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Globalization and Development Essays (FDP Report from Ghana)


FDP Reflection

2-21-12

 

            Heading into the market, it is easy for an outsider to get overwhelmed by the commotion, volume, and huge diversity of goods.  Many tourists likely get caught up in taking in all the sights and getting a good deal.  They may not ponder where the goods came from or the skill that the women who work in the markets possess.  Thanks to this class, I was able to think about some of the interworking of the market.  A similar situation presented itself at the Global Mamas store.  In addition to enjoying the vibrant colors and quality of the goods, I was able to learn about how the business is run, why it was started and how its practices fit into the bigger picture.  Both Global Mamas and the women selling in the market benefit from globalization and careful thought regarding the economic atmosphere. 

            First I will discuss the markets we visited near the Global Mamas shop.  As I was looking around the market a few things surprised me that shouldn't have.  The first was when I found a bracelet I had recently bought at my local Forever 21 store being sold at the market.  I smiled at the strangeness that I had found it half a world away until I remembered the reading about Si Si and how she imported products from New York.  Most, if not all of the women at the market followed similar business models.  I looked closer and recognized much of the products as being from U.S. stores.  Due to the fluctuating value of the ceti and the unfavorable exchange rate, I knew that structural adjustment programs that reduced tariffs and other import barriers were what was making the women selling this bracelet able to make a profit.   The other thing that surprised me was that one of the women I was trying to buy a vuvuzela from didn't appreciate my efforts at bargaining.  I was caught up in the excitement of the market and forgot that purchasing interactions are different here.  Because the women have to account for the Ghanaian and world economies as well as the present and future outlook of those economies, they have to stick to a list price system.  This system allows them to sell their goods at a high enough price without upsetting the customer.  They would let the customer know that the gloomy economy was what was setting the price as opposed to any greed on their part.  Thus, relations between customer and vendor would remain strong. 

            While the commerce going on at the markets showed the benefits of globalization for those of higher socioeconomic standing, my experience at Global Mamas highlighted some different strategies for improving economic prospects for the poor of Ghana.  Global Mamas was started by two Peace Core vets who saw that there were many skilled women in Ghana who didn't have access to large markets.  A woman may have been able to only sell two shirts per week, but had the capacity to produce many more than that.  Global Mamas hires these skilled women, provides them with material for their craft and pays them for the finished product.  The organization then sells the goods in their local store, online, or as part of a brand sold at boutiques in the United States.  Now, the same women mentioned before can sell closer to eighty shirts per week.  The system Global Mamas uses is a unique type of micro-lending program.  Micro-lending has been exalted as a favored strategy to help the world's poorest out of poverty.  It allows skilled workers and entrepreneurs the ability to tap into better opportunities while still preserving their culture.  However, as the reading by Kabeer suggests, micro-lending has its pitfalls.  It often disrupts the roles of members in a household, which could lead to men taking over the money that was lent to the women in the household.  Global Mamas largely avoids this issue by lending supplies as opposed to money.  By providing items like zippers that are difficult to come by in Ghana, this model also allows for more diversity of products.  

            One aspect I liked about Global Mamas was the intimacy of the organization.  We met with one of the founders who knew who made each product she picked up.  To me, this intimacy would lead to a better chance of fair trade principles being upheld as well as quality work being done.  When employers and employees work so closely together, it is easier to have respect for one another.  The fact that the products were all connected with a particular person made the product more meaningful to both the maker and the buyer of the item.  I saw evidence of this in the incredible quality of the items offered.  Back home, it is increasingly difficult to buy a purse that has a zipper that will last for more than a few months, or a shirt that doesn't start unraveling at the seams within a dozen washes.  The items I saw at Global Mamas were beautifully and lovingly made.  To me, this showed the importance of these small-scale economic relations.  The owner proudly talked about expansion, but the idea left me with more reservations.  Though it would be wonderful to be able to employ more women from Global Mama's long waiting list, I worry that the value of the goods would decrease as there are more products of the sort in the market.  I also worry that the growing business will have to abandon some of the practices that make it such a great organization in the present.

            The fundamental thing that I have taken away from the readings, discussions, and experiences in Ghana is that there is good and bad to joining the global market.  Globalization provides new opportunities and markets, but also the drawbacks of having more competition and losing some value during growth.  From what I have witnessed, the good is the driving force and the drawbacks more of a minor hindrance than a devastation to the Ghanaian women working for a better life for themselves and their families.     

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