In early September, Peace Corps Mali held a training for volunteers interested in shea in Mali with a particular focus on the business aspect of the industry.  The goal of the training was to provide the 20 volunteers who attended with the tools needed to help village women’s associations and co-operatives build a business model that will enable village women to reap the most benefit from their “gold.”

Unlike many of our trainings that are very theoretical and tutorial, this training was an intense week of learning in which we also worked on a tangible output – a detailed business plan for a fictitious shea cooperative.  My small group was assigned a mid-sized co-operative that regularly takes out credit to buy nuts and transform them into high-quality butter, and then sells the butter at the local market.

The week started with a shea co-op fair, where a range of Malian shea businesses were available to answer our questions.  We were able to find a co-op among the featured businesses that closely matched our scenario and we spent quite a lot of time discussing the business with their representative.  With this information, the collective experiences of my small group, and a slew of sessions and field trips dedicated to understanding business planning and the shea industry in Mali, we developed a comprehensive business plan for our cooperative which set goals and outlined a plan of action for increasing sales, diversifying the product line, and better marketing the products to our target audiences.

We wrapped up the week by presenting our business plans to the larger group and critiquing the plans of other groups.  In the coming weeks, it is our responsibility to work with our respective organizations in village to explain the business planning process and prepare them for a follow-up training that will take place later this year.  At this training, our counterparts will be invited to learn more about the principles of business planning and encouraged to think through a business plan for their cooperative.  Before I leave country, it’s my goal to help the women of my organization, develop a business plan that can be a roadmap for their continued success!