PROJECT COPE PROPOSED BUSINESS PLAN
Project COPE (COmmunity action for Poverty and Environment) is a joint cooperative venture between Earth Charter US and the Workers Education Association of Zambia. It uses the principles of the Earth Charter to define an ethical framework in which respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace are put into action to create a vibrant local economy. Our goal is to create economic incentives for entrepreneurial Zambians to eliminate poverty in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.
A description of how the various elements of project COPE might work.
The basic design of Project COPE is to focus on building a local economy in which the entrepreneurial spirit of the Zambian villagers can be focused to dramatically improve the wealth and the health of the village.
Many experts on development in African countries emphasized that there can be no one approach to solving the challenges rule villagers face. While it is known that any successful intervention must be multipronged, most villages receive limited help focused on one answer. For instance, one village might focus on solar power, another on solar cooking, another on sanitation. These are done for completely reasonable reasons, but to really push a rural village out of poverty, there has to be movement across a broad range of activities. Project COPE seeks to do that by offering a broad choice of options that local people can select to match their entrepreneurial desires.
Another problem experienced by many single focused projects is follow-up. Once a project is started, it takes time and energy to return to the village to be certain that the key elements of the project are continued. This can cause an unreasonable drain on limited resources both financial and personnel. Again, we believe that by creating incentives at the village level, the need for follow-up will be minimized.
Most economists agree that humans work for incentives. The problem with charity is that the incentives may actually work against the long-term best interest of the village. Therefore Project COPE is engaging the villages as partners in an entrepreneurial venture that focuses on creating a business incubator model in the village. An interconnected web of entrepreneurial businesses will create a local economy that can sustain its growth by building local wealth. Further, by tapping the entrepreneurial spirit of the Zambian villagers there is an automatic incentive to use the interventions and spread those interventions into new markets.
Project COPE starts their relationship with the villages by training them in practices that can dramatically improve their health. Improvement in health increases the general energy level of the village members so they can take advantage of the economic incentives of entrepreneurial businesses. The initial training focuses on clean water, clean fuel, and sanitation.
During the initial training phase, Project COPE gives people the skills to pasteurize their drinking water. Using a simple temperature measuring device, called a WAPI, a person can determine when their drinking water has reached the appropriate temperature that destroys pathogens that affect human health. This temperature is much lower than the boiling point of water, thereby saving fuel. The temperature can also be reached by simple solar heating technologies which eliminate the use of fuel altogether.
Some of the major challenges facing village women and children involve breathing smoke from cooking fires. These cooking fires not only destroy the lungs of the villagers, but the use of such fuel is leading to serious deforestation. Project COPE demonstrates to the villagers how to use solar stoves and rocket stoves. Solar stoves use the heat of the sun to cook food slowly. Rocket stoves are designed to cook food quickly using a very small amount of fuel. Even though rocket stoves are highly efficient, they can be constructed from easily available village materials. Through the use of these two cooking techniques not only is the general respiratory health of the village improved, but women and girls have much more time since they do not have to travel far from the village to gather wood. Also, pressure is reduced on the local forests which will lead to a healthier ecosystem.
Sanitation is one of the key challenges facing villagers. Because of a lack of sanitary facilities, easily preventable diseases such as dysentery or cholera cause immeasurable suffering each year especially for the children. To handle the challenge of eliminating human waste from the local water, Project COPE is teaching villagers how to install Ecodome waterless toilets. These toilets are made in Zambia by Zambian workers and are relatively simple to install and easy to maintain. Each partner village in Project COPE starts with three Ecodome toilets to teach people the installation process.
As the water, fuel, and sanitation projects progress, Project COPE introduces economic entrepreneurial possibilities in five main areas: Financial Services, Agriculture, Health, Energy, and Retail and Marketing.
