July 31, 2018 Print

The Foundation for Economic Education’s (FEE) recently released the third video in its “How We Thrive” documentary series about a small business owner’s struggles against government bureaucracy and ineffectual NGOs in Senegal, and it is already furthering the conversation about individual liberty and free markets in Africa. “Made in Mékhé” (the title of this third documentary) has been viewed more than 108,000 times on Facebook since it was first published on July 19, 2018 making it the most popular in the series to date. The “How We Thrive” documentary series, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, is part of FEE's Youth Education and Audience Research (YEAR) Project.

FEE Executive Vice President Richard Lorenc says that one of the biggest reasons for the documentary’s virality is the compelling story of its protagonist. “We all know that video is all the rage in our movement today, but it’s always valuable to remember that we must tell entertaining stories first—only then should you begin to figure out how to tell them.”

The documentary follows Magatte Wade — a young entrepreneur who returned to her hometown of Mékhé to start a high quality cosmetic business called “Tiossan.” The documentary begins with a brief description of Senegal and its people. Senegal ranks 140th out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Index. Magatte is emphatic that the reason for the despair in her country and town is not due to a lack of resources or manpower but because of government policies that restrict trade and place excessive burdens on business owners. One of the first scenes where Magatte is seen on-screen is of her speaking at a forum about the difficulties of receiving high-quality ingredients needed to make her products. “Anything that I import that I use to make my product gets a tariff of 45 percent,” she explains to the crowd. 

Magatte Wade was born in Senegal but spent much of her childhood in France. Growing up, she saw the extreme differences in wealth between Africa and Europe. This disparity sparked a question...Why are some countries rich, and others poor?

From there the documentary takes a look at the lives of Magette’s employees and how they’ve been bettered through their various jobs. “We have not seen anyone who could come and open a business in a place like this, to provide work to people like us,” explains longtime employee Mame Mareme Cisse. “We do not get many opportunities like this—this work has changed a lot in my life, now I can provide everything that I need for myself—I’m very happy and proud of my job.”  

“I’ve never had a job before … so if you get this job you can only be happy … I am praying to God that this company thrives because as time goes and that the job continues I am able to put my kids into the good schools so they can have a good outlook on life” says Adiji Maria in the documentary, another Tiossan employee.

One of the most inspiring elements of the documentary is its emphasis on the lives of the average person—how they thrive when given the opportunity to work and how they are stunted when those chances are stripped from them. As one of Magatte’s employees explains, opportunity is what will make life better for the Senegalese. “In Africa people do not work, not because they don’t want to, but because there are no jobs.” The documentary is a powerful example of how community-based business solutions outcompete large handouts from across the planet.  

FEE has told Magatte and the people of Mékhé’s story in a compelling way and is helping to change the conversation about how international development needs a new approach from that of the traditional foreign aid and development community. “It seems so simple to me and yet so few people just stop for a second to think about it—you would think that these ideas would be mainstream but they are not and that drives me nuts,” Magatte concludes. “Entrepreneurial creation is the way out.”

The moral of “Made in Mékhé”—that problem solving, job creation, and economic prosperity occur on the local level when individuals and communities have the freedom to thrive—is at the heart of Atlas Network’s “Doing Development Differently” initiative, which has also been generously sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and empowers local solutions that combat the root causes of poverty.

Doing Development Differently successfully combines the resources of philanthropy with the locally grown research and advocacy agenda of independent, market-oriented think tanks working to strengthen the institutions that foster growth for the world’s poor.

Atlas Network works with more than 480 independent research and advocacy organizations throughout the world identifying and funding the most promising reform projects that are likely to improve low-income peoples’ chances of lifting themselves out of poverty and on to the road to prosperity.

Visit AtlasNetwork.org/poverty to read how you can help start Doing Development Differently today.