(As Printed in the Daily Graphic Newspaper by Elikem Kuenyehia) - click here
Nearly ten years ago, Fuseini lost her job when the grant money dried up at the NGO where she worked. She couldn't find another job and her attempts at retraining as a teacher fell through when she couldn't find money to stay in the training programme. The gentle speaking Fuseini, turned to community work organising groups of people to join local peasants associations where they could learn improved farming methods. Camfed, an organisation dedicated to educating girls, chanced upon her and invited her into their peer-educator programme where she taught skills like financial literacy, entrepreneurship, conception and contraception to girls in school in English, and later to members of her community in Dagbanli. The lessons on conception and contraception she recalls,with glee, were enthusiastically received.
The 'Shea' strength of butter
When Camfed later invited her to submit a pitch for a business idea competition, she decided Shea butter production could transform her fortunes and improve the circumstances of many of the women she encountered through her community work. Fuseini had learned Shea butter extraction, as traditionally practised by women in the North, at her mother's side when growing up." As the third of ten children, she would pick the nuts and then help out in the painfully laborious process of peeling, shelling, pounding, boiling, roasting, and a few other tedious tasks in-between, before finally skimming off and cooling the finished butter from the waste residue. And for all this hard work, her mother -like many other women - never earned much selling the butter raw. Fuseini's big idea was to add value by creating consumer products like scented body lotions from great quality Shea butter. Her business· idea won some funding, and after training trips to India and mentoring in Accra, Fuseini started her journey and has walked that path ever since.
Fuseini started Asheba Enterprises in 2012 and has built it through grit and organisational acumen from her home into an operation that supports some 600 women in over seven communities in Tamale where she lives: She continues to train other women's groups on her improved production methods that fetch high prices for her high quality butter. Fuseini has built a production and storage facility to reduce the women's workload. She also offers pre-financing arrangements to the women to take away any financial barriers that could prevent those interested in making a living from production of the butter from getting involved. Asheba Enterprise's product-line currently include Shea-butter-based baby pomades, hair food, body creams and mosquito repellent. Asheba Enterprise also exports tonnes of 100% natural Shea butter for cosmetic, food and pharmaceuticals uses.
Entrepreneurially skilled women create local opportunities
Fuseini pays 'her women' well because their economic empowerment matters to her. The financial support they are now able to provide makes them independent and respected members of their households, the mother of two says.
While the Shea nut tree holds immense economic value in Ghana's northern savannah -with some estimates at $100M each year, it is these largely uneducated rural women who have processed the nuts into butter in the past for much less than its true economic value. Fuseini's success is evidence that empowering women with entrepreneurial skills makes them better able to recognise and exploit available economic opportunities for themselves and their communities. Kwegyir Aggrey's famous quote, "If you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation", rings true here as well.
Enrolling with IIA
Fuseini was admitted into Invest in Africa's (IIA) Business Linkage Programme (BLP) in 2016, where she received training and was assisted to develop a road map to improve governance and financial reporting of her business. With new business development skills and an appreciation of business partnerships from IIA sponsored legal sessions, she has been able to establish promising new relationships that would open up her products in international markets and increase her market presence in Ghana in coming months. The BLP is helping to turn Asheba Enterprise into a global growth-oriented business.
Fuseini-was recently named IIA woman entrepreneur of the year at the maiden IIA Business Excellence awards for her determination and social impact. She has also made it to the top ten finalists in MTN's Heroes of Change Season four in recognition of the economic and social change her business is bringing to her community. The GHS 100,000 cash prize could make a huge difference for the communities her work supports as she is already planning other activities.
Fuseini intends next to embark on a tree planting campaign and to raise awareness of the need to protect Shea nut trees which are increasingly cut for firewood and charcoal. As it takes up to 20 years for the trees, which grow mainly in the wild, to reach maturity and begin bearing fruit, Fuseini hopes to reverse this threat to tree populations and the livelihoods of-her women in the North.
Ayisha Fuseini has come a long way from her days trying to make-ends-meet to respected entrepreneur who sustainably exploits her community's resources to raise the economic circumstances of women and their families. This will likely remain Asheba Enterprise's greatest strength as it moves to expand into new markets.
To learn more about IIA's programme's, click here