The Learning and Earning Partnership

The Learning and Earning Partnership

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

RAIN partners with women in Niger, West Africa to create various cooperative enterprises. RAIN provides materials, equipment, marketing assistance and training. Each cooperative agrees to set aside a significant percentage of their profits, generally 50%, fpr their children's schools. The members earn, become involved in education, gain confidence and enter RAIN literacy classes.

About You
Rain for the Sahel and Sahara
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, NH

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Organization Phone


Organization Address

PO Box 545, Newmarket, NH 03857

Organization Country

, NH

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on
What makes your innovation unique?

RAIN's learning and earning programs are unique in their creation and integration of income-producing co-operative enterprises, community support for schools, and mentoring programs. As the economies of African countries constrict and population increases, the percentage of children attending school has declined. In Niger few of the state-run boarding schools for children of nomadic parents receive food, furnishings, books or other basic requirements. In this, the poorest country in the world (UNDP index 2009) RAIN seeks to create ways for parents to support schools. We found no existing programs generating meaningful funds from poor communities.
Our first school-supporting businesses were women's artisans cooperatives. With RAIN's marketing assistance and training in quality control, profits have skyrocketed. The women put aside 50% of their profits to fund school programs -from the $16,000 shared over 3 years they have purchased uniforms, mattresses, blankets and health care for students, as well as paying school salaries. Each gift a sign of pride and accomplishment for them!
We are introducing this proven 'earning' model to our school mentors. RAIN mentors, most illiterate, serve as counselors and advocates to help girls succeed in school and teach weekly after-school classes in traditional skills, health and hygiene. This engagement in school increases the women's confidence and understanding of the value of education. They soon enroll in RAIN literacy classes.
Our first pilot programs are underway to make mentoring sustainable through our learning and earning cooperative business model. We seek to scale up our 15 mentor programs to hundreds. And each must last -- it takes 12 years for a child to earn a high school diploma. Our first pilot enterprises for mentors are herding and grain-grinding. Income from these businesses will provide income to mentors, who will commit a portion of funds to pay for their practical skills classes.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

RAIN's learning and earning groups are at the heart of integrated and durable programs to improve education, food security and health among the nomadic populations of Niger. Nomadic people viewed schools as extensions of the colonial system. This has changed as traditional lifestyles are threatened and education is seen as key to better futures. Few of Niger's nomads speak, French, the national language of Niger. Only 10%can write or read in any language. Women are less-well educated than men and cultural limitations often keep them isolated, with no access to literacy, basic education or skills training. They tell us: "I want more for my children. I don't want my daughters to be denied as I was."

The learning and earning mentoring program produces significant impacts:
- 20% more girls with mentors return to school each year than their classmates.
- 90% of nomadic women in Niger are illiterate. RAIN mentors study French, the national language, and their written mother tongues.
- The girls learn traditional craft skills providing them possibilities for future earnings. Offering these practical skills encourages families to let their children stay in school.
- Girls in Niger stay in school an average of only 3 years. Girls with mentors stay in school longer, 5% from RAIN's program are now in high school.
- 1 in 8 women in Niger die in childbirth and 1 in 6 children die before the age of 5. RAIN teaches girls about hygiene, health, reproductive health and the dangers of too-early pregnancy.

The mentors are equally beneficiaries of the program. Recruiting women to mentors girls brings them into the education system, builds their confidence, increases their knowledge. They soon seek literacy. Mentors and the girls in their mentor groups are learning french together -- an intergenerational loop of trust and sharing.

Mentors express their experiences best:
"I decided to be a mentor so that our children would not reject our cultures, so that they would learn valuable trades and for the development of our region and out country." Fourrera Alassane
"I have been elevated by mentoring...I have had an experience beyond my normal life. I am proud to be a mentor." Tikna Ahmed
"The students gave me courage to be a good mentor... they also helped me to learn to read and write." Aboucka Ahmoudjira

RAIN's mentoring program has grown from 5 schools to 15. More communities are eager for our engagement, we seek to grow our program by 40% per year. In order to support such increases we must develop means for the program to generate funds to ensure sustainability over the long-term. This year we are starting pilot programs in herding and grain-grinding. Mentors will earn for themselves and buy materials for their traditional skills classes.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

RAIN's learning and earning program is addressing the following primary problems:
- The nomads of Niger are disenfranchised minority groups receiving little outside aid from the Niger government, foreign governments or Nigerienne or international NGO's. Widespread illiteracy and lack of fluency in French, the national language, keep nomadic women isolated, at risk and unemployable. A RAIN criterion for choosing work sites is the lack of other assistance. The school enrollment rate among nomads in Niger is only 10%. Boys, on average, complete only 4 years in school, girls 3. Women who earn to support their schools become a significant source of support for communities' schools -- they gain great satisfaction and social esteem. They are encouraged, advocate for education and seek literacy for themselves.
- Nomadic peoples identify strongly with their clans but between clans there is often distrust that hinders community cooperation. With women in the lead, we are creating new communities around schools, and fostering an ethic of group cohesion and action for the common good.
- Education is seen as unnecessary for girls, whose societal role is to serve as wives and mothers. Teachers often view them as less intelligent than boys. RAIN provides training to mentors about cultural bias, gender roles, vocational options. The mentors encourage girls, advocate for them with skeptical teachers and parents.
- Niger has developed little; there are few jobs. Parents see no need for education. After-school classes in traditional crafts offers them a practical reason to send their daughters to school.
-Program sustainability. RAIN's mentoring program is successful and popular. We would like to replicate this proven model across Niger. And each program should continue for at least 12 - 15 years to educate a generation of girls. This scope is not affordable unless the program can attain sustainability. It is this conundrum that brought us to innovation.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

The learning and earning partnership taps into a woman's need to earn money to support their families, and her desire to help the children in her community. The program started with artisans' cooperatives. The women do fine work and have had experience with many people and organizations who promise them good profits that do not materialize. They repeatedly found themselves selling their products for very little while others reaped the gains. These demeaning experiences were often in keeping with their low status in society. In RAIN's school-supporting program they are taking leaderships roles in society, generating their communities only significant school support. In addition to the financial gains for themselves and their schools, they gain self-esteem and status. They improve their artistry and products, learn skills and are offered literacy classes. This array of motivation is the engine that keeps the program successful. The choice of activity and participants is the foundation of the business. Women discuss business ideas. They must establish need, market, profitability and ability to produce. The women organize a cooperative with officers. They are trained in the skills necessary for the enterprise and learn basic business skills. Once the business is established they are offered literacy classes. Once appealing designs are mastered and quality control achieved, the craft items produce substantial profit. The women put aside 50% for their schools. As we expand to other businesses such as grain-grinding mills and sheep herding the division of funds between the women and the school fund will be calculated. The primary goal is school-support, but the women must earn enough to help them provide for their families. Projected profits determine the number of women who can be partners in the enterprise. The women decide how the group's earnings are shared among the members.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Mentoring enterprises are now entering their first year. We will concentrate upon organization, honing the skills needed for the enterprises and mastering simple business concepts and practices. The goal will be for the enterprise to break even or generate a small profit. In Year 2 skills training will continue, literacy classes will be offered and the enterprises should generate enough profit to allow for some school assistance. The latter part of year 2 there will be time devoted to evaluation of operations, the functioning of the group, the members skills and adjustments made. Year 3 will concentrate on increasing markets and increasing profitability. In Year 3 the group's goal will be the funding of a substantial school program.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

As we scale up this project we plan to present the replicable model to NGO's and the Niger government to encourage more participative, ground-up development of income-producing models. The poor of Niger have no access to start up funding or other capital. There are few organizations to provide business training or support. The country needs its people to be productive, to move from aid to developing economic activity.

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

Partners with more financial resources than RAIN could be difference in bringing our social enterprise to the next level of scale and penetration -- beyond RAIN's areas of engagement in Niger and West Africa.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

RAIN's strategic plan is to be released June. Our plan presents the models by which we seek to bring all programs to sustainability. The school-supporting enterprises described in this proposal, as well as our agriculture programs are presented in terms of initial investment, growth phase and independence. As each enterprise progresses through its development it generates increasing income to offset costs, eventually reaching sufficient profitability to provide school support.
About 55% of RAIN's support is grant income, with the balance coming primarily from individual donors. Our grant support is hindered by the lack of engagement by large foundations in Niger. Our grant funds are derived mainly from small to mid-sized foundations and family trusts. RAIN was an implementing partner in the USAID-funded Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program which served 13 African countries, including Niger. We also partner with UNICEF in NIger, though their contributions are in-kind.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

RAIN was founded to improve access to education among Niger's nomadic peoples. Our first program, the installation of wells and drip-irrigated school market gardens, responded to parents' stated priority of producing food for state-run residential schools for nomadic children. One day a woman named Akadaka said that women needed ways to earn money. She asked if RAIN could help the local Gougaram women's cooperative. Poverty in Niger is widespread and deep; I felt her request could not be ignored, but wondered how improving livelihoods for adults could help schools. I asked the cooperative members if they would be willing to put aside a substantial share of their profits to fund school programs. The women were enthusiastic in their positive responses. RAIN funded a grain-grinding machine and began marketing crafts made by members of the cooperative.
A second 'moment' brought us to understand both the need for, and uniqueness of, our enterprise model of school support. At a meeting hosted by the an international NGO in Washington, I learned that the Niger was not alone in its failure to provide adequate schools. And that models of programs for significant community contributions to schools were sorely needed. That meeting validated the importance of unique aspects of our program - not only the scope of work undertaken by mothers for their schools, but their continued ownership of the funds. For example, school-supporting programs were designed to raise funds that were paid to directly to schools were problematic when school personnel used the funds to increase their salaries or choose other priorities that differed from those of the parents who had earned the money. RAIN's program brings all interested parties together to negotiate the use of funds. This meeting affirmed our commitment to school-supporting enterprises and our determination to seek ways for all our education programs to reach self-sufficiency.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Bess Palmisciano is a lawyer who has worked in private practice in New Hampshire and also served as in-house counsel at Signal Capital Corporation, Wentworth Capital Corporation and FleetBoston Financial Corporation. Before becoming an attorney she had a career as a college administrator.
In January 2000 Bess took a brief vacation from FleetBoston and visited friends in Niger, West Africa. With her husband and friends, who were diplomats living in the capital city of Niamey, she traveled north to the Air Massif and desert areas. The Air Massif and Sahara Desert are home to the Tuareg – nomads who are part of the Berber people who live in North and West Africa. Bess and her friends hired Tuareg guide, Moussa Haidara, who was born into a nomadic family and educated at a state-run boarding school for the children of nomads. He now brings tourists to the desert. Bess noticed that he also brought clothing and food for the children, whom he treated with great tenderness. He was well-liked and respected by the people in the region. He told Bess of the plight of his people, who live in such remote areas that little assistance reaches them. Bess, and her husband John, told Moussa they would like to help. He did not forget this offer. He showed them the school he had attended, now in terrible repair. Bess returned to the states and asked some friends to help rebuild the school. She returned to Niger to talk to nomadic people about their needs, hopes, desires and motivation. She searched for organizations that might expand their services to include the remote nomads of Niger. Finding none, she decided to create a nonprofit organization. Over the next year, Rain for the Sahel and Sahara, Inc. (RAIN) was born.

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