During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Women-Led CSO LEAD TChad Uses Innovative Smartphone Technology to Connect Local Women Entrepreneurs with Their Rural Clients

When COVID-19 struck the West African country of Chad, community-run organizations had to quickly adapt to a society in flux, meeting restrictions with innovation. LEAD Tchad is one such organization that jumped into action, relying on women’s knowledge and capacities to lead the way. Women leaders like Mrs. Colette Benoudji are leading the two-way fight against climate change and COVID-19 while strengthening women’s capacity to contribute to this work.

“Leaning on women’s local knowledge and willingness to innovate with technology has brought a solution to the restrictions imposed by this implacable virus on the most vulnerable.” For Mrs. Benoudji, whose passion lies in working with communities at the intersection of climate change and gender, there is much to be learned in tackling these crises. “Here at LEAD Tchad, we use education and development sciences in parallel to fight against gender-based violence and to promote the empowerment of women and thus address gender inequalities in the context of climate change in the Sahel region of Chad.”

The small landlocked country has faced increasingly rapid land degradation, desertification and continuous drought risk. Longstanding gender norms have restricted girls’ and women’s access to education, participation in the workforce and involvement in the global tech boom. Approximately 6.5 per cent of Chad’s population is online, according to World Bank figures, and as is often the case, tech and business are highly dominated by men. But these numbers are changing as women have begun to make their own pathways to sustainable development solutions in Chad. LEAD Tchad, a women-led organization reaching between 3,000 and 8,000 local women and girls each year, has turned to smartphone technology as a means to keep sustainable businesses running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mrs. Bénoudji, President of LEAD Tchad, participated in BES-Net’s Francophone Africa Regional Virtual Trialogue in November 2020, which focused on exchanging indigenous and local knowledge among community practitioners on themes of biodiversity, food security and COVID-19. LEAD Tchad has established a variety of initiatives to address the Chadian climate crisis while advancing women’s place in the economy. The women-led NGO also promotes women’s and girls’ education and mentorship with a focus on sustainable entrepreneurship and ecological literacy. While the organization has been focusing primarily on building and teaching local knowledge through their ecoliteracy program, the onset of COVID-19 required that they develop new techniques to connect local economies. “Indeed,” shares Mrs. Bénoudji, “the economic crisis was the most destructive effect of COVID-19 experienced by smallholder farmers who depend every day on their products for a living.”

Mrs. Colette Bénoudji, President of LEAD Tchad, facilitates distribution of locally produced shea butter to clients throughout the country through mobile transactions. Photo credit: LEAD Tchad

With travel restrictions and the closure of markets imposed by the pandemic, local women entrepreneurs mentored by LEAD Tchad have been cut off from their client base. The capital city of N'Djamena, a major trade location, was reporting the highest cases of the virus and was placed in strict confinement. Mrs. Bénoudji explained that the restrictions created a spirit of withdrawal and a concern for the limited solutions offered by modern medicines. “However,” she states, “this situation had an upside as many Chadians wondered about local knowledge and questioned how their ancestors treated similar illnesses”. The communities have since seen a revival in traditional medicinal plants. Plants including algae, local arthezemia commonly known as "chi", lemongrass, aloe vera, ginger are now found more and more in small home gardens and their value in markets has increased. But for those who do not or cannot grow their own medicines, the NGO sought a solution.

LEAD Tchad and local farmers’ organizations led an inspired collaboration, throughout Chad’s southern region of Mandoul. Together, they created an informal sales network enabling the exchange of money for products by mobile phone. The NGO began by contacting producers of plant-based products, many of them women entrepreneurs who had been mentored by the organization, and asked them to send a certain amount of their products for a trial run. Then they contacted their retail traders such as hairdresser salons who use and sell the products. Mrs. Bénoudji shared that LEAD Tchad itself is a major reseller of its mentees’ products, distributing them to partner organizations in Canada, France, and Morocco.

Mrs. Bénoudji explains, “They send us their products such as shea butter, moringa oil, resin oil, and honey to sell in N’Djamena, the capital, and we send them the money from the sale by mobile phone using platforms such as Airtel-money transfer or Tigo-cash. Overall the organization estimates that they’ve been able to connect at least 2000 consumers in need of these locally produced plant-based products.

LEAD Tchad is no stranger to the community. In the early 2000s, Mrs. Bénoudji and her colleague, Mrs. Lucienne Mbaipor, shared a vision built on the belief that the women of Chad were capable of leading the country towards an equitable economy and a vibrant, biodiverse environment. In July 2005, they turned their dream into a reality by founding LEAD Tchad. Ever since, this local sustainable development NGO has been steadily helping to build community resilience through women’s and girls’ education and entrepreneurship.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, their primary activities included the development of a directory of traditional practices and knowledge contributing to the maintenance of biodiversity, thanks to support by UNDP, GEF and Biodiversity ADD-ON Project. The organization has also established a regular partnership with Chad’s Ministry of Environment to develop climate change adaptation priority projects, and participate in international climate change negotiations to support local initiatives in favor of peace through development.

During this pandemic, LEAD Tchad’s work has helped put the community in good stead. Mrs. Bénoudji concludes, “Tapping into women’s capacity to innovate has helped reduce their economic vulnerability by selling their products and allowed them not to expose themselves to the pandemic by trying to clandestinely reach the capital with their commercial products during these times of restrictions.”


1. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 2. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 3. Luiclemens at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 4. Photo credit: LEAD TCHAD 5. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 6. 120, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 7. 120, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 8. Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh, usa, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons