“I started this business with less than $40,” Borlaug LEAP fellow Millicent Yeboah-Awudzi proudly states, “and through discipline and hard work, I was able to build something that not only endures, but has provided employment for others.”
Her brainchild turned business, Homemade Foods, revolves around the local hibiscus beverage sobolo. Sobolo is traditionally sold in plastic baggies to school children, lacks wide consumer appeal, and does not generate significant income for its mostly female vendors. Additionally, the quality of the product tends to vary greatly, plagued by contamination issues due to poor production practices. Recognizing the limitations of the drink, but also the potential, Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi set out to make a change.
“[As a] food scientist, [I] decided to research more on how to improve the quality of this local beverage, both in packaging and in nutritional content,” she says. “[I] worked on microbial contamination, and came out with interventions and good manufacturing practices to reduce contamination.” The result was a modified product called Pinnasob. Pinnasob is now sold at local supermarkets and private catered events through her fledgling business.
Her inspiration for Homemade Foods came while an intern at the Niche Cocoa factory where she was mentored by another young entrepreneur and the owner of the factory, Edmond Poku. “Thanks to Mr. Poku, I gained insight into how the food industry works,” Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi said. Not only was she grateful for the instruction, but also the insight into how a young person could make a difference in the business world. In June 2012, Homemade Foods began production. Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi says she was able to fund “almost half of her graduate program due to the success of her business.” She has since hired nearly ten young women, many of whom have gone on to start their own businesses or used their earnings to pay for a portion of their university fees. She hopes to continue to mentor ambitious and forward-thinking women like these.
Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi is a Food Science Master’s student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. She is currently studying at Louisiana State University through support from the Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP), administered at the University of California, Davis, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences International Programs Office. Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi hopes to leave a lasting legacy in business and in her educational career.
Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi does not feel she is an aberration or a “hero.” She says she is just a hardworking young woman intent on pursuing her education in a country were women have traditionally lacked a voice in the public sphere and a stake in the business world. She is taking the ideals of initiatives like Feed the Future and making them work for her and other similarly-minded women. As Ms. Yeboah-Awudzi states, one does not need any motivation but to “JUST START.” Indeed she has, and is well on her way to making a lasting impact.