From waste to wealth: a woman’s path to a greener Ghana

In the small, tight-knit community of Drobonso, nestled in the heart of Ghana, Mary Aboagyewaa managed a humble sewing shop, carving out a modest income for her family of four. Yet, her ambitions extended beyond the confines of her small business, and she was eager to find a way to contribute more to her family and her community.

Ghana’s challenging economic landscape presented significant challenges. With an employment-to-population ratio of around 55%, and one in three young individuals not engaged in employment, education, or training, the job market was a challenging landscape. It was in this backdrop that Mary found herself yearning for change.

Embracing green opportunities

The 28 year old’s journey began with an announcement from her community information centre, detailing opportunities for youth and people interested in developing their skills. The announcement described an upcoming visit from SNV that was offering opportunities in the green sector and training for those seeking employment or interested in starting their own businesses.

SNV has been operating in Ghana since 1992 and working to reduce poverty and increase sustainable economic development through capacity building initiatives and projects across the agri-food, energy, and water sectors. One such projects is the ‘Green Employment and Enterprise Opportunities in Ghana’ (GrEEn) programme, which addresses unemployment, poverty, and climate change by empowering youth, women, and returning migrants with green jobs and sustainable development skills.

Initially, Mary was drawn to the bead-making workshop. ‘But the meeting was an eye-opener. I was captivated by the possibilities of the green economy and sustainable jobs,’ she recalls. ‘I was inspired by the idea of creating products from waste sachet bags.’

Despite the challenges of balancing the training alongside her work, Mary persisted. ‘The skills and knowledge I gained made it worth the effort,’ she admits.

Transforming the community and environment

Armed with her newfound knowledge and a renewed sense of purpose, Mary began collecting plastic waste bags scattered around her community. She transformed this waste into practical items like bags, head coverings, and rain jackets. Not only did these products supplement her income, but they also addressed a pressing community issue: Drobonso’s heavy rainfall.

In Drobonso, rainy days often meant children missing school as their books would get wet, and farmers being unable to work in the fields without protective covering. Mary’s recycled plastic rain gear offered a much-needed solution.

‘The first five bags I made sold instantly,’ says Mary, proud to see children and farmers use the bags and protective coverings and continue their daily tasks despite the rain.

The training from SNV didn't just enable me to earn an income from recycling plastic bags, but also allowed me to make a significant impact on my community.

Mary Aboagyewaa

Mary also placed bins around the school complex which she would collect after students dispose of plastic bags.

Despite the success, Mary faced some challenges along the way. She was stigmatised and faced bias from individuals who couldn't believe something beautiful could be made from waste plastic. Moreover, the cleaning process was tedious due to the indiscriminate disposal of waste sachet bags. However, with her determination and the GHS 45,000 grant from SNV Ghana under the GrEEn Business Plan Competition, she managed to overcome these hurdles and scale up her business.

Mary's journey from a sewing shop owner to a green entrepreneur has sparked a transformation in Drobonso. She not only initiated a recycling movement but also offered a practical solution that allowed education and farming – essential aspects of the community's life – to continue unhindered. ‘It feels rewarding to be part of those who are helping Ghana to go green, and to make a profit from something considered waste,’ says Mary, who wants to reach farmers and students beyond Drobonso.

SNV’s work with youth like Mary focuses on enhancing employability and entrepreneurial skills, connecting them with market opportunities and offering guidance in employment and enterprise development.

More than 2,700 people have been supported to strengthen or start their own businesses, where two thirds of them are female entrepreneurs and more than 73% are youth.

Mary using her sowing machine to make school bags and head covers using plastic waste

© GrEEn

Mary showing a school bag and head cover she designed for school children and farmers

© GrEEn

The work focuses on creating green and climate-resilient local economies, incubating and accelerating small and medium enterprises, and offering sustainable jobs to youth, women and returning migrants. To date, SNV supported 6,600 youth under the GrEEn program.

Youth empowerment is a key steppingstone towards sustainable community development and a climate-resilient future. With the right tools and opportunities, young individuals like Mary can overcome barriers and lead societies towards these goals.

Further reading


Capability Statement - Green jobs for the future


GrEEn – Boosting Green Employment and Enterprise Opportunities in Ghana

Join us in amplifying the voices of youth at the Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Global Forum 2023