For Mennonite Economic Development Associates, taking care of clients — and business in general — during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant providing new services in several countries, including Tanzania, Ethiopia and Myanmar.
A partnership between MEDA, a Tanzanian manufacturer and the Canadian government is providing cloth masks to help vulnerable Tanzanians.
MEDA partner WOISO Original Products Co., which produces leather and textile apparel, has shifted to also manufacturing face masks for distribution in the Dar es Salaam region.
“We worked through existing networks to establish partnerships to ensure these masks reached those most vulnerable and in need,” said Fiona MacKenzie, senior project manager for MEDA’s work in eastern, southern and central Africa.
MEDA has been working with WOISO since 2017 as one of its local partners on the Strengthening Small Business Value Chains project in Tanzania. SSBVC, funded by Global Affairs Canada and donations from MEDA supporters, aims to support 250 small, growing businesses and 10,000 small entrepreneurs over a six-year period.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reached Tanzania in April, WOISO began addressing a dire need for basic protective equipment. MEDA began redirecting project funds to enable WOISO to retool, purchase supplies and begin production. This resulted in production and distribution of 84,000 masks by August.
The masks WOISO is producing are not surgical N-95 masks. They are cloth and reusable, which makes more economic sense in the Tanzanian context.
MEDA, in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, made $200,000 available to subsidize 90,000 masks to be distributed to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 including the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions and frontline workers — people trading in local markets, most of whom are women.
MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women project has taken a two-pronged approach to the pandemic in Myanmar. It is helping client partners prevent virus transmission as well as assisting small businesses and growers to keep operating.
On the prevention side, MEDA Myanmar provided personal protective equipment kits to 24 rice millers in Kayin State and six small and medium-sized businesses in Shan State. COVID-19 education posters, masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and hand soap were in each kit to help businesses safely continue.
On the business-stabilization front, MEDA Myanmar reallocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide short-term financial and technical assistance to women sales agents.
With the approval of project funder Global Affairs Canada, MEDA provided small business operating grants to 48 women sales agents in Shan State.
The grants will be used by agents to sell organic fertilizers and pesticides and to buy crops such as ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric, chayote squash, ground nuts and elephant-foot yam from women small producers.
This will support the women to continue with their trading businesses and address general business challenges. It will also help women farmers to access high-quality inputs and markets for their crops during this difficult time.
MEDA’s response continues to prioritize women’s economic empowerment and stemming the tide of potential erosion of gains made by women.
Adjusting in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, MEDA reallocated project spending for items requested by the Amhara Region government, the area where the project is based.
The project procured rice and personal protective equipment — including gowns, masks and gloves — for use within the region, said Tom McCormack, country director for MEDA’s Ethiopia project.
MEDA’s Ethiopia team has adapted to limitations on physically visiting clients by sharing agricultural and business information through radio. The team is passing on information on agricultural techniques by partnering with Farm Radio International to share knowledge and spread awareness.