Category: Entrepreneurs

Ghanaian women at the heart of social enterprise

This post was first published on ‘Africa on the Blog’ website in honour of Ghana’s 60th year of independence. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m re-posting here. Enjoy!

It’s not business as usual in Ghana. The rise of social enterprises is becoming a major player in Ghana’s economic environment, and Ghanaian women are boldly navigating their own routes, through this landscape.

Gone are the days when being an entrepreneur was only about making profit. Over many years, the ‘social entrepreneur’ has shifted the prism, through which we interpret business success. Using business acumen to drive social and environmental change, the social entrepreneur empowers communities exponentially while re-investing the majority of profits back into the business.

In October 2016, the British Council published the results of an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) survey on the impact and growth of social enterprises in Ghana. Particularly, the study found how the rise of social enterprises is empowering women across the country. Of the thousands of social enterprises believed to exist in Ghana 98 were surveyed. However, the results were still interesting, mirroring what’s been shown in mainstream media.

The tubular grass plant, Bamboo is said to be one of the fastest growing plants in the world and does so abundantly in Ghana. While the idea of making bikes out of bamboo has been around for over 100 years, the socio-ecological enterprise, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative (GBBI) has been riding the wave of international acclaim since its conception in 2009.

Founder, Bernice Dapaah was invited to join the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders in 2014, after winning the International Women Alliance World of Difference Award the previous year.

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Already securing United Nations (UN) funding, GBBI aims to address some of the problems with climate change, poverty, rural-urban migration and high unemployment amongst young people in Ghana. Locals, many without previous training in the manufacturing of bamboo bikes are taught specialist skills; with the workforce being majority women. GBBI provides employment opportunities for (un)skilled workers, while having a direct impact on reducing poverty in rural areas.

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The ODI study, also found that around 40% of social enterprise leaders in Ghana are women. Many have ambitious growth plans, but admit securing funding is one of their biggest barriers. Educational social enterprises are most prevalent and clustered in the capital, Accra. Followed closely by agricultural social enterprises, which tend to be in northern Ghana. However, there are enterprises operating in the manufacturing and service industries. Social enterprises are becoming a staple component of Ghana’s business sector.

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There’s no doubt we live in a digital world, whether you like technology or not, it’s part of our daily lives. Founded by Ernestina Appiah (pictured below), the Ghana Code Club (GCC), an after-school computing club, runs in 13 schools across the country. It aims to empower children to embrace and thrive in this digital age. The Phoenix Project was set up in collaboration with iSpace Foundation Ghana, in summer 2016 to encourage children (especially girls) to use technology as a form of fun self-expression.

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Technology plays a crucial role in the development of any country but it needs to be understood, before it can be implemented and used to provide families with any financial security. While leaning basic computer skills, children attending GCC also learn how to create their own websites, games and animations. These transferable skills will be invaluable to them and their communities, as they become future entrepreneurs, analysts, problem-solvers, engineers or scientists. A few days ago, GCC hosted a hackathon competition, which saw more than twenty schools compete against each other. The wining program was a piano application designed using Scratch programming software. The NPP manifesto acknowledged the importance of computer technology education. The party pledged to provide free WiFi in some educational intuitions and support computer programs for students who want to pursue a career in the sector.

Of course, children are the future, but all sections of Ghana’s society need to play a role in the country’s development. Ghana’s ‘women who code’ network provides women with tech skills to become economically independent. On 6th March 2017, Ghana celebrates 60 years of independence. While the new president stated that Ghana is “open for business” from international investors, Ghanaians are collaborating with each other, carving out their own future.

In his first state of the nation address on February 21st 2017, the newly elected Nana Akufo-Addo, stated that Ghana’s economy has serious problems. Targets of loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) urgent fiscal intervention in 2014 have not been met and high youth unemployment plagues the country. Continuing in his address to parliament, Akufo-Addo stated, “if I were to ask you to tell me what the number one problem was in your constituency, I suspect there would be a uniform answer: JOBS.” Promises were also made to “unleash the suppressed potential” of the Ghanaian economy, so that Ghanaian entrepreneurship can flourish. It’s unfortunate the words of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who (along with others) fought for independence from British rule, are still pertinent to Ghana’s development today. Despite some positive gains, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve”.

Ghana’s prosperity lies not in the hands of the government alone but in the hands of her own people too. It looks like Ghanaian women are courageously taking on the responsibility in a sustainable way and ready for the challenge ahead.

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Hot Seat: Nicola Lespeare Cards

According to the UK Greeting Card Association, in 2015 we spent around £1.7 billion on greeting cards. We sent £564 million worth of birthday cards to each other, with Christmas Single Cards accounting for more than 10% of total retail value for all cards.

Cards are definitely popular in the UK; they’re a personal way to communicate a message. But is it always easy to find the right greeting card?

It was my sister’s birthday and I was looking for a card with a young black female on it. After trawling most of the big high street card shops, I couldn’t find one, Says Nicola Lespeare of There are cards out there for black people, but they’re not always easy to find and can sometimes look a little old fashioned. So, I decided to create a solution to my own problem!

Tell us about your latest business venture

Nicola Lespeare is a new greetings card brand, showcasing illustrations designed by me, of mainly black women. However, my Christmas collection, launching on 14th November, does include a black Santa and kids…Santa’s little helpers!


