grower and the second largest gold producer in Africa and not be able to supply its citizens with a constant flow of electricity?

Why is it difficult to get clean water (even in some hospitals)?

Answers to these and related questions can be complex; then there is the predicted rhetoric of “well we’ve seen improvement…. the fastest growing economy…” etc. Unfortunately the chronic problems cast a shadow over the achievements, as we stand in 2015 celebrating another Ghanaian Independence Day.

If you are celebrating Ghana independence, I’m not trying to kill your vibe…honest! I just get a bit more pensive around this time.

Independence means different things to different people; being a ‘British-Ghanaian’ it’s easy to look at this African country through European lenses. However, I still feel that Ghanaians shouldn’t feel ‘fortunate’ for basic things like electricity and clean running water in 2015.

Independence Day doesn’t just bring to mind Ghanaians in Ghana but those of us outside. A program focussing on Ghanaians in London who cannot speak their ethnic languages airs today 6th March at 7pm OH TV (SKY Channel 199 and Vision TV via Freeview Channel 24).

We may be independent, but are some of us actually lost in translation?


I couldn’t end this post without an excerpt from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s speech on Independence Day, 6th March 1957 – you know I love my quotes!

“At long last, the battle has ended!

And thus Ghana, your beloved country is free forever.

And yet again I want to take the opportunity to thank the chiefs and people of this country, the youth, the farmers, the women who have so nobly fought and won this battle.

Also I want to thank the valiant ex-service men who have so co-operated with me in this mighty task of freeing our country from foreign rule and imperialism.

And as I pointed out… I made it quite clear that from now on – today – we must change our attitudes, our minds, we must realise that from now on, we are no more a colonial but a free and independent people.

But also, as I pointed out, that also entails hard work. 

…. That the new African is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all, the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.

We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, that we are prepared to lay our own foundation.

The full speech can be found here.

Happy Independence Day Ghana – 58 years and counting!


P.S. The British Library is developing an exhibition about West Africa, showcasing the region’s written heritage and oral literature over the last three centuries and want YOUR opinions! Click here.

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Pictures: Google Images, Ghana Embassy.