(Monica Jaeckel: Start Up – Tool Kit 23.p)
Mother Centers can and should engage in income generating acitivities. To encourage economical and entrepreneural thinking and acting is an important part of the development practice in Mother Centers. Participants are guided and supported to discover and reflect on their own resources, talents and capacities and how they can apply them towards income generating activities.
However, Mother Centers are not employment agencies. It is important that the character of the Mother Center as a place to meet, a place to reflect, to recharge energy and to develop collective solutions to community issues does not get destroyed by too much focus on economical profit.
If participants for instance become seen primarily as economic assets, as customers that are to bring income to the center, then the concept of income generation has been overstretched. It is also important to keep a consistent focus on collective benefits, that income generated in the
Mother Center benefits the Mother Center and the group as a whole as well as the individuals and their families.
The Mother Center receives part of what is taken in through the income generating commercial activities. There are several methods of calculating the split depending on the situation in the centers. If the women’s earnings are under a certain limit, a case-by-case decision must be made on how to split up the
proceeds. In our center in the case of knitting, for example, no commission is taken, because such work-intensive products would become too expensive and would leave little in the way of earnings for the producing women. There is also no commission when a “business” is just being started. In most of these cases the common pot for hourly fees is used until income from the business has stabilized.
After all, the entrepreneurs are carrying a lot of personal risk . The following are some of the current methods we use for calculating the share of the Mother Center:
- Case-by-case decision based on earnings: If women’s earnings are below a certain limit, the split of income is decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the specific circumstances of the producing women.
- No commission for work-intensive products: In cases where the products require a significant amount of work, such as knitting, no commission is taken to ensure that the earnings for the producing women are not reduced.
- No commission for new businesses: When a “business” is just starting out, no commission may be taken until the income from the business has stabilized.
- It is important to regularly review and update the methods of calculating the share of the Mother Center, taking into consideration the needs and circumstances of the participants and the sustainability of the income-generating activities.
In conclusion, while Mother Centers can engage in income-generating activities, it is crucial to maintain the focus on the collective benefits, avoid overstretching the concept of income generation, and carefully consider the methods of calculating the share of the Mother Center to ensure fairness and sustainability.
Income Generating Activities
Businesses are created in the Mother Center by the women as a group. That is different from having your own business alone on the market, which does not create community. The principle behind the Mother Center way of doing business is doing it collectively. Either you do it together as a group, as a cooperative, or as an individual under the roof of the Mother Center. Then part of the earnings is given to the Mother Center.
“For example with four women we started a catering business. Neither of us could have done it alone because we each had some skills but nobody had all the skills needed. We made a contract with the Mother Center to make sure it goes well because when there is money involved you need to be clear.
We can use the kitchen of the center. In the beginning when there is no profit we do not need to pay for using the kitchen. We give work and education to youngsters in return for the use of the kitchen.
We do food for weddings and other parties. The food cooperative is a way to save money and time on buying food. This way you spend less money for food. Bulk buying as a cooperative is also possible for soap or school supplies. Other examples for income generating are for instance a hairdressing salon in a Mother Center in Bosnia,
people come there for a haircut for themselves or their children or for a massage. When the Mother Center has a photocopy machine that can be used for income generating too. Another thing many centers offer are childcare services for employed parents. All these activities bring income. Some women make a business in ironing clothes or mending clothes. If a Mother Center has a sewing machine, the women of the Center can use it to make or repair clothes.”
Activities that can take place in a Mother Center
• Computer classes
• Organic food cooperative
• Sport activities for mothers and children
• Singing, music, dances
• Language courses
• Medical information
• First aid course
• Father and child activities
• Compost making
• Saving and credit
• Childcare and babysitting courses with certificate
• Child learning center / homework support
• Hygiene courses
Examples of income generating activities in Mother Centers
• Child care
• Baby sitting
• Cleaning services
• Sewing and mending clothes
• Laundry and ironing services
• Hot meals and catering service
• Second hand shop
• Hair dressing salon
• Renting out space for children’s birthdays and family celebrations (sometimes providing full
Second hand store.