Villagers are acutely aware that the lack of access to capital dramatically reduces their opportunity to improve their lives. Micro loans in Zambia have not proven to be very successful in rural areas because of the high interest rate, and a quick payback time. A more successful model in Zambia is the Village Bank. In this model, a group of motivated village members form a financial cooperative. The cooperative is trained in the operation of a financial organization especially in the management of loans. Each member of the cooperative must contribute funds on a regular basis. Even if the amounts are very small, the villagers must get in the habit of putting money into the cooperative. When there are enough funds, the cooperative can start making microloans to members of the cooperative. The advantage of village banking is that the cooperative sets the terms for the repayment of loans. If a person is seeking an agricultural loan, it is not possible for them to begin paybacks until the results of the loan come in which is typically a growing season. Traditional microloans require repayment to start almost immediately, thereby eliminating many of the more productive activities capital could create. Since the cooperative starts by loaning money to themselves, they get to set the terms. In discussions with village banking professionals, Project COPE has learned that a village bank cooperative works best if they have an outside capital infusion of less than $1000. It turns out that if more than $1000 is added to the money that the villagers have already accumulated amongst themselves, they lose the appreciation that it is their money and also lose the feeling of obligation to pay it back. Therefore Project COPE will solicit funding at $1000 or less once the financial cooperative is running and demonstrates competence in managing loans. Eventually, the Village Bank will develop the skills and capital to expand the local economy without reliance on outside funding.
At present, Project COPE is offering three entrepreneurial opportunities: Tractors, Crops, and Apiculture.
Tractors. A recent epidemic of hoof and mouth disease has destroyed most of the draft animals in many of the villages around Lusaka. Without draft animals, subsistence farmers have to use manual labor to prepare, plant, and harvest their crops of maize. This dramatically limits the amount of land they can cultivate. China pioneered the use of two wheeled tractors to improve agricultural outcomes. These same tractors are now being made available in Zambia. The tractors typically have two cylinder diesel engines which do not require much in the way of maintenance. A local farmer with a two wheeled tractor can prepare his or her own land in a much shorter span of time. This would allow them to then rent out their services to other local farmers. Thus the tractor owner not only improves their own harvest but the harvest of those around them. At the village level, the price for hiring a neighbor’s tractor services can be a portion of the harvest rather than hard cash. The tractors themselves have multiple uses. Besides plowing, the tractors can also be adapted to planting, cultivating, and harvesting. There is a wagon attachment that allows the tractor to pull harvests to the local market. The power takeoff can run water pumps or grain milling devices. A good entrepreneur can turn a two wheeled tractor into a flourishing business which not only helps the entrepreneur but provides a needed service to the village community.
Crops. The traditional crop of subsistence farmers is maize. Maize is a seasonal crop, and so there is opportunity to plant additional crops that either grow in the off-season, or extend the nutritional content available to the villagers. Moringa trees are a hearty, drought resistant shrub like tree that grows well in Zambia. The leaves of the Moringa tree are a great source of vitamin A which is a chronic deficiency in Zambian children. It is sometimes called the most useful tree in the world because besides the leaf, there are uses for seeds, bark, and branches. It takes about two years for the tree to reach maturity, but after that it produces constantly. Another alternative crop can be fresh vegetables. Fresh vegetables are in high demand in the villages, but normally are hard to grow because they need irrigation during the dry time of the year. If a villager has access to a pump or a two wheeled tractor that can run a pump then they can successfully grow a high demand crop that meets the nutritional needs of their fellow villagers. One of our members has recently been trained and certified in sustainable vegetable cultivation which uses just a fraction of the irrigation needed in traditional farming methods. This skill will be shared with interested farmers in our target villages. Soy beans also have potential. Not only are they a source of food, but they can easily be converted into biodiesel, which is the main fuel for the two wheel tractors. Thus, the two wheel tractor program can become self-sustaining. There are several other crop alternatives in Zambia that Project COPE would explore with local agricultural entrepreneurs.
Apiculture. Apiculture is the keeping of bees. Zambia is a particularly hospitable environment for apiculture. For villages in which a group of entrepreneurs would choose to keep bees, multiple job opportunities open up. First, the hives must be constructed. The use of local materials and local designs would provide opportunities for villagers with carpenter skills. To gather the honey the workers must wear protective clothing which gives local tailors employment. There is also the opportunity for more employment in the processing and marketing of both the honey and the wax. Villages in Zambai that have adopted apiculture have seen their annual incomes almost double.
Project COPE is offering four different opportunities to support health in the villages.
WAPI’s. Water Purification Indicators are devices that act like a mechanical thermometer. They are plastic tubes partially filled with a special wax that melts at the temperature at which water is pasteurized. This temperature, about 185°F, is far below the temperature at which water boils. This allows villagers to purify water using less fuel. This temperature is also low enough that water can be pasteurized through solar heating, which requires no fuel at all. Project COPE can purchase kits through Rotary Clubs in America at reduced costs (about $2.00) and ship them to villages where they can be assembled. Once assembled, the entrepreneurs can sell these to fellow villagers or surrounding villagers for two or three times the cost of the parts, and, yet, still well within affordability to even the poorest person. By turning these WAPI’s into an entrepreneurial venture, villagers will be motivated to teach others to use these Water Purification Indicators correctly. Rather than needing follow-up from Project COPE trainers, correct WAPI use can become an economic incentive to the village entrepreneurs. What could be a cost to Project COPE now becomes income to the villagers. The villagers benefit through reduced water purification costs and the entrepreneurs benefit by promoting the correct use.
Solar Stoves. Solar stoves have proven to be very popular in one of the target villages. Solar stoves need no fuel. Because they cook slowly, solar stoves do not need to be attended, freeing village women to do other economic work either in agriculture or local sales. Solar stoves are easily constructed from two cardboard boxes, a piece of plexiglass, and some aluminum foil. Total cost for materials appears to be somewhere in the five dollar range. One advantage of using the Solar Stove is the dramatic decrease in exposure to smoke which at present is a leading cause of respiratory diseases in women and children. Another advantage is that the Solar Stove uses no fuel which frees the women to participate in other activities that create economic advantage. The time savings factor was supremely attractive, in that women not only did not have to gather wood, but they did not have to attend the stove. Because of the distinct economic advantage of the Solar Stove, the entrepreneurs who make and sell these stoves have a huge economic incentive to promote their use. Instead of having Project COPE trainers trying to reach the surrounding villages, entrepreneurs working under economic incentive will spread the use to surrounding villages.
Rocket stoves. Rocket stoves are designed to complement the Solar Stove when the weather is cloudy or when food must be cooked over a more intense fire. Even a primitive Rocket stove built from simple bricks dramatically reduces the need for fuel. Instead of large limbs or charcoal, which villagers use at present, Rocket stoves can create intense heat from small twigs and branches or even agricultural waste. Rocket stoves also have low smoke emission which reduces the chances for respiratory diseases among women and children. Entrepreneurs can easily build even more highly efficient rocket stoves. Once villagers learn the advantage of these super-efficient stoves, they will understand the advantage of the improved stove and be willing to pay for it. Therefore, an economic incentive is created for village entrepreneurs to train their neighbors in the advantages of Rocket stoves, again saving training expenses for Project COPE.
Waterless toilets. Waterless toilets are perhaps the most popular program Project COPE offers. The villagers clearly understand the challenges to creating sanitary conditions. Project COPE is building three waterless toilets in our 2 target villages. The villagers are involved in every phase of the construction. Project COPE uses the Ecodome toilet which is manufactured in Zambia by Zambians. It’s simple and ingenious design allows for relatively quick installation and does not require complex building skills. At the end of the installation project, local villagers will have the skills to install these toilets properly. Although these toilets are inexpensive by developed country standards, they are still beyond the means of most village households. Sanitation is properly the responsibility of the government although there are several NGOs involved in this area. We would seek to get funding to provide more of the Ecodome toilets to the rural communities. Also, the Education Ministry has expressed interest in putting Ecodome toilets into their rural schools. This would provide an employment opportunity for the villagers who are trained in installation.
At present, Project COPE hopes to offers two energy projects.
Solar cell phone recharging stations. Since many rural areas lack connection to dependable source of electricity, solar recharging offers a great opportunity. Many in the rural communities would use cell phones to improve their economic life if there was an opportunity to recharge them. Even in the most remote areas of Zambia, one can find small booths selling phone cards which put minutes onto the phones. These booths could also offer cell phone charging services. In the typical recharging station, there are several solar panels which are hooked to batteries which then can be used to charge cell phones. Because the solar cells can last as long as 10 years and well-maintained batteries can last as long as 5 years, overhead after the initial investment is very low. This will allow the solar cell charging stations to set their prices at a level that is far more attractive than taking the cell phone to the nearest source of electricity.
Solar lighting. There are several simple kits that can be used to create a basic lantern. Project COPE has experimented with several different types of solar cells and solar lighting. Even the most basic solar cells and batteries coupled with LED lights can provide a decent amount of interior light for 4 to 6 hours. At present, villagers use candles or kerosene which give off smoke emissions and have the risk of setting a fire. The use of a basic solar lantern would quickly pay for itself in savings from candles or kerosene. This would allow villagers to extend their day, allow the children to complete their homework, and generally offer the safety of interior lighting. Once a village entrepreneur masters the construction of solar lanterns, they have an economic incentive to promote those lanterns to their neighbors and other villagers.
Solar installations. At this time, we are looking at different models for creating larger solar installations, such as schools or clinics. This would probably be a task for a larger collection of entrepreneurs because the initial investment would be very high and the level of skill would take much time to develop. This would be a future project.
Retail and marketing
Project COPE using the skills of the Workers Education Association of Zambia can teach the skills of manufacturing and marketing.
Used clothing. Project COPE is working with people in the United States to gain access to at least one shipping container of used clothes. In Zambia as in other developing countries the American used clothing industry is a large employer. Village entrepreneurs would take the clothing to clean and repair before taking it to the market to sell.
Crafts. Project COPE will help entrepreneurs to develop marketing plans for the production of local crafts. The Workers Education Association of Zambia has worked with small marketers for many years and has the skills to assist village entrepreneurs in successfully bringing crafts to market.
Marketing Project COPE
The key point in marketing Project COPE is the emphasis on supporting entrepreneurial development in Zambia. Project COPE is not charity but a business incubator that is focused on creating local economies that use incentives to accomplish the goals of improving health, sanitation, and wealth. The plan is to use the main website of Earth Charter US to bring Zambian entrepreneurs into contact with Americans who share their entrepreneurial spirit. Each Zambian entrepreneur would make their business proposal on the website. Interested Americans can read the business proposal and engage in personal contact with the entrepreneur. This could be through cell phone or Internet.
By having direct contact between American funders in the Zambian entrepreneurs, Project COPE will create new relationships that not only break down distances but create the opportunity for discussions about the development of business and economic incentives. Americans can share their knowledge of business goals and plans while helping to develop the skills of the Zambian entrepreneur. The Zambian entrepreneur will provide the excitement and drama of building economic dreams in a new economic frontier.
Project COPE would market the connection through social media sites like Facebook. Initially it would not take very many Americans or very much money to get the program started. Project COPE has vowed to make no promises it cannot keep nor to collect more money than can be productively used in creating local economies in Zambia. Because the connection will be directly between the American funder and the Zambian entrepreneur, overhead will be extremely low.
One of the main attractors to working directly with local village entrepreneurs is that Americans can follow their money throughout the entire process. Often times when we donate to large NGOs we can never be certain if our dollar goes to help a starving child or buy lunch for the CEO. All the money goes into the same pot. With Project COPE the donated money goes directly to the entrepreneur with whom the American donor has a direct relationship.
At this time, two villages have been trained in the water, fuel, and sanitation aspects.
One village will be trained in Village Banking in April, and will begin working on funding the first business, a Solar Stove manufacturing venture.
Our first agriculture project will begin in April. A local farmer will receive a loan to purchase a 2-wheel tractor. He will not only cultivate his own fields, but the fields of the farmers around him. He will also experiment with alternative crops, including sustainably grown vegetables. If his estimates are correct, he will be able to pay back the tractor costs in less than two years, at 15% interest.