Harnessing the Private Sector as a Force For Good

Council on Foreign Relations Blog, October 21, 2020

An October 2020 Council on Foreign Relations blog, “Revitalizing Human Trafficking Policy Twenty Years In,” highlights the work of The Market Project to harness the power of the marketplacemeet needs of local communities, and teach trafficking survivors transferrable skills.  

Authors Olivia Enos and Mark Lagon write, 

“Civil society is key to overcoming trafficking…. One organization, The Market Project, provides opportunities to survivors of trauma to become a part of fully operational, market-based businesses and equips them with skills that offer survivors hope and a future.” 

Consistent with the recommendations by Enos and LagonThe Market Project seeks to work in partnership with the business community, as well as civic and faith actors, “toward advancing universal values of dignity and equality. 

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Keeping Parents Working Keeps Kids in School

Completing School Cuts Poverty

(Photos taken prior to pandemic.)

Education is a critically important tool in the fight to eradicate poverty. According to a recent study by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, world poverty could be cut in half if all adults completed secondary education.[1] Lack of access to education is a particularly grave problem in sub-Saharan African countries such as Uganda.

Rural Ugandan Children Missing Out on Education

Education is highly valued among Ugandan families, and yet nationwide only 67% of children enrolled in primary school will complete it.[2] Many are missing out of basic schooling due to their family’s limited resources and inability to pay the required school fees.

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Teamwork Shines at Nguvu Dairy

Meet Nguvu Dairy’s production team!* Robina, Johnson, Magino, Bridget, Morris, Teopista, Agnes and James are responsible each week for transforming 2,700 liters of milk into strawberry, lemon and vanilla yogurt.

Sales staff on bicycles with coolers full of yogurt fan out from Gulu and four other towns in northern Uganda to sell to townspeople and villagers. Particularly during the coronavirus pandemic when supply chains have been disrupted and food is often scarce, Nguvu’s yogurt improves the nutrition of these stressed communities.

Production leader Robina Aling ensures the team consistently makes high-quality and delicious yogurt. Each team member goes through three levels of training. This training covers sanitation, milk testing and pasteurization, yogurt fermentation and production, and supply and inventory management.  Team members are tested for medical fitness and must be free from diseases such as typhoid and other diarrheal food-borne illnesses. Medical certificates from the local health inspector are posted in the production area. Regular testing from Uganda’s Dairy Development Authority ensures that Nguvu’s produces yogurt that meets national standards.


*Robina, Magino & Bridget are grateful for the chance to work hard and support themselves.

Nguvu is proud of its creamy product which has a reputation in the region for being the best, delicious yogurt. Over many months Robina has worked hard to develop her skills to become a production leader. Nguvu takes pride in the professional training of each team member.  The stable, supportive job means men and women learn new skills and find their strengths.

Survivors of trauma find new hope at Nguvu Dairy, a for-profit, locally-
run business started by The Market Project. We could not do this life-changing work
without your support.

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*Photos taken prior to pandemic.

Improved Dairy and Livestock Management Grows Farmer Income and Food Security

Poverty, Poor Farming Practices Hamper Food and Dairy Production

Food insecurity has increased in many rural areas of East Africa in recent years due to poverty, subsistence farming, and climate change. Recently, dairy farmers throughout Northern Uganda have only been able to produce 2.4 billion liters of milk per year rather than the 10 billion predicted as the country’s potential for 2019.[1] In many cases, these dairy farmers are running small operations in rural areas, with little access to value-adding processing and packaging equipment. For most East African countries, at least 40% (and up to 70%) of GDP comes from the agricultural sector, meaning that the impact of increased food insecurity experienced by the dairy industry is vast.[2]

Data from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) suggests that dairy production in Uganda is mostly based in rural regions and run by small-scale farmers. As of August 2019, the IFC estimated that “only 20 percent of Uganda’s milk output is processed.”[3] This implies that much milk in the region is consumed quickly and sold interpersonally.

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Ugandans Struggle to Feed Their Families in the Time of Coronavirus

Uganda Suffering Severe Economic Disruption

Uganda like many countries has experienced severe economic disruption and instability as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country, as of June 2020, had a relatively low number of reported coronavirus cases, the virus has most severely impacted the business environment. In particular, Uganda’s dairy industry, including companies like Nguvu Dairy, has suffered in unique ways throughout this crisis.

According to recent statistics from Uganda’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have caused business activity to drop by at least 50% in Uganda and throughout East Africa. Small and medium-sized businesses have suffered the brunt of the impact[1] due to restrictions on transportation and trade.

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Face Shields Defend Against COVID-19

Takataka Workers with Face Shields Against COVID 19

Hospitals in northern Uganda are woefully under-equipped to fight COVID-19. Most personnel work on the frontlines in public hospitals without any personal protective equipment. An insufficient number of disposable medical masks are the staff’s only protection as they treat patients.

Paige Balcom and Peter Okwoko are co-founders of Takataka Plastics, a social impact enterprise that is conducting research on plastic products marketable to builders and do-it-yourself homeowners in Uganda. Takataka’s engineers are designing and testing various building materials made from Uganda’s plastic waste. The Market Project provides business mentoring as Takataka Plastics explores how to create jobs and recycle the plastic waste that is abundant in Uganda.

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The Market Project Supports Nguvu Dairy’s COVID-19 Response

Nguvu Sales Bikes with masks

The coronavirus is hitting Uganda hard. The country’s coronavirus lockdown, one of the most strict in the world, has thus far limited the spread of the virus – but at an extremely high cost. With a nightly curfew and a ban on passenger vehicles, people are unable to get to town centers or travel to their villages to buy food. Compounding the problem, middlemen are hoarding foodstuffs, and prices of food and other basics have nearly doubled.

For the urban and rural poor already living on the edge, many are more fearful they will die of hunger than from the virus. 

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Setting goals and measuring impact! When targets are set, we are able to determine if we are hitting the mark or missing it. The same is true for economic development goal setting. 

The 17 long-term “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) cast a vision for changing our world. They are a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.”[1] The Market Project is doing its part, making headway with at least three of the SDGs.

The SDGs include the noble objectives of ending poverty by improving health and education; reducing inequality and spurring economic growth; providing access to clean water; and cultivating stable institutions to further peace and justice throughout the world. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015, the Member States are committed to achieving these goals by 2030. 

The Market Project has set its targets to help men and women find hope and flourish through safe, dignity-affirming and healing work. Similarly, the first SDG is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.”[2] Through business creation, The Market Project works to create jobs in order to lift them out of chronic poverty. 

Our initial focus is in the north of Uganda, a part of the country where food insecurity and malnutrition are rampant due to 20 years of conflict and pervasive violence.[3] Nguvu Dairy Limited is The Market Project’s business based in Gulu. We are pleased that Nguvu’s workforce includes youth who represent some of the poorest among the population. Almost 60% of the workforce is under age 30, and a significant number have had only primary education. Most are survivors of multiple traumas. A decent job in a trauma-informed workplace has given about 90 men and women at Nguvu the chance to support themselves.

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Savings Groups Launched

Have you ever worried about money? Perhaps the more appropriate question is, “when was the last time that you worried about money?” According to a recent study by the American Psychology Association, 72% of Americans reported feeling anxious about their finances in the past month. In addition, 64% of Americans felt that money was a somewhat significant source of stress in their lives. Clearly, Americans are living with more stress than is healthy. The good news is that those with an emotional support system experienced less stress than those who lacked emotional support.

The support associated with Employee Savings Groups at Nguvu Dairy in Uganda will have that same effect, we believe. These voluntary Savings Groups are a workable alternative to a bank. Many Ugandans do not have enough money to open a traditional account. Others do not have physical access to a bank. The groups promote personal accountability and financial responsibility. There are more than four million Africans who are members of savings groups. The countries with the largest numbers include Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Mali.

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