Here women have the possibility to sell or buy used clothes at reasonable prices. The mother center receives a commission of 20% on each sale, the rest goes to the woman who supplied the merchandise. The two women who operate the store are paid by the hour.
Women produce wares at their own cost and sell them in the Mother Center. The Mother Center receives 20% of the total turnover, the women keep the rest. Their earnings depend on the demand.
Cosmetics and hair care.
Women offer their services like hair-dressing, cosmetics and massage in the center at fixed prices. The prices are discussed and decided on jointly and also depend on the demand for the services. The mother center receives 20% of total earnings.
Mending and Ironing service.
Orders are paid on an hourly basis at Euro 5.- per hour. The women get half, the Mother Center retains the other half for electricity, heat, etc. Whichever method of sharing proceeds is used depends on the project and the women involved. We are interested in using the 20% rule for as many of our commercial activities as possible. That ensures independence for the women and fills up the Mother Center’s funds to pay hourly fees for other necessary services.
The task of the Mother Center is to support women in deciding on and developing their commercial project, to encourage them to bear with the inevitable start-up problems, and to help them find appropriate markets.
An example from Nepal 2008
1. A place to create income
Poverty and lack of income is the biggest issue for families in Nepal. This gives special stress between mother and child because the children demand something and the mother has
the stress that she is not able to provide that. The concept points of Mother Centers that respond to this issue are income generation and the remuneration of work.
Remuneration of work
The principle of remuneration of work is important because so often women’s work is taken for
granted. By having some money for payment of tasks that normally are done for free, like caring for the children, these important things become visible and more appreciated. Women who have a function in the Mother Center like running the coffee shop or conducting the singing sessions with the children, get paid. There mostly is not much money but the effort is made to give some money on an hourly basis to each woman active in the center.
These payments mostly do not constitute employment or full jobs. Women are paid per hour or per day that they take on certain responsibilities or activities in the center. This can be done without paying taxes, it is a kind of informal sector work. Up to 155 euro per month can be earned in Germany this way without paying taxes. This system is especially practical because it allows to pay many
people from little money. It is a token of appreciation rather than a real wage, but even small money is important for poor families. Over years centers manage to pay a bit more, but it always starts small.
In many projects there is one or two people paid and the others are volunteers. In the Mother Centers this is different, the money that is available is divided amongst everybody who is active. It is often difficult to put this principle in practice; donors prefer paying the wage of just one person instead of providing money for a general pot from which many women get a bit. They also say “why pay for women drinking tea?” They don’t see that the group around the table talking (and indeed also drinking a cup of tea) are involved in an important education process. It looks different from a group listening to a teacher, so it does not seem to be education or training, even though in terms of learning the results are often better. Some Mother Centers are more successful than others in convincing their funders. It is a continuous point for lobbying and for educating donors: to give money to women for space and to give money for their work.
“We have learned that it is in our hands to make visible the invisible tasks that women do. We did not have money at first,so what we did was pay a bit when we were drinking tea and
we put the money in a box and we used the money from the box to pay the woman who was cleaning or being the host that day. It was very little but it made the value of the work
visible. As a group we decided how much money we had and how much money we could therefore afford to pay. In some instances we did not have money at all and then we waited till
later when we would have something. Over time we have become clever. If we have no money we can still pay women who are active in the center by providing the services of the center to them for free.”
This way we also reached women who normally would not take part. Now their husbands allow them to join because they are earning a bit. Nobody is excluded that way. Whatever money there is, is spread out between the whole group. This creates a strong group, many women feel responsible. It creates ownership. It is very different from a situation with a few leaders with salary and the others are passive consumers.
We give the most decision-making power to the women who are the most active. As a group they decide how the money is used. In practice that meant that the work, like cleaning and cooking and taking care of the children was paid, but leadership roles like lobbying were not. This is rather different from businesses where management who do this kind of tasks, tend to get the best income. Now we also pay for this kind of work.
Even if there is money to pay for work there is remains a lot of unpaid work. The German Youth
Institute did a study about this and they found out that for every hour of paid work there are in average two hours of work the women put in voluntarily. They are so motivated and committed that they contribute much of their time for free. The remuneration generates voluntary work, it creates visibility and it creates responsibility and a strengthening of the group as well.”
Examples from Mother Center