Spring 2021

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Think Creative Spring 2021 By the numbers: Literacy in Afghanistan Back to school amidst the pandemic Conflict mediation in Guatemala By Creative Associates International VIRTUOUS A


Impact investing for a more prosperous West Africa

snap shot Turn the page to learn the story behind this photo

Photo by Victor Mercado Perez

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Hammocks in Honduras By Mario Pinel, Technical Assistant for the Dry Corridor Alliance Project

Watching the men and women in the village of Santa Anita weave colorful strands of fabric into hammocks brings a deep sense of pride in what they have accomplished. I’ve been working with this community in Honduras’ Dry Corridor for the past year, supporting them as they formed a collective and a business plan. Before ACS-PROSASUR’s activity, they were making hammocks and selling them individually without much success. These hardworking people could not earn enough to support themselves. When we approached the community, they allowed us to show them the advantages of producing and selling their handcrafts as a team by starting a micro-enterprise. We worked with them to acquire higher quality raw materials and develop a business plan that became the foundation for their newly formed small business. Humble and determined, the five women and four men in the group are committed to the

project’s growth. Now, they sell hammocks to clients in El Salvador and have generated employment in the town, thus creating a greater impact not only for their collective but also for the whole community of Santa Anita. Making a hammock takes multiple days, and now each member of the group comes in at a different stage in the creation to complete the product. It’s a beautiful experience to see each household putting so much dedication and effort into their part of the process of producing hammocks. As a part of the Dry Corridor Alliance–Promoting Food Security in the South (ACS-PROSASUR) team, I am proud to be part of this story, to be able to bring about real change in their quality of life through something as basic as a business plan. Seeing the social and economic growth in the area motivates me to continue working with more groups in the Dry Corridor, to encourage them by showing success stories like this one. n

Lilian Amanda Solorzano holds a finished hammock.

Above: Working together, the cooperative gets more business.

In this Issue

A Digital Library Oasis 08 p.

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // Digital reading oasis opens in El Salvador 09 // • Big Books make a big impact • Field Notes 10 // Afghan Children Read: By the numbers 11 // Sign language makes remote learning accessible 12 // In Focus: Nigeria Lake Chad Basin Program

A Virtuous Cycle 14 p.

Big Books 09 p.

14 Cover Package A Virtuous Cycle:

Impact investing for a more prosperous West Africa

ON THE COVER: Habiba Suleiman, business manager for WACOT Rice Ltd., stands in a rice paddy in Kebbi, Nigeria. Photos by Rasheed Photography for Think Creative .

Photos by Victor Mercado Perez (Snap Shot), Michael Waidmann (Digital Library); Lamine Dembele (A Virtuous Cycle)

4 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant President & CEO Leland Kruvant Chief Operating Officer Pablo Maldonado Chief Financial Officer Oswaldo Holguin Senior Vice President Thomas Wheelock VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant VP, Global Operations Mario Vilela VP, Education Eileen St. George VP, Economic Growth Jim Winkler

It has been a year since COVID-19 upended our lives, infected millions of people and caused the tragic loss of so many worldwide. Though the pandemic is far from over, we are hopeful for a better tomorrow as new vaccines be- come more readily available. Nonetheless, our staff and imple- menting partners have skillfully navigated through uncharted territory by developing new strategies and testing techniques that deliver sustainable results for our beneficiaries, clients and host governments. Whether it is reopening class- rooms in Ethiopia, delivering textbooks to remote parts of

Mozambique or promoting peace- ful dialogue among communities in Guatemala, our programs con- tinued to reach and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. That, too, gives us hope. We cannot claim victory over the pandemic, but we can herald many successes – some of them are shared in this issue of Think Creative – and I applaud every- one’s unwavering commitment to Creative’s mission and vision. President Biden’s progressive global development agenda gives us hope. In addition to many pub- lic statements, his international development transition team

and the Council of International Development Companies, which I currently chair, had an honest and productive discussion about resetting U.S. priorities and how implementing partners could contribute to their vision. The president’s confirmed officials, pending nominees and other political appointees bring extensive government and man- agement expertise to the global development arena. We look forward to working in partner- ship with them and the career professionals in these agencies. Sincerely,


Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba Art Direction Amanda Smallwood Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado Marketing Coordinator Evelyn Rupert Writer Janey Fugate Digital & Social Media Specialist Olivia Chapman

Back in the Classroom 22 p.

20 Feature Stories

20 // Weaving Peace: Conflict mediation graduates employ their training in Guatemala’s Western Highlands 22 // Back in the Classroom: Ethiopia’s education leaders get students up to speed safely

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community 26 // Staff Spotlight: Fathi El-Ashry Leading solutions for quality education 27 // • Staff Photos

Meet Fathi! 26 p.

Think Creative is published three times a year by Creative Associates International, a global development organization dedicated to supporting people around the world to realize the positive change they seek. The content is produced by Creative and does not represent the policies or positions of its clients, partners or host governments. Reproduction of any or all of Think Creative is prohibited without prior written permission. Copyright ©2021.

Q & Awith Ardo Aden 27 p.

• Creative fundraiser brings hurricane relief to Honduras

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at ThinkCreative@CreativeDC.com

28 // Q&A with Somalia’s Ardo Aden 28 // Creative HQ moves to a new home 30 // Walk this Way: A day in the life of Yajaira Hernández,

4445 Willard Avenue NW, Suite 400 Chevy Chase, MD 20815 + 202.966.5804 Creative Associates International

Gender Specialist for the Dry Corridor Alliance-PROSASUR

Photos by Skip Brown (Leland Kruvant); Berihun Ali (Back in Classroom); Mounya El Asri (El-Ashry); Ardo Aden (Q&A)

CreativeAssociatesInternational.com | 5

For a look back at the USAID/OTI Nigeria North East Regional Initiative program and its work to strengthen stability and resilience against violent extremism and conflict, visit creativedc.cld.bz/NERI-Legacy

Congratulations TO THE Recipients OF THE 2020 Staff Awards

Chief of Party of the Year Ora Musu Clemens USAIDMali Peacebuilding, Stabilization and Reconciliation Project

Sr. Employee of the Year Arthur Muchajer Director of Grants Management

Employee of the Year Melissa Dicus Manager, User Support

Project of the Year USAIDMorocco Reading for Success National Program for Reading

Pivot of the Year West Africa Trade & Investment Hub ( for COVID-19 adapted response)

6 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Di spa t che s

Updates from around our world

Michael Waidmann, Director of Philanthropy at the MCN Build Foundation

of Washington D.C., gives remarks at the

opening of San Salvador’s first public digital library, on January 26, 2021.

Photo by Rodrigo Morán

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updates from around our world

For the library, form is as important as function in creating a space where both kids and adults want to learn and engage.

El Salvador // CREA Consultores El Salvador A Digital Reading Oasis

donated the initial design with MCN Build donating funds for construction and the project broke ground in August 2019. Modern and unconven- tional, the finished building reflects environmental sensibility focused on Parque Satélite’s surrounding flora. Community ownership is central to the project’s continued success. CREA Consultores led outreach efforts to involve the park’s neigh- boring communities, making them aware of the library, its intended impact and engaging them in deci- sions around how the library can best serve the public. n

D.C., San Salvador mayor’s office and Creative’s CREA Consultores El Salvador, the library emerged from a 2018 Sister City agreement between Washington D.C. and San Salvador. The broader partnership aims to improve economic development, youth development, public safety, sustainability, education and govern- ment collaboration in both cities. “The library is very beautiful thanks to so many hardworking people here,” said Michael Waidmann, Director of the MCN Build Foundation. Salo Levinas, a D.C.-based architect,

and digital books, the library fosters a culture of learning among the city’s youth. Its specific resources on sci- ence, technology, arts and math will be available for local schools. “Especially during COVID, this digital library is important so that youth and the community can access its resources remotely,” says Harold Sibaja, Director for CREA Consultores El Salvador, which implemented the library project. “It brings a new vision for a library in El Salvador.” A collaboration between the MCN Build Foundation in Washington,

San Salvador’s Mayor Ernesto Muyshondt opened the city’s first digital library. Located in Parque Satélite, the second-largest park in El Salvador’s capital, the library is a public resource for youth and their families and a center for learning and professional development. “Thanks to the joint effort,” said Muyshondt, during the inauguration on January 27, 2021, “the most mod- ern digital library in Central America is now a reality.” Offering free WIFI, 30-plus personal computers and thousands of analog

Photos by Michael Waidmann for MCN Build Foundation

8 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Field Notes

Left: A teacher tests an early copy of a Big Book with his students. Below: The large pictures and words make it easy for children to read along.

m Democracy, Governance & Elections New Practice Area Creative merged two existing teams to form the Democracy, Governance and Electoral Integrity Practice Area. The move aims to address these interconnected development challenges with a holistic and integrated approach. Al Rashad + In Raqqa, Syria, Al Rashad+ supports local efforts to build a safer community by installing hundreds of street lights, rehabilitating two women’s policing centers and professionalizing police standards. It is co-funded by the U.S. State Department and the German Federal Foreign Office. Bar ama Baro The USAID Somalia Bar ama Baro program drewmore than 100,000 engagements from its virtual launch on social media. The project will support the Somali education system and offer accelerated learning to out-of-school children. Livros a Tempo The World Bank’s Livros a Tempo program drastically improved book storage in remote schools in northernMozambique. Using results-based financing, every $1 invested by the program yielded $2.27 in community investment. m Education

Big Books Make a BIG Impact Nigeria // NEI Plus

large pictures and fun story lines. In Nigeria, early grade literacy is a major pri- ority for education initiatives. If a child falls behind in the first grade, this can negatively affect their development at a critical time. The Big Books aid young students at this im- portant juncture, particularly when they begin to incorporate English into their schooling. The books teach them new words and concepts, corresponding with best practices for teaching

It’s story time, and children eagerly gather around their teacher Yohanna Zainab as she opens a “Big Book.” Each child in Zainab’s classroom at the Miri Primary School in Bauchi state in Northern Nigeria listens glued to every word and picture. “Big Books” is a new reading tool designed by USAID’s Northern Education Initiative Plus to boost children’s literacy rates in early education and to serve as a bridge between their mother tongue, Hausa, and English. In partnership with NEI Plus, the federal

government of Nigeria presented the Big Books to state governments for printing and nationwide use late last year. During the official launch on November 18, 2020, guest speaker Professor Ismael Junaidu, the Executive Secretary

The birth of the Big Books is timely… and will contribute to educational goals and positive learning outcomes in Nigeria. Books are indispensable tools in the development of a country.”

Professor Ismael Junaidu, Executive Secretary for the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council

m Political Transitions Connection

of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), said Big Books will go a long way in “ensuring the Nigerian child has access to good books.” “The birth of the Big Books is timely… and will contribute to educational goals and positive learning outcomes in Nigeria,” he said. “Books are indispensable tools in the development of a country.” The importance of early grade reading NEI Plus worked with teachers, writers, and government partners to develop 15 different stories spanning a range of genres for the Big Books. The Big Books engage children with

kids in what is often their second language. “The beautiful design and beautiful pictures… will increase the cognitive creativity of the child,” says Shuaibu Mohammad Dabo, an NEI Plus technician who tested children and teacher responses to the books. Speaking at the Big Books launch and addressing the broader context of education challenges, USAIDEducation ProgramManager Nura Ibrahim, Ph.D., said that readingmaterials like these provide neededmomentum for education reformacross Nigeria. “Our launch is ending, but our work is only just beginning,” he said. n

The new USAIDNortheast Connection programwill strengthen community cohesion and resilience to conflict and violent extremism across three Northeastern Nigerian states. The two-year project will improve capacity to respond to threats, address grievances and mitigate vulnerabilities.

Photos submitted by Adebisi Modupe Adetunji

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updates from around our world

More than 1 million students benefited from the USAID Afghan Children Read program over its five years. The program and its partners changed the education landscape in Afghanistan, working closely with the Ministry of Education to bolster its ability to deliver early grade reading education. Improved curriculum, teacher training and policy not only directly impacted current students but also laid the groundwork for continued strengthening of the early grade reading system across the country. By the Numbers Afghan Children Read


Students reached in grades 1-3 in four provinces 1.1 Million

Curriculum&Materials: Textbooks, workbooks & teaching materials distributed 4.8 Million

PLUS New early grade reading curriculum developed

Teachers: 18,641 55 % of them Teachers trained

School leaders trained to provide coaching and mentoring to teachers 5,507

are women

Photos by Jim Huylebroek

10 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Morocco // Reading for Success Sign Language Makes Remote Learning Accessible

Lina graduated from elementary school through access to sign language lessons.

47 % of students reached are girls

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed

supports professional

interpreters and teachers to

Lina’s school in Rabat, Morocco, she feared she wouldn’t be able to keep up with her education at home well enough to graduate into middle school. Lina, 13, is deaf. And while school closures pose challenges for all students, those with disabilities face extraordinary hurdles in accessing remote learning. “I was so concerned. The schools closed because of the coronavirus, and we stayed home. Howwas I going to study?” Lina recalls. “I felt so sad … no one could teachme. Mymomdoesn’t know sign language.” When the pandemic began, the MoroccanMinistry of Education created extensive online learning resources for primary school students. Without sign language interpretation, however, these lessons weren’t reaching students like Lina. USAID’s Reading for Success – National Program for Reading partnered with the ministry to close this gap. The program

record lessons for grades 1-6 inMoroccan Sign Language, covering all primary school core subjects. The ministry uploads the lessons to its online learning portal and broadcasts them on national television channels. “I saw new sign language lessons on TV. Arabic, French, Islamic education, math, everything. I was so happy! I tookmy notebook and started copying the lessons and learning from the TV,” Lina says. “I kept writing and learning step by step.” Since recording began inMay 2020, the interpreters have produced about half of the 556 total lessons. The work continues, and the ministry expects to complete the interpretation of every lesson for grades 1-6 by July 2021. With remote education opportunities within reach throughout much of 2020, Lina was able to complete her coursework and has started her first year of middle school. n

Ministry & Policy:

Ministry of Education officials trained on organizational capacity development 202

Master trainers selected to lead training for future teachers 22

Photos by Mounya El Asri

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updates from around our world

12 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Program in focus A closer look at Creative’s work in action

Nigeria Nigeria Lake Chad Basin Program

“My hope for them is to become strong women, and that they can stand up for each other and promote peace and security.”

- Rukayya Jibrin, Women, Peace and Security Project Manager

In Northeast Nigeria, women-led groups are taking the lead in promoting peace in their communities. Through Women for Peace Platforms, 900 women regularly mobilize to discuss local issues and advocate for solutions in a region devastated by conflict. The USAID/OTI Nigeria Lake Chad Basin program established the platforms across seven locations in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. In the Northeast, social structures and inequalities often marginalize women and girls and exclude them from decision making processes. The platforms create a space for them to take on leadership roles, working together on local issues related to security, peacebuilding and economic development. An independent analysis found that communities more regularly include Women for Peace members in their decision making. Through the platform, the women found a local network of support and strengthened social cohesion. More than 90 percent of members report that their sense of wellbeing has improved after taking part in the program. Through the new USAID Northeast Connection program, Creative will continue to support the de- velopment of women’s leadership in the region. n

Photo by JimHuylebroek

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VIRTUOUS Impact investing for a more prosperous West Africa A cycle

By Janey Fugate

Photo by Lamine Dembele

14 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Malian waste company Macrowaste obtained loans through impact investors. The Trade Hub will support SMEs in similar situations.

Left: WACOT Rice Ltd.’s plant in Kebbi state, Nigeria, provides employment and state-of-the-art rice processing. Above: Habiba Suleiman walks in the plant’s extensive rice storage facility.

a region where only 20 percent of the workforce hold a formal job. “The shift from sourcing to manufacturing for us is really about being able to scale more quickly, enabling faster job creation,” says Paloma Schackert, Co-Founder and COO at Ethical Apparel Africa. This joint project was made possible through a co-investment grant by the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Trade Hub is part of a broader effort to foster economic growth inWest Africa and is one of USAID’s largest economic growth projects. The Trade Hub lever- ages funds froma consortiumof U.S. government sources to boost interna- tional and African private investment in key sectors. >>

In the Eastern Region of Ghana, work- ers sew fabrics into healthcare scrubs and uniforms for U.S. suppliers. These men and women are the start of what a “model factory” can look like in West Africa — one that is cost-competitive, human-centered and changing manu- facturing paradigms. “We believe [West Africa] is the next frontier for the garment industry,” says Keren Pybus, CEO and Co-founder for the clothing sourcing company Ethical Apparel Africa. To respond to projected shifts in the $3 trillion apparel industry, Ethical Apparel Africa is investing in its Ghanaian partner Maagrace Garment Industries Ltd. to upgrade Maagrace’s factory, integrate innovative new prac- tices and rapidly ramp up production. The venture will create 800 new jobs in

Photos by Rasheed Photography for WACOT Rice Ltd. (top right)

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a virtuous cycle

Training programs aim to elevate women employees in the garment factory.

a private partner by requiring a 50 percent leverage, or one-to-one match.” For Ethical Apparel Africa’s venture with Maagrace, the Trade Hub co-invested $1.3 million, leveraging a $6.8 million investment by Ethical Apparel Africa, for a total investment of $8 million. This investment brings not only capital, but also visibility and an opportunity to inspire broader change that catalyzes future invest- ments from both local and international firms. “We want to be thought leaders within the space,” says Pybus. “We want to be open with what we’re doing, have other factories come visit, show them how you can have work incentive programs, how you’re doing your fire safety.” During the next four years, the Trade Hub expects to forge up to 100 partnerships. Working in 18 countries and focusing on 28 value chains, the Trade Hub looks to create at least 60,000 new jobs, increase women’s economic inclusion, provide COVID-19 relief and initiate research and development, as well as drive technological advances, particularly in the agricultural sector.

The facility will become a “model factory” not only for Ghana, but for Africa.

Based on a rigorous selection process, the Trade Hub partners with private companies to transform value chains in poor rural and urban areas. Its goal is to stimulate inclusive econom- ic growth that leads to significant job creation and solutions to the region’s most pressing development challenges. Ethical Apparel Africa, one of the Trade Hub’s first grantees, envisions a model factory that is highly cost-competitive while offering workers real living wages and a healthy workplace. Partnerships — like the one between the Trade Hub and Ethical Apparel Africa —mitigate investment risks in order to create new jobs and livelihoods, increase exports and maximize private investment. “Partnering with the Trade Hub gives investors confidence in our work,” says Schackert. “It allows that virtuous cycle to continue.” The power of partnership This “virtuous cycle” refers to bringing investible capital directly to those ready-to- grow enterprises dedicated to elevating their communities and workers through fair wages and innovation. With the same dedication, the Trade Hub represents a new approach to development as- sistance in the region. USAID and host govern- ments view the private sector as a sustainable, scalable and replicable way to bolster economic development in fragile markets. With $96 mil- lion for co-investment grants, the Trade Hub

expects to leverage an estimated $400 million in private sector capital. “This Trade Hub is different in that it is based on this catalytic model,” says Daniel Moore, Mission Director for USAIDWest Africa. “We are placing our skin in the game with

This Trade Hub is different in that it is based on this catalytic model. We are placing our skin in the game with a private partner by requiring a 50 percent leverage, or one-to-one match.”

-Daniel Moore, Mission Director for USAIDWest Africa

Photos courtesy of Ethical Apparel Africa

16 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Macrowaste’s services are in demand and it now has several major contracts in Mali.

Blended finance and risk But creating partnerships that reach the most fragile markets in the world with much needed capital requires a specific kind of investor. For instance, Burkina Faso and Mali — plagued by drought, poverty, high unemployment and insecurity in a climate-fragile zone — represent a high risk for investors. Through the Trade Hub, small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) in these two neighboring countries were some of the first to receive financing from a uniquely structured deal between the Trade Hub, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the U.S.’s development bank, and Cordaid, an impact investor. In a blended finance model, the Trade Hub provided a $2 million investible first-loss grant, combined with a 50 percent guarantee by the DFC to unlock an estimated $37 million in private investment. The DFC’s guarantee, combined with the Trade Hub’s grant, reduced the organization’s risk and allowed Cordaid Foundation and its impact investment management partner, Cordaid Investment Management, to expand its portfolio in the region. Cordaid will lend an estimated $30 million to 50 companies and eight microfinance institutions in the Sahel, generating an estimated 2,100 new jobs and supporting 8,000 micro-entrepreneurs. “The timing of the Trade Hub’s grant has en- abled us to continue with themomentumwe’ve been building to grow our portfolio in the region even during the COVID crisis,” says Brenda Pennell, Senior Investment Manager at Cordaid Investment Management. “What the process has highlighted for me is the very positive and productive partnerships that can be forged with USAID and the Trade Hub to identify where the need for our investment capital is and howwe can deploy it tomaximize impact.” Pennell says that entrepreneurs and local busi- nesses are the lifeblood of the Sahel economy.

Bolstering them is critical to bringing stability and prosperity to the region. “We really do want to serve the missing middle, so those investees whose financing needs fall between what can be offered by a local bank and what can be provided by a large interna- tional investor,” says Pennell. One member of this “missing middle” is Macrowaste, an SME inMali that works to transform the country’s broken waste management system. Founded by two Malians, Macrowaste’s mission is to provide sanitary, efficient and humane waste management services. “The trash industry is connected to so many things,” says Abdoulaye Tangara, Co-Founder of Macrowaste and Chief Operating Officer. “It’s a humanitarian issue.” Tangara and Co-Founder Lamine Dembele openedMacrowaste in 2011, and the company quickly grew to service four municipalities. But once they reached a growth plateau, they faced what Tangara calls a common “Catch-22” for African entrepreneurs. To access credit, they needed to have credit. Because they had no cred- it, they had trouble attractingmore investment. Despite these obstacles, Macrowaste became Cordaid’s first loan recipient inMali. The financing allowed it to buy better trucks and open the first waste transit station in the coun- try. With the Trade Hub’s support to Cordaid, Macrowaste expects to receive further funds to set up recycling centers and add composting operations. “Our long-term goal is to be a leader not just in Mali, but in the whole region,” says Dembele, President and CEO of Macrowaste. Though the reality of risk is inescapable when investing in regions like the Sahel, partnerships designed to share the burden while working towards solutions to critical issues can allow firms to push into vulnerable areas, reaching segments of the population they otherwise would not.

The Trade Hub and PROSPER AFRICA :

Boosting trade can be an effective way to spur sustainable economic growth and development in under-served communities. To increase trade between Africa and the United States, Prosper Africa – which unites 17 U.S. departments and agencies, including USAID – leverages the full suite of U.S. government services to connect African and U.S. businesses with new buyers, suppliers and investment opportunities. As the primary mechanism for Prosper Africa in West Africa, the Trade Hub offers technical assistance to firms navigating the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and to get firms “investor ready,” in addition to co-investment grants to de-risk investments.

Photos courtesy Macrowaste (top); Janey Fugate (top right); iStock.com (center & bottom right)

CreativeAssociatesInternational.com | 17

A virtuous cycle

inWest Africa to the customer in Europe and the U.S.,” says Sylvain Cattin, Koster Keunen’s General Manager for West Africa. “We want to bring the right price to ensure a decent life for the farmer.” Like many of the Trade Hub’s partnerships, Koster Keunen also has a gender component, aiming to bring more women into its beeswax and honey supply line. Gender is an important theme, as the Trade Hub directly supports the Women’s Global De- velopment and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), a U.S. government effort to advance women’s economic empowerment, and works with firms to develop gender inclusion strategies. Ethical Apparel Africa, whose grant was pos- sible throughW-GDP funds, plans to hire 70

The Trade Hub’s co-investment and the DFC’s guarantee will allow Cordaid to expand its portfolio to capital-starved areas in Burkina Faso and Guinea. “Fragility in the Sahel is a big issue and a big challenge… and we don’t pretend that our in- vestments will be a silver bullet,” says Pennell. “But we look for investment opportunities that can at least help address some of these specific challenges that arise due to demographic chal- lenges and climate change challenges.” The Trade Hub’s blended finance models, like the agreement with the DFC and Cordaid, will reduce the risk to investment for 44 firms in its current grant pipeline. Reducing risk for investors to invest in companies like EAA and Macrowaste makes inclusive growth possible.

Koster Keunen’s bee boxes are made by local carpenters.

Koster Keunen will supply safety equipment and training for new bee farmers.

“So, there’s a real opportunity in Ghana to create amodel for gender that’s truly equitable.” Feeding a growing population Feed the Future, the U.S.’s program to tackle global hunger, addresses development chal- lenges in food security in Africa. Feed the Future’s objectives coincide with one of the Trade Hub’s core goals: To increase food secu- rity by investing in the agricultural sector. Using Feed the Future funds from USAID Nigeria, the Trade Hub provided a $1.5 million grant to Nigerian company WACOT Rice Ltd., which has a mill in Kebbi, a designated prior- ity state for agricultural production. WACOT co-invested $8.6 million. Through this grant, the company will train and onboard 5,000 new rice farmers in its Argungu Outgrower Expansion Project. Nigeria consumes more than 7 million tons of rice per year. In what became known as the “Rice Revolution,” Nigeria shifted away from dependence on Asian rice imports to producing most of its rice needs in local paddies. But local demand is far frommet. In Kebbi state, WACOT reports that farmers lose signif- icant amounts of rice before reaching the mill each season due to the lack of access to roads, quality inputs and knowledge of proper grow- ing methods. The Argungu project will address this unnecessary loss and increase rice yields by giving farmers proper tools and training. “Food security is key because of the very serious poverty in these communities,” says Habiba Suleiman, Business Development Manager at WACOT, which is a subsidiary of Tropical General Investments Group. “This cy- cle continues repeating itself. Smallholders are usually the owners of half a hectare of land they

Through their innovative services, Macrowaste is

addressing what many considered “an impossible problem” in Mali.

Bringing big picture policy to the local level

The Trade Hub also represents a way for firms to access an even larger ecosystem of high-level partners and international and regional initia- tives, bridging business and development goals. For example, with resources fromProsper Africa, the U.S.’s whole-of-government initiative to increase trade between the continents, the Trade Hub co-invested $1.7million with Koster Keunen, a natural wax company. The company plans to equipmore than 11,200 beekeepers in multiple countries acrossWest Africa to create a sustainable supply of wax products tomarkets in Europe and the United States. “We want… to show that it’s possible to have very strong partnerships, from the beekeeper

Keeping trash properly contained has health benefits.

percent women and bring training programs to move their female employees into manage- ment positions in the newmodel factory. “It’s really common for a garment factory to bemostly women in terms of people sitting on sewingmachines… but to be almost all male in terms of themanagement tiers,” says Schackert.

Photos courtesy of Koster Keunen (top right); Macrowaste (left)

18 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

WACOT's rice mill is the largest plant in West Africa.

inherited, and the farm labor is the wife and children with no mechanization which leads to harvest losses.” Nigeria is the continent’s most populous country, and it’s growing rapidly. Taking steps to reduce inefficiencies and develop innova- tions in agriculture is urgent. The Trade Hub is dedicating $34 million to Nigeria’s food security and agriculture, with an emphasis not just on increasing production, but on elevating smallholder farmers’ livelihoods. Further, keeping food production local for staples like rice strengthens economies, reduces the reliance on imports and alleviates the environmental impact of the broken global food supply system. Maximizing impact Designed to bring financing and solutions to the most difficult and inaccessible markets, these complex and specifically structured co-investments through the Trade Hub and private companies are important drivers to export-competitiveness and inclusive growth. But forging the deals is only half the battle. “There is the sustainability piece in that if we make smart co-investments, these companies are going to continue providing jobs,” says USAID’s Moore. “Ultimately, what we are doing is about people, and it may be a large number of people, and one of those people might be a single momwho never before held a formal job... That’s exciting.” n

Habiba Suleiman (right) inspects samples in the mill’s lab.

Providing more storage space for produce is critical for the food system in Nigeria.

WACOT works with farmers to reduce waste during the harvest.

Photos by Rasheed Photography

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Weaving Peace

Conflict mediation graduates employ their training in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

By Janey Fugate

From four departments in theWesternHigh- lands, the 14men and 18 women in the inaugural class represent a range of government and civil society organizations. By design, their training and knowledge will enrich their institutions and create a ripple effect in their communities. “I see this as a social riskmanagement mecha- nism,” says Lilian Contreras, the Project Coordi- nator for the Partnership for Integral Develop- ment inHuehuetenango and a newmember of the network. “I believe that there is a need for a mechanism, or this type of structure, in order to be in constant review of social conflict.” Despite the pandemic’s disruption, the mediators completed the comprehensive training. They learned how to facilitate constructive dialogue in tense situations, how

to employ analytical skills to discern the key actors in a case, and about the importance of staying neutral when navigating conflict. Importantly, themediators’ network does not re- place the justice system. Rather, training equips mediators to knowwhen to bring issues to the authorities andwhen towork to resolve issues amongst affected parties before they escalate. “I believe themethod of the network is to pro- mote dialogue,” says Contreras. “Through the informationwe gather, we identify the difference between thematters that require justice and those that require themediators’ intervention.” Tools for conflict mediation Healthy dialogue, known as a soft skill, can generate and expand cooperation.

COVID-19made Zoomgraduation ceremonies a hallmark of the year 2020. In theWestern Highlands of Guatemala, one such celebration took place to honor over 30men and women who completed 12 sessions and over 30 hours of training in conflict mediation, a needed skill in a region plagued with persistent social conflict. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peacebuilding Project led the training whose first group of graduates es- tablished a new network of conflict mediators. Known as “Tejiendo Paz” in Spanish, the project addresses violence and conflict related to land, natural resources, youth, family and gender issues and governance. Tejiendo Paz gives communities the tools to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts, and work towards their own development. “Conflict in Guatemala has a complex history and affects every segment of society, so addressing it requires a nuanced and community-oriented approach,” says Miguel Balán, the Director of External Relations and Social Conflict at Tejiendo Paz. “The network is an important way we are sharing tools and knowledge around conflict mediation with both individuals and organizations.”

Employing dialogue effectively as a resolution tool in intense situations requires both courage and skill.” -Luz Lainfiesta, Tejiendo Paz’s Deputy Chief of Party

Photo by ByronOrtizA via iStock.com

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Totonicapán is one of the four departments in Guatemala’s Western Highlands that Tejiendo Paz works in.

Graduates from Tejiendo Paz’s conflict mediation training. From left: Delfino Jimenez, María Amezquita and Ernesto Morales.

“I really liked the methods of arbitration, conciliation and negotiation,” says María Amezquita, a graduate of the first class of mediators. Many mediators identified access to essen- tial resources as a primary source of conflict. For instance, Amezquita says that ambiguity around which communities can claim certain water rights is a serious matter of ongoing strife in Totonicapán, her municipality. “We are hoping to resolve this through a series of dialogues led by the government,” she says. Another topic focused on cultural sensitivity. The Western Highlands is a predominantly indigenous region, with communities speaking different Mayan languages even within the same municipality. “One of the greatest challenges I see for me as a conflict mediator is that each town has

looking at conflict. Delfino Jimenez, a com- munity elder and member of his local council of Maya leaders, says his community’s trust in traditional leaders has eroded. “People only want to talk about fines, money and lawyers,” he says, before seeing if media- tion can reach an agreement. Jimenez hopes to use strategies he learned to restore trust within his community and to Restoring trust is a key theme for the network. The mediators’ underlying goal is twofold — to foster a broader mending of the social fabric of the Western Highlands and to rebuild Guate- malans’ trust in authorities and institutions. “If the conflict is between the people and the government, why do the people protest? Why do they march? Because they are not heard,” says Morales. “They also don’t raise their needs [with authorities].” Broken by long years of violence, discrimi- nation towards indigenous communities and poverty, the Western Highlands face high rates of conflict every year. Carlos Sartí, the Executive Director of ProPaz Foundation, Creative’s implementing partner for Tejiendo Paz, in his opening remarks at the mediators’ kick-off event, traced the roots of social conflict to the 36-year civil war. He said the Peace Accords of 1996 gave the country a framework to move forward, but that the work is far from over. “Despite not being fully implemented, the peace agreements have led to positive changes in intersectoral relations. As a society, we have the challenge of taking them back in their integrity,” he says. Through dialogue, conflict mediation and knowledge, the network aims to be a part of this restoration, bringing a vision for a more peaceful society. “We are now forming an attitude… so that we can really have peaceful co-existence, which is so necessary for what a social fabric should be,” says Contreras. n de-escalate social conflict. Restoring social fabric

Lilian Contreras assists peacebuilding efforts on issues ranging from access to resources to discrimination.

“Employing dialogue effectively as a resolution tool in intense situations requires both courage and skill,” says Luz Lainfiesta, Tejiendo Paz’s Deputy Chief of Party. Many participants have jobs or roles in their community that place them in positions where they will confront conflict. The training prepares them to handle these situations constructively and know which government services or other resources can best serve specific needs.

its own culture, its way of understanding, its way of seeing things,” says Ernesto Morales, representing the Cooperation for Rural Western Development. Morales says that learning to create a matrix, or map, for each situation can offer a basis to begin the resolution process in any context. In Comitancillo, a remote, predominantly indigenous municipality, understanding the layers of cultural complexity is essential when

Photos by Vivian Jacobs

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Back in the Classroom

Ethiopia’s education leaders get students up to speed safely

By Berihun Ali and Evelyn Rupert

Photos by

22 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

Left: Ethiopian teachers and school staff welcomed students back into the classroom in September and put new COVID-19 protocols in place.

Masks are the new norm in classrooms across Ethiopia.

Teachers provide tailored support to students who are struggling to keep up with their schoolwork.

Pedal-operated hand-washing stations minimize the spread of germs.

The nationwide shutdown of schools following the COVID-19 pandemic was a massive crisis to the school community.” -Fetene Alamire, Gonbat School Director

After months out of the classroom, sixth- grader Netsanet Nigussie resumed her lessons at Gonbat Primary School in the fall. Getting back to school was a welcome return to routine —with a few new changes. “Our teachers told us, again and again, the things we should do to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 pandemic,” she says. “They have told us to wash our hands at the gates of the school when entering the school compound. It is mandatory to wear masks whenever we’re in the school compound and even on our way to and from school.” These COVID-19 precautions are the new normal for 20 million primary school students across Ethiopia. The safeguards follow national

school reopening guidelines, which the Ministry of Education drafted with inputs from READ II senior technical staff. Implement- ing these strict hygiene and social distancing guidelines was one of many challenges that school administrators and educators have faced over the past several months. “The nationwide shutdown of schools follow- ing the COVID-19 pandemic was a massive crisis to the school community,” says Fetene Alamire, the Gonbat School Director.

As schools cautiously worked to reopen in September, the USAID READ II Activity helped prepare school leaders like Alamire to address the pandemic’s health concerns and ease other COVID-19 repercussions of the pandemic on their students. More than 3,800 school directors and cluster supervisors — who oversee several schools — completed the training. As schools began to reopen in phases across the country, they passed the lessons along to teachers and other school staff.

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back in the classroom

The READ II training for school leaders addressed school- related gender based violence prevention.

Below: READ II mobilized parents, teachers and volunteers to get students back into the classroom once schools reopened.

Alamire says. “The training we had helped us to be ready for this. In consultation with the school Gender Club and the Kebele [community government] administrators, as well as discussion with parents and students affected, we were able to convince them to return to school.” Refocusing on learning Back in class, educators had to ensure students came back ready to learn. This meant not only leading effective and engaging lessons but also taking steps to address the pandemic’s impact on students’ wellbeing. The READ II back-to-school training emphasized psycho-social support and social- emotional learning. Participating educators learned about what causes stress and how stress can become a barrier to learning. They learned how to identify and reassure students who are experiencing fear or anxiety due to the pandemic. To ensure schools are a safe place for all students to learn, the training reinforced how to recognize, prevent and address school- related gender-based violence. At Merawi Primary, School Director Gebeyaw Limenih says these tools are helping students get back into their learning routine and im- prove their performance in the classroom. “We have been grateful for the support. READ II has been a success here, and recently the trainings on how we can support our students during and after the reopening of schools has given us a wide range of useful skills and understanding,” Limenih says. “I hope by employing these skills and knowledge, we will support them through this difficult time.” n

For Cluster Supervisor Genet Nahusenay, the reopening of the three schools he oversees in the Amhara region was one of his biggest challenges during his 22-year career. The READ II training helped him guide the schools through the process while keeping the wider communities healthy. “Based on the skills and understanding we got from the training and the guidelines we were provided with, we have put in place all the necessary precautions aimed at protecting the school community from the COVID-19 pandemic to the greatest extent possible,” Nahusenay says. Family outreach to prevent dropout For many students, the challenge of returning to class starts well before they reach the school grounds. COVID-19’s economic fallout pushed many families to rely more heavily on their children to generate income, particularly farm- ers in rural areas. Now accustomed to their children’s assistance, some families have been reluctant to let them return to school. READ II mobilized more than 7,400 trained volunteers — the community literacy leaders who facilitate the program’s reading camps — to conduct a back-to-school campaign in the communities. The program prepared another 4,600 advocates from parent-teacher-student associations and local education and training boards to communicate with parents about their role to get kids studying again.

Gonbat Primary School Director Fetene Alamire has helped lead his school through the transition with guidance from READ II and the Ministry of Education

For young people — especially adolescent girls — in the region, rising poverty during the pandemic increased the risk of child marriages, according to a report by UNICEF. In communities near Gonbat Primary School, Alamire counted 15 families that had arranged marriages for their children —mostly girls, but a few boys too — over the past several months. READ II’s training for school leaders gave special attention to reaching these families. “We were able to return 12 of them to school,”

Photos by Berihun Ali

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Crea t i ve Li f e A mission-driven community

Yajaira Hernández promotes women’s economic independence in her role as Gender Specialist for the Dry Corridor Alliance Project. Learn about her experience in “Walk this way” on page 30.

Photo by Victor Mercado Perez

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