Magazine Feature / People

Social Work alumnus builds microbusinesses in Ghana

In northern Ghanaian villages, women tend bees and throw pots, generating products for the microbusinesses they established with the help of DU doctoral student and alumnus Ziblim Abukari.

Abukari, who was the first person in his family to have any formal education, saw the affect he could have on “the most vulnerable people in society,” and decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work in the U.S.

Before coming to DU, Abukari worked with the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Opportunities Industrialization Centers International (OICI). During his five-year stint with OICI starting in 2000, he trained 21 groups in 11 communities.

Abukari traveled to small, rural, subsistence-farming communities in his native northern Ghana to provide training in sanitation and farm management, but his favorite work was helping groups of low-income women develop “microenterprises.”

Because all of his trainees were illiterate, Abukari had to find alternative ways to present information.

“We used a lot of symbols and pictures,” Abukari says.

The nonprofit had identified traditional tasks that women were doing on a small scale that could be expanded into profit-making enterprises.

“We tried to harness what the women already knew,” Abukari says.

The women were making pottery, but it was thick and heavy and dried using a crude method of firing, Abukari says.

“We introduced innovation so they could make pottery that was more salable,” Abukari says.

OICI provided each group with a kiln and a hand-powered potter’s wheel. Abukari trained the women to use their new tools to produce lighter pots that were more attractive to buyers.

Some of Abukari’s most groundbreaking training was in beekeeping.

“Traditionally, beekeeping was male-dominated so it was strange idea to the women,” Abukari says.

He taught the Ghanaian women to produce and sell large quantities of high-quality honey. By the time he left OICI, the demand for the micro-enterprises’ honey outpaced production. Abukari, though, wanted to make sure that the groups could sustain their new businesses.

“We wouldn’t be working with them forever, and we wanted them to be independent,” he says.

To make the fledgling businesses more sustainable, he linked groups to buyers who would purchase products on a continuing basis. Abukari also taught basic financial concepts such as calculating income, profit and loss.

Abukari earned his master’s degree in social work in June 2006, and he began studying for his PhD in September. After he completes his education at DU, he hopes to create an organization to combat illiteracy in rural African communities.

“He will make a huge impact in his country upon his return,” says Christian Molidor, associate dean of the Graduate School of Social Work.

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