Dr. Ahmed Tufeiru had long left his native Tamale, Ghana, for an MBA from Rutgers University, a home in New Jersey, and a flourishing career with companies from Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch on Wall Street to, currently, Quantitative Management Associates LLC. But while visiting Ghana several years ago, he was shocked to discover a new phenomenon.
“I was driving through a market in southern Ghana when I saw women gathered next to their large basins waiting for head-portage work,” recalls Tufeiru. Next, he realized they were speaking in a northern dialect—his own.
So he asked them what they were doing so far from home, piling goods into their head basins and carrying loads for pennies. “They told me this was the only way they could provide for their families,” he says. “They sleep in the streets, use public bathrooms, and are subject to abuse. But they don’t see themselves as victims. They migrated here to support their families.
“I saw women earning maybe 50 cents a day, while on Wall Street we’re working with $50 million a day,” he says. “I suddenly realized these women are hard workers with entrepreneurial ambitions. They’d rather be farming or running other small businesses, but they lack access to affordable capital.”
At that moment, Tufeiru, then a PhD in Public Policy and Administration student, discovered his dissertation topic—a study of the effects of a microfinance program on female head-load porters in southern Ghana. Would they choose the same work? Or establish and run businesses near their homes? By interviewing this population of women and analyzing the information he collected, he learned that access to capital was key.
In his dissertation, Tufeiru included “a prescription for policymakers,” he says. “It details how microfinance is a remedial socioeconomic tool that addresses the migration that’s causing the phenomenon of head-load portage.”
But he wasn’t ready to stop there. To turn his findings into action, Tufeiru returned to Ghana in March 2012 to establish a partnership with KASI Microfinance Limited, where he’s now a board member. To date, more than 285 porters in Accra and Kumasi have received loans of up to $500 to return home to become entrepreneurs—and the results are astonishing. Some women are now working as farmers. Others are self-employed as greengrocers who purchase, transport, and sell fresh vegetables in their local farmers markets.
By writing his dissertation, Tufeiru researched and created a solution to a pressing problem in his native country. “These loans allow women to return home to become micro-entrepreneurs,” he explains. “Walden’s applied and demand-driven curricula not only enhanced my learning experience, but pointed me in the direction of creating a practical outcome that has improved lives in southern Ghana. All it takes to become an agent of change is a passion for making a difference.”
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