GFI has partnered with Pagsung, an association of over 800 Shea Nut pickers and producers, to implement Building Inclusive Shea Economies (ElSE) to strengthen harra's rural economy and help women farmers become self-sustaining by creating a women farmers-led business model. Designed in consultation with multiple local and international partners, ElSE responds to the concerns of Pagsung members about the lack of integration of the Shea Value Chain. To strengthen the overarching livelihood goals, ElSE addresses market diversification, supply chain management and ovmership, and decision-making mechanisms, thus ensuring women producers' rights (including equal employment and land ownership).
On November 2010, the program received the SEED Award for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development, facilitated through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The award provided a $5,000 start-up grant and several benefits to Pagsung members, including access to a wide range of business services, support networks, and high-level profiling. Capacity-building activities focused on improved management practices for Pagsung leaders, including establishing clear governance, accounting, and revenue structures to ensure management sustainability.
GFI and Pagsung launched the South-South exchange as an opportunity for Pagsung to learn successful development strategies from GFI's partner, the Self Employed Women's Association of India. SEWA, through eight years of partnership and innovation, has seen significant advances in economic opportunity through greater value-chain ownership. SEWA's process offers a highly replicable model; and, thanks to a grant from the World Bank, the first exchange trip between GFI's partners Pagsung and SEWA became a reality in September 2011. Feedback from Pagsung indicates that the exchange was indeed a unique opportunity for the women to learn strategies for overcoming economic, legal, and cultural barriers and to develop practical business practices that adapt to women producers' needs.
ElSE is now working to seek funds to scale up production. Pagsung does not have storage facilities or space for women to select and process the Shea. With women doing most of the work at home, there is no traceability of the product, which is of key importance for larger buyers. To help the Pagsung women become competitive in the local and inter-national markets, ElSE's goal is to work with Pagsung to establish Transparency, Traceability, and consistent Quality as core business practices, as well as support the registration of Shea as a Fair Trade product.