Gambian businesswoman’s journey from migration horror to trade success

3 April 2023
ITC News

Ndey Fatou Ceesay once tried a dangerous journey to Europe. When that didn’t go as planned, she returned home and started a successful beauty business.

Ndey Fatou Ceesay left her home in The Gambia on a perilous journey to Libya, with the goal of reaching Italy. But her journey did not go as planned. Human traffickers in the Niger desert town of Agades kidnapped Ndey and demanded a ransom to free her.

When she was finally released, Ndey returned home to start a business to make ends meet. She is now a trader who deals in cosmetics, Gambian incense, and handcrafted beauty items. Ndey’s business is located in the central town of Soma, where she mostly sells her products in the town and surrounding communities, with little access to bigger markets.

But after showing her work at the National Youth and Women’s Agribusiness and Tourism Trade Fair, she said her customer base is growing.

“I have never participated in a trade fair. That was my first time,” Ndey said. “I am very happy to have participated in the trade fair because I was able to share contacts with other businesses and customers. I was also able to learn from them to support the growth of my business.”


Better sales and visibility

In addition to generating income, trade fairs provide entrepreneurs with a unique opportunity to increase visibility for their businesses, growing their customer base and their networks. But few businesses, especially those operated by women, can afford the costs of participating.

As part of its work with women cross-border traders, the International Trade Centre (ITC), through