I’ve already had people ask, “What about the black guys?!” I’m open to designing male illustrations and other family members but as I’m at the experimental stage with designs, I’m paying attention to what customers like before creating new designs.


When did you start your business?

From inception of the idea in July this year, I officially launched on 4th September 2016, it was a crazy 6 weeks!

You’re originally from Nottingham why did you move to London?

After the recession, job opportunities were few and far between in the property industry. I came to London 5 years ago for new opportunities.

How did you start your business?

Although I have a background in fashion illustration, I was a little daunted. I’ve never run a business before. I designed my first collection of cards, emailed my friends to spread the word, and received fantastic feedback!

What is fashion illustration?

Sketching garments on models, using personal drawing techniques to make the outfit look stylish. I can also pattern cut and make garments too, but I’ve been there, done that and ready to try something new.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

After graduating in Fashion Design a while back, I freelanced for a few years before working full time in a variety of office based roles to support myself. I’ve been in Operations Management for a few years but now want to return to my creative roots. I have no intention of going back to fashion design, but started drawing again. I didn’t foresee designing cards so it’s been a brilliant discovery for me.

I read a book called, ‘Be a Free Range Human’, which talks about remembering the passions of your younger self. Mine was drawing, so I went to a stationary shop got some pens and started drawing again.

The most challenging thing about running your business?

Setting up a website! I didn’t know anything about buying a domain name, finding a host etc. When first designing the cards, I realised that water colours didn’t photograph or print well. I had to work out how to make the illustrations pop and look great, which involved a lot of trial and error. Working full time while setting up a business is never easy, but I’m determined to make the business a success.

I went on a steep learning curve; I wasn’t even on social media at the time!  

The main highlight of running your business?

Selling my first card! I was so excited when I got my first order via social media. Overall, the whole journey has been a highlight, especially as I set it up in a short space of time and the response has been amazing reaching all the way to NYC!

What’s the ethos?

To design memorable celebration cards reflecting aspects of black culture, characteristics and trends. My vision is to become a brand synonymous with high quality black celebration cards, where people of African/Caribbean heritage can choose from a diverse collection of cards & gifts for every occasion.

Do you do bespoke cards?

Not yet, but I’m considering doing personalised cards in the future.

Any exciting developments?

There’s a wedding and Valentine’s Day collection coming in the New Year, which I can’t wait to start working on.

Where can we get your cards?

On my website Cards are posted within 24hrs all over the world; prices start at £2.49.

The ‘Patsy’ Birthday Card

Any other card illustrators that inspire you?

I try not to look at what other card designers are doing, I want to maintain my own creative style. I’m inspired by anything around me…a piece of fabric, a person’s hairstyle that I’ll see on the bus, hot air balloons – which helped inspire the first collection.

Do you have any tips on starting a business?

Your social media game needs to be on point! It’s easy to become insular and paranoid that someone will steal your idea if you put it out there, but share it with friends and family because you need feedback. Most ideas are alterations of what’s been done in the past, but only you can put your own unique spin on it. What’s most important is that you act and keep progressing to reach your goals.

You can also follow Nicola and her cards on Twitter @nicolalespeare.


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A first: Made in Ghana Cars

Kantanka cars made in Ghana. Yes that’s right. An African company manufacturing cars in Africa. The name ‘Kantanka’ doesn’t roll off the tongue like BMW, Toyota, and Mercedes, which is understandable. These brands have been driven for decades all over the world – including in Africa. So can the new kid on the block make a dent in the tough exterior of the global automobile industry from a corner in West Africa?

According to the Africa Report, inflation in Ghana was around 18.5% in February 2016. Unsurprisingly the Bank of Ghana is part of an IMF programme on job creation and economic growth. For developing countries to move up the development index, home grown businesses, whether it be manufacturing, agriculture or services, are key.

The road to production has been long, with inception of Kantanka cars starting in the 1970’s. The Brain child of Kwadwo Safo, Kantanka cars are being rolled onto public roads in Ghana by his son, CEO Kwadwo Safo Jr, who is determined to make Kantanka a household name.

Unfortunately, the $18,000 to $35,000 price tag maybe out of reach for the average Ghanaian, but some businesses and the Ghana police service have started to use the cars. In a country which imports more foreign goods than it should, due to the fledging manufacturing industry in Ghana and the perception that foreign products are ‘better’ than domestic products, Kantanka has a lot of (PR) work to do!  Also, at the moment the Kantanka factory can only produce around 100 cars a month.

Some Ghanaians who can afford it are willing to buy homemade cars BUT want solid evidence that the cars can match up to international cars.

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Safo Jr. keen to make his dad’s dream a reality on Ghanaian roads.

Kantanka want the “Made in Ghana” tag to become a slogan of pride and has developed cars for the domestic market. It is the first car brand to be designed and manufactured in Ghana.

Ghanaians are employed at the Safo Technology Research Centre located between Gomoa Mpota and Gomoa Asebu, just outside the capital Accra. Apparently, the research centre is located on part of the land acquired by Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The wood from the dashboard is sourced from Ghanaian forests and the leather seats are manufactured in Ghana’s second city – Kumasi.

Safo Jr. has big ambitions for the Kantanka brand and has already used African movie and music stars to test the cars. These African cars are for sale, watch this space.

Check out the video here and see the cars in action.

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