Breaking Ground /The Women's Entrepreneurial Program (WEP)

Breaking Ground /The Women's Entrepreneurial Program (WEP)

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

We empower grassroots development initiatives:
1.We provide funding to the locally-initiated projects of mobilized communities.
2.We provide tools and training to increase the ability of individuals and families to earn money through their primary income-generating activities. Within this, the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program is a business course and grantmaking program specifically for women.

About You
Breaking Ground
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


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


Organization Name

Breaking Ground

Organization Phone


Organization Address

104 Neal Street, Portland, ME 04102

Organization Country

, ME

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on


What makes your idea unique?

What sets Breaking Ground apart from our counterparts are our methods. Organizations that attempt to “involve” local populations in decisions about their own communities fail to acknowledge the influence that they, the NGOs, afford in brokering this process. Despite their good intentions, foreign NGOs cannot help but import foreign values and models when they participate in the identification of needs and the design and implementation of solutions. Breaking Ground’s approach is innovative because we seek out and reward indigenous solutions to communities’ self-identified problems by funding only those projects initiated independently of foreign influence.
Our income generation program is innovative because we cater to the existing strengths and expressed needs of the communities with whom we work, with the goal of empowering them to better invest in themselves and their own projects.

The newest project that we are researching is a Small Enterprise Development program in the Southwest of Cameroon. The goal of the proposed project is to bolster the primary sources of income generation, allowing families to invest in healthcare and education. In particular we hope to enable more girls to go to school by mechanizing palm oil production.

We established the WEP because it is widely established that one of the most powerful tools in the fight against poverty is the education and empowerment of women and girls. In recognition of the region’s diversity, the course is offered in three languages (French, English, and Fulfuldé) to both literate and illiterate women. The class brings together women from different ethnic and socio-economic groups, a rare gift in a society where ethnic lines are clearly demarcated and where women are often only allowed to leave the house with their husband’s permission. We also have plans to expand to a radio program, so that women who cannot leave the house can still have access to the course.

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

To date, Breaking Ground has worked with 6 communities and positively impacted the lives of over 40,000 Cameroonians.

Breaking Ground funded the completion of the Doumbou Elementary School and the Public Library of Bafou-Sud, which checked out 7000 volumes in it’s first year. In 2008 we partnered with the Peace Corps, The US Embassy and The British High Commission to fund the construction of the Menouet River Bridge. This project gives 34,000 villagers increased access to the local city and thus the local hospital, university and market. Our most recent construction project is the construction of a primary school and community center in the village of Keuleng.

Through our Small Enterprise Development Program we have impacted the lives of approximately 400 individuals.
The Women’s Entrepreneurial Program has provided basic business skills training to over 200 women. In addition, it has provided start-up grants to twenty-two female-run business in Ngaoundéré, ranging from raising poultry to selling books. One participant in the 2007 session of the WEP, received funding from Breaking Ground, to build the first Bi-Lingual Primary School in the region.

In 2008 we worked with West Cameroon coffee farmers to provide them with the knowledge and equipment to produce consistently high quality beans without the use of chemicals and fertilizers. In the first year, the farmers’ revenue increased by 30%.

Equally important in showing Breaking Ground's success are the stories of individuals from the communities we serve.
Yvette was one of the teachers at Doumbouo Elementary School, Breaking Ground’s first project. After the end of that school year and the completion of construction, Yvette quit her minimally paid, parent-supported teaching job to go to University and earn her teaching certification. She accredits this decision to the inspiration of Breaking Ground and seeing that what she had previously thought impossible, didn’t have to be. Now Yvette, who is also raising three young boys, is top of her class and looks well on her way to securing a government supported teaching job.
Married at the age of fourteen and with no formal education, Miriamou had no ambitions beyond feeding her family and making sure her daughters had the education she had missed out on. As a friend of women in the WEP course however, her ideas began to change. She started selling ices out of her kitchen and asked her husband permission to take the WEP course. He initially refused. Then the Lamido (the traditional leader of the Fulani in N'gaoundere) proclaimed that women should be allowed to take the WEP course. Now Miriamou's husband has granted her permission to take the class and she hopes to one day open a restaurant adjacent to his store.

