Great Leaps Forward

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CLOTH OF MANY COLOURS

Among the yards and yards of fine, brightly coloured cloth I brought back from Senegal, there was no black and white. Only the rich hues of intense, lively, vibrant colour. Some go beautifully together. Some are a clash of different styles or patterns. But all are full of life, in all its glorious complexity. And that was certainly true of the people and predicaments we came across too.

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The entrepreneurs we met, like Benita Dallo, the ceremonial dress shop owner, weren’t necessarily on the edge of poverty themselves, but they were creating jobs for others and wealth that they were spending in the local economy.

The Oikocredit staff we met, like Sambou Coly, were a surprising mix too. Investors in Oikocredit should be reassured that their money is being managed by someone like this former banker who returned to Senegal after completing his MBA in Canada and learning the business of lending money at Royal Canadian Bank and Citibank.

As committed to the cause as any charity worker, Sambou brings a unique entrepreneurial spirit to the business of alleviating poverty and developing his homeland.

And then there were the mango farmers, and vegetable growing women’s groups of Casamanche. 75% of their crops go to waste simply because they can’t find a market for their fruit and vegetables.

And yet thanks to Sambou’s inspiration and their own hard work, they now form a 5,000 strong collective co-operative community – who once they begin exporting their own prepacked and prepared, fresh and dried vegetables – are soon going to be able to properly support themselves and their families for the first time in their lives.

Senegal is a poor country, but one with immense potential. There are problems and injustice yes, but this is not a perfect world of right and wrong, black and white.

The beauty of development lies in carefully picking the right path through all that chaos and disorder.

I saw that Oikocredit does this well. And in doing so are helping people to enrich themselves, their community and their country, in every sense of the word.