Global Change Starts with Local Resilience

October 28, 2022

Elgira prepares fish for sale

UNDP Guinea-Bissau/Elena Touriño Lorenzo

In the capital's Pluba neighbourhood there are 300 more businesses operating today than there were just a few months ago. Blue economy, creative industries, digital finance, logistics and transport, and food processing are just a few examples of the sectors in which young people and women are managing to boost the productive fabric of the neighbourhood. The project "Limiting the impact of COVID-19. A 3x6 approach" has accompanied them on a journey that culminates with the start-up of their micro-enterprises and in which their perseverance and resilience have helped to set the pace. 

Elgira Ié is 26 years old and studied up to 7th grade. She has two young daughters who go to school and for whom she dreams of a future as university graduates. Faced with the question "why a business selling fish?", her answer is clear: "because that is what I know how to do". She left school to help her mother sell fish and has been doing so for 13 years. Before the project Elgira was already selling fish and now the project has helped to improve her working conditions. “Before, I sold less because I did not have conditions to preserve the fish. Now, I make a lot of profit” she explains. With the funding from the project, supported by the Government of Japan and by UNDP’s project “Blue Economy as a Catalyst to Green Recovery”, she bought an upright freezer, a chest freezer, buckets, and small working tools. She buys her fish directly from the fishermen in Bubaque, where she goes every fortnight by public transport.  

As for many other project participants, the 3x6 approach, based on the conventional components of employment generation and livelihood promotion, has been a key element of the project's impact on Elgira’s life. At the time the project started, she was living with one of her aunts, but now she can rent her own space to live with her little girls, always close to her family. "She wanted to leave the project after the first phase of community work, she did not want to continue to the training phase because she thought she would not be able to keep up with the classes. We tried to convince her to continue and now she has her business up and running," says Heldrino Correia, a trainer and data manager at ENGIM, the international Italian NGO implementing the project.  

Mamadu (right) and some of his classmates at the Guerra Mendes Basic School.

UNDP Guinea-Bissau/Elena Touriño Lorenzo

The 3x6 approach views participants as active partners in their own value generation and socio-economic recovery, in this case from the particularly harsh effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pluba neighbourhood. Generating immediate income, injecting resources into the local economy and providing opportunities to diversify livelihoods have been constants at the heart of this intervention there. “The project has given me knowledge about waste treatment issues, and I have also improved my notion about the community, about how we can work in the community”, reflects Mamadú Bá, 31. However, he did not opt for the cleaning sector in his enterprise, but for salt packaging. While he recounts that his business idea was clear from the moment he attended the module on local and national products during the business creation training, he is surrounded by the curious glances of the younger students at the Guerra Mendes school, whose rehabilitation was also financed by the project. “We saw that it is difficult to find packaged national salt, so I started working on this idea. I buy the salt from female salt producers in Farim, in the Oio region” he explains. He proudly displays the first ready-to-sell packages, fresh from his small packaging line at home.  

The future for both Elgira and Mamadú looks bright. She wants her business to grow and sell all over Bissau and wants her own sales space so she can help her family. He dreams of being able to earn enough to continue his studies. To ease the way, there is an agreement with the Bissau City Council that beneficiaries of the project will be exempt from paying municipal taxes for the first 6 months of their activity. The aim is for them to use their full funding to start up their businesses.  

Based upon the success of the pilot case in Pluba, Bissau, the experience now serves as a practical basis for the Innovation Hub to expand the intervention beyond the borders of the capital to four additional regions. "Here we were more limited in terms of business ideas because the market and space are what they are. There were several people who wanted to dedicate themselves to horticulture, but they had no space for it and buying the land would be very expensive" Heldrino says. Bafata, Bijagos/Bolama, Cacheu and Gabu are the regions chosen to expand the impacts of the 3x6 demonstration project, in places where vulnerabilities are higher and opportunities much lower.  

This new Innovation Hub initiative is intended to be more productive and focused on priority economic activities such as agriculture, blue economy and other SDG-aligned business ideas. While providing technical assistance to promote good business practices, the intervention will focus on skills development to support increased financial literacy and access to credit for entrepreneurs, with special attention to women and youth. In short, the fund enables access to innovation and sustainable entrepreneurship financing for local businesses in the four regions.  

The aim of the Innovation Hub is to create a functional ecosystem to foster entrepreneurship and private sector development, and to achieve a structural transformation in Guinea-Bissau. This scale up in the regions is meant to build on and apply all the lessons learned so far in Bissau, to achieve a catalytic effect in economic diversification and the development of local markets by incentivizing innovative practices. Further Elgiras and other Mamadús are waiting for their chance in the islands and interior of the country, to diversify their livelihoods and to participate in their own socio-economic development and that of their communities. In a context of persistent crises, these modest stories of great resilience and impactful local innovation contribute to the global change needed to leave no one behind.