Catching up on some interviews. One more coming soon!
150 kilometers. That’s the farthest Evelyn Agbo has ever been from the confines of her remote village an hour outside the small Ghanaian city of Ho. Her visit to family members in Accra, the capital city, only lasted a week. Then it was straight back to her hometown. Many would say this would put her in isolation, but in fact, it has helped her understand the demands of her customers. Evelyn is an entrepreneur. She started her own business cooking and selling rice & beans and kenkey, a dough made of ground maize, to local farmers and schoolchildren. She operates her stand just outside her father’s house and uses his kitchen to make her food products.
Evelyn was born and grew up in the very same village. She graduated from junior high school just down the road and attended vocational school to learn the culinary trade. Evelyn eventually got married to a man in the village and had one son with him, five years old now, named Godson Abote. In order to help support her new family, Evelyn had to find some work.
At first, Evelyn worked for a fried fish saleswoman in the village. She worked on commission, getting one Ghana cedi (about €.50 or $0.66) for every 5 cedi bag that she could sell. A bag usually took her a day or two to sell, so Evelyn could not earn enough to significantly supplement her husband’s income.
Like so many other Ghanaians looking to improve their lifestyles, Evelyn took hold of the enterprising spirit inside of her and started a business.
At first, Evelyn was only able to sell rice & beans, but this did not bode well for her success. Many of her customers in the early morning hours were farmers heading out to their fields for the day. They found that the rice & beans did not satisfy their appetite enough, so some began to buy breakfast elsewhere. Evelyn wanted to start a business selling kenkey and fried fish (her own this time), but she did not have the capital to buy the supplies she needed.
In came VEG (Village Exchange Ghana). The organization had previously been operating some microloans in the village, but when Evelyn heard that VEG was planning a new cycle to start in July 2011, she jumped at the opportunity. Evelyn was approved for a loan of 200 Ghana cedis, and on July 5th 2011, the loan was finally disbursed.
Evelyn used some of the money to start the kenkey business, buying maize in bulk from the market. With the other money, Evelyn bought more rice to be able to continue to offer rice & beans, and bought her own fried fish to sell in the village. She now goes to Ho, the closest major city, by tro-tro (the local public transportation) every market day to buy a new supply of fish. The fish goes great with both the rice and the kenkey, and so far her customers seem to be very satisfied with the increased diversity of choices.
With more happy customers, Evelyn has been able to increase the volume of food she sells each day. Evelyn’s microloan has also enabled her to earn more money from selling fish. Now from a 25 cedi bag of fish, Evelyn earns a profit of 7 cedis, instead of the 5 cedis she would get before. And because sales have picked up in pace, she profits much more than she did from her commission job.
Evelyn has used her business knowledge to set up an interesting system with her kenkey competitors in the community. With a decline in customers after the December harvest (fewer farmers going to farm in the mornings), she realized that they were driving each other out of business. Evelyn and her competitor across the street came to a deal that everyone in the village could benefit from. They split the week into two, each having three days during which they could sell kenkey. They set the same price for their kenkey, picking a value which they knew was reasonable for people in the community to pay.
Evelyn’s limited travels have kept her close to her community for her entire life. Having a hand on the pulse of the village, Evelyn knows the demands of her customers well, and this has played a key role in helping her find success as an entrepreneur. Evelyn picks certain days or times of day to sell each product during the week depending on a variety of factors, like events going on or the time of year. For example, on the last day of school, Evelyn decided not to sell rice & beans. Schoolchildren coming back from school are her biggest customer for this dish, but she knew they would be having parties at school and would have already eaten before reaching her stand. Evelyn also doesn’t usually sell rice & beans until the afternoon because of the farmers’s preference for kenkey. She is a sharp businesswoman, tailoring the product to best suit her customers.
She’s a dreamer too. Evelyn has plans to start a restaurant in the village. She wants to hire employees and cook a wider variety of dishes to suit every palette. As long as VEG is offering microloans, Evelyn plans to continue to use them to fuel her business, giving her the power to rise up out of poverty.