The Ulalo ‘Bridge’ Project
The tea industry in Malawi is one of the biggest employers in the country. Tea is essential to many people’s livelihoods, and it makes up an important part of our blends.
It’s also a country that faces a lot of challenges, many of which women and girls are particularly exposed to. They have unequal access to education, economic opportunity and power, and can be vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
To try and address these issues on the estates we buy from, we’ve launched a project with the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) and Lujeri Tea Estate that aims to support financial empowerment and stability and reduce the risks of exploitation – especially for women.
The project is called Ulalo, or ‘Bridge’; and is the first piece of a wider programme of work to tackle the deep-rooted challenges of gender inequality in Malawi’s tea supply chain.
The three year project is focused on developing community saving schemes for tea workers, called Village Savings & Loan Associations or VSLAs. VSLAs are informal self-managed savings groups that provide their members with an effective way to make savings and access loans in a safe environment.
The VSLA model
The VSLA model is a tried and tested way to have a lasting impact on participants – both in terms of empowering members with financial skills and knowledge, and practically growing their savings.
Alongside establishing the savings group, the project will help to train participants in record-keeping, financial management, and entrepreneurship and business idea training.
Focused on empowering women
Recognising that women and children are those most marginalised, the Ulalo project actively works to tackle inequalities in tea communities. The project is helping to empower women by enhancing their economic resilience — breaking down barriers to finance, building confidence and encouraging decision making. These activities can often result in increasing household incomes for families.
The aim is to establish 550 VSLA groups over three years and directly impact over 10,000 tea workers, 60 percent of which would be women.