Sarah & Marie
Sarah & Marie’s Story
By Sarah Z
There were a couple of reasons why I felt compelled to apply. Firstly, I want my daughters to grow up in a world where all girls and women are entitled to an education, are empowered and have the resources to fulfill their potential. Secondly, if there are skills that I have gained through my professional experience, have been generated as a result of my own education, then I would love to be able to share them with women who have not benefited from the support and development that I have been so fortunate to have.
When I applied to take part in One World Women I had no idea what to expect from the experience, from the other participants, nor from the Gambian women that we would be working with. Even boarding the flight in November 2018 I was nervous that the skills I had learnt in my 15 year career in digital marketing would be of little relevance or benefit to the person I was to be partnered with, who I knew only as Marie from Marie’s Book Shop.
Landing at Banjul in the Gambia I couldn’t wait to meet Marie and find out more about her business and it was later that day that we first met briefly outside the entrance to her home which adjoins her book shop along with her husband and three sons.
It was seeing Marie in this setting, as a wife and Mother looking after her family that I felt connected, as two working mothers providing for our families.
Marie and I spent much of our week together working in her shop and I loved observing her face light up when a child came in asking for an item of stationery or for ‘Aunty Marie’s ice,’ an ice cream made from the milk of her son’s pet goats that she sold to local school children on their way home from school.
Marie spoke about her ambitions for her shop and the products she wished to sell one day to help educate the children of Africa, so we quickly got to work on a business plan that helped to share how we can make that vision a reality.
Marie keeps excellent accounting books, making sure she records the daily sales and taking note of the stock levels. This meant that we could quickly plan what product lines she could grow and helped us to identify a number of opportunities.
The first clear opportunity came from Marie’s explanation of her highest spending customers, the tourists visiting the Gambia who approached her to buy school packs for local school children. These visits were infrequent and generally only occured when a family friend who was a taxi driver informed tourists of the book shop, which is located a short walk away from the more touristy areas of Brufut, Gambia.
We worked together to create some new product bundles that we could market to tourists as donations and create partnerships with the local schools to manage the fulfilment of the donations.
By the end of the week we had created two core products:
- A primary school aged bundle
- A similar product for a junior school age child
Both bundles consisted of a school bag, stationery and all of the textbooks needed for a year of a child’s education.
We found a local design and print company and spend our last day together working on the content for a promotional flyer. We took photographs of the product bundles and came up with eye-catching words. When this was printed Marie distributed it to local hotels and tourist spots.
Whilst working with Marie she talked passionately about how much she wanted to support the education of young people in the Gambia and part of that was helping to increase their literacy through early access to reading books, something which is in short supply in the country. Marie was only able to get children's books printed in Nigerian languages and so these were not suitable for her shop as they wouldn't sell.
Children in the Gambia start school at seven years old and for many this is the first time they have access to reading books in English. As a parent to two pre-school age children who love bedtime stories I really wanted to help Marie in this mission, so upon returning to England and spreading the word about Marie and her wonderful book shop to friends and family I quickly became swamped with offers of book donations. Within weeks I had gathered enough childrens reading books to fill three huge boxes which I sent to Marie by cargo ship.
They took several weeks to arrive but Marie now has a wide range of childrens story books in her shop printed in English, helping to provide literacy material to parents in the Gambia. Plus, Marie is able to fund new product lines from the profits. Whilst started by an initial book donation, this initiative has kick started sustainable revenue for Marie as well as forming a library service for the local children to benefit from.
I feel so lucky to have met Marie through the One World Women programme and thoroughly enjoyed spend time working alongside her in her wonderful business. Marie has the most amazing ambition, some compelling ideas, and, with a little bit of a support to turn them into an achievable business plan, Marie has managed to create new products and services to support both her family and her local community.
I speak to Marie regularly through text messages and am hoping to take my family to visit her in the near future. Marie is an absolute inspiration and through One World Women I feel privileged to call her a friend.
Quote from Marie:
My partner Sarah is a kind intelligent and a very hardworking lady and am very happy for her. We always chat on WhatsApp. She helped me a lot, with my own business cards which I received in two weeks back and I am expecting to receive my flyers in days to come. Sarah has really assisted me to implement my activities, she is even arranging to send me second hand early reading books and story books for children's. This will be useful for the bookshop. I’m really happy and proud of her definitely and to One World Women who want to make my business a successful one.