Reporters on the Job
• Stretching a Dollar: Contributor Xanthe Scharff first met Selina, who runs a fritter business in Malawi (page 1), while conducting a focus-group discussion. Xanthe is a master's candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass., and is evaluating the enduring impact of a project that ended three years ago as part of an internship with CARE International in Lilongwe, Malawi. The project - the Central Region Infrastructure Maintenance Program (CRIMP) - offered training designed to give rural Malawian women skills to start their own small businesses.
Women participating in CRIMP, Xanthe says, worked in 'contract associations' to maintain rural roads. In exchange, they received wages, one-third of which went into group savings. "The women were taught to rely on one another for support and to identify business possibilities," Xanthe says. "They used their savings as capital for the businesses and they diversified their sources of their income - a strategy that would protect them during hard times."
As the women began to earn, they were able to weigh in more effectively on how to spend their income. Today, Xanthe says, many of the women take an active role in business and household financial decisions that were previously thought of as the man's domain.
One reason for Selina's success may lie in the leadership skills that Xanthe noticed right away. Those helped to hold her savings group together for the past three years, she says.
Selina's profits will far exceed those of her husband, Xanthe says. "In this society, perhaps it would cause the man too much shame to be surpassed as the main earner in the family. Her tact in allowing him to maintain the image that his farming is earning more than her fritter business may be a key ingredient to his acceptance and support of her economic empowerment."
- Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor