Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Tanzania in East Africa with ActionAid to view a range of projects in the country which focus on the empowerment of women and their increasing involvement in private sector businesses. In the town of Bagamoyo, on the coast, I visited a group of women who run a small business harvesting seaweed. The income from the sale of this seaweed means that these entrepreneurs are able to double their income from around 40p per day, to 80p per day. While this may not seem like a huge amount, this supplementary income enabled these women to send their children to school for the first time and to feed their families properly. The women told me that an enterprise like this boosts their self-esteem and confidence, and affects their relationships more generally in their families and communities. For a country like Tanzania, support for the improvement of healthcare systems and educational provision is crucial, but it is also crucial that we empower people and give them the power to build themselves a better standard of living. Through doing this we can help to contribute towards the economic growth and social empowerment which is so vital for countries like Tanzania. Though it has seen strong levels of GDP growth over the past few years, the Tanzanian economy remains heavily dependent on agricultural exports, with over 80% of the population working in the agricultural sector, and 36% estimated to live below the poverty line. Economic growth should not come just via foreign investment, but should be primarily about supporting and nurturing home-based micro and small businesses too. This type of small-scale private sector trade is vital to achieving equitable and long-lasting economic growth. Visiting these businesses and speaking to these women I understand the huge difference which this type of economic activity can make to the lives of women and their families. It is absolutely at the heart of the kind of development that is going to be necessary in terms of sustainable change in coastal communities like this in Tanzania.
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