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

Basic needs are the building blocks of a healthy society. In Cameroon, however, whole communities are deprived of necessities such as clean water, education, and health care because of the inadequacy of public services: only 41% of rural populations have access to “improved water sources” (WHO), only 63% of births are attended by a skilled medical professional, and only 64% of primary school entrants succeed in reaching 5th grade (UNICEF).
Breaking Ground addresses these needs by providing access to funding that would otherwise be inaccessible in Cameroon’s corrupt and impoverished state. The citizens of Cameroon face often-insurmountable obstacles to addressing the needs of their communities. Because more than 50% of Cameroonians live on less than $2 per day (UNDP), funding projects to address local needs can take years – even decades. When communities turn to lending organizations or other sources of funding for assistance, they are thwarted by corruption: 52% of small enterprises report paying bribes to conduct business, and 19% report paying bribes to obtain a bank loan (Transparency International). Major lenders and donors are reluctant to engage with communities in a country as corrupt as Cameroon, which was rated by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in the world in 2007.
Despite this, the Cameroonian landscape is brimming with communities who are mobilized to address the basic needs of their populations (e.g. clean water, education, and healthcare), but whose solutions are hindered by a lack of financial capital.

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

One of the problems facing Cameroonians is that systematic corruption has eroded their trust in their institutions and leaders. Breaking Ground faces this problem by only funding projects that have been conceived and planned by the entire community, including women, youth, the elderly and other marginalized groups. To ensure this we have partnered with The Research Institute for Development (RIDEV). RIDEV conducts thorough evaluations of all our projects before we commit to working with a community, once the project is underway and after project completion. These evaluations ensure that the project has the support of the whole community and is being transparently managed.

Our partnership with the Peace Corps gives us access to a greater number of communities than we previously had. This ensures that we will be able to select those communities that are truly mobilized and ready to break ground.

One of the possible obstacles for the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program is that Cameroonians have asked us to expand it to other cities but we lack the funding to support more grants. We are considering partnering with a Microfinance Institution who would provide loans to our students. However our students would be high risk candidates for loans and lack the funding to even open a bank account, and many are Islamic and are thus forbidden to accept a loan with interest. We fear that those who did approach the bank would be denied or taken advantage of. At this time we are researching possible microfinance partners whilst also searching out funding for expanding the grant program.

We are also currently conducting thorough evaluations of all past projects that were concieved and implemented before we partnered with RIDEV. These evaluations will alert us to any other possible challenges or areas of our strategy that need improvement.

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

By the end of 2010 Breaking Ground plans to have funded 5 community projects. We are in the process of working with local organizations and Peace Corps volunteers in the city of Dschang to adapt the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program to that region. If this program is ready in September, by the end of 2010 approximately 60 women in N’gaoundere and 30 women in Dschang will have taken the WEP course. We are currently fundraising for 11 women run businesses in N’gaoundere and with a fall session in both N’gaoundere and Dschang we will be aiming to give an additional 4 grants in the fall. Rather than continuing to give 7-10 grants per session, Breaking Ground is planning on transitioning to a microfinance partnership. We will, however, continue to give two grants per session, one for a high-need individual and one for a particularly promising and innovative project. Additionally, in partnership with ICA Canada, we are currently researching a Small Enterprise Development Program in the Southwest region that should begin this fall.

In 2011 we hope to capitalize on our Peace Corps partnership and be able to fund 10 community projects. We will run two sessions per year, per location of the WEP (approximately 120 women total) and for each of these sessions we will fund two grants (8 total). The Small Enterprise Development Program will be well underway in the Southwest, increasing cocoa and palm oil production and thus enabling more girls to go to school and families to invest in their children's education. We will also recommence our work with the coffee farmers in the West.

In 2012 we hope to fund 15 community projects, ideally partnering with at least one community in each of Cameroon’s 12 provinces. The WEP will be continuing in Dschang and N’gaoundere and, funding permitting, will have expanded to Bertoua (in the East province) where there is already a list of interested women. The Small Enterprise Development Program will be will underway in both the Southwest and the West and we will be conducting research for a program in the Adamaoua.
By the end of 2012, our sixth year of operation, we will thus have funded projects in 36 communities, provided seed grants to 70 female run businesses and be working with three agricultural communities to increase their revenue.

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?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

What stage is your project 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 innovation

We currently have three strategic partnerships.

Research Institute for Development - Bafoussam, Cameroon

RIDEV is a Cameroon-based NGO dedicated to using a participatory approach in order to ascertain the communities’ most pressing needs and identify appropriate solutions. RIDEV works primarily in the domains of human rights and democracy, governance and active citizenship, HIV/AIDS and community health, information technology, and community development. RIDEV assists Breaking Ground with the evaluation and selection of community projects.

Peace Corps Cameroon

The United States Peace Corps has more than 150 volunteers on the ground in Cameroon, and their presence in growing. Peace Corps Volunteers serve as our eyes and ears on the ground. When they catch wind of a locally-initiated project happening in their host community, they put their community leaders in touch with Breaking Ground and initiate the process of conducting a detailed evaluation of the community’s level of mobilization and the project’s feasibility.

ICA Canada

Since 2006, Breaking Ground has been collaborating with ICA Canada to maximize our impact on the ground. They routinely supply Breaking Ground partner communities with books (both in French and in English), and have provided several shipments of soccer equipment to Breaking Ground Football. Breaking Ground and ICA are proud to be collaborating on the new Small Enterprise Development program in the Southwest Region, where ICA is based.

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

Since our founding, the majority of our funding has come from small individual contributions. Individual donors are attracted by the small-scale and personal nature of our enterprise, as well as by the tangible results afforded by our projects. By way of our website, word of mouth, both formal and informal presentations, and personal letters we continue to expand our donor base.
As we grow, we will increase our outreach to community groups such as churches, schools and Rotary Clubs. With their greater funding capacity, these community organizations allow for a direct connection to be made between two seemingly disparate communities. In 2008, for example, the Christ Episcopal Church of Ponte Vedra Beach donated $5,000 for the building of the Menouet River Bridge. Themselves a community dependent on bridges, the members of the church found it easy to relate to the plight of the Cameroonian communities isolated by the Menouet River.

Though we continue to pursue individual and community contributions, our growing operations require that we seek more reliable and substantial funding in the form of grants from foundations. To date, we have received a $30,000 grant from the Obakki Foundation and we are continuing to apply to foundations.

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

Breaking Ground's innovative focus was initially inspired by the community of Doumbouo in Western Cameroon. As a visiting English teacher, Lindsay learned that the students’ parents had raised the funds themselves to build the school and that construction had been halted when funds ran out. This was a model of development rarely discussed in theory classes: the community was already addressing their own needs. They knew what they wanted, they knew how to do it, they just needed financial support.

Lindsay contacted her community in the United States to raise funds to assist the community in their endeavors. Over the course of seven months, they raised more than $12,000 which the village of Doumbouo used to finish the school and build a community library. Students carried buckets of dirt and teachers led their students in song as they leveled the floors. Technicians donated their time and their expertise, and mothers cooked food for the workers. It was truly a community project.

In a neighboring village a library that had been built by French visitors stood empty, while the Doumbouo library buzzed with activity. Acknowledging that the success of this project was due to the enthusiasm, vision, and mobilization of the community in Doumbouo, Breaking Ground was founded to help similarly motivated and organized communities to achieve their goals.

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

Lindsay Clarke first experienced Cameroon as a student. She enrolled with the School for International Training and arrived in the country eager to soak up the language and culture, and to explore third-world perspectives on the development theories she’d been studying in college. When she returned to Cameroon two years later to teach in a rural primary school, she thought it was her turn to give back, to teach rather than be taught. Instead, wholly embraced by the community that she’d set out to serve, she again became the student. This time, in friendships formed over cracked bitter kola nuts, smoking cook fires, and animated after-school gatherings, she learned about the power of a community’s hope and determination. She came home seven months later having founded Breaking Ground. After the success of her projects in 2006, she recruited her family and close friends to serve as the Board of Directors and staff of Breaking Ground and filed for status as a 501(c)3 public charity. In the three years following our official incorporation, she has transformed Breaking Ground from a promising idea into a tested organization.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another source, please provide the information


Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Social norms, Economic or institutional constraints.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

The Women's Entrepreneurial Program gives women the access to a business education, and a community of peers. It also provides funding for certain women to purchase the tools and technology (sewing machines, refrigerators etc) to expand their businesses. Possibly most importantly, by enabling women to achieve one thing they had thought impossible (learning accounting, starting a business etc) it empowers them to attempt other "impossible" dreams, such as opening an email account or learning to type.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

Approximately 250 words left (2000 characters).

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project developed a focus on women over time..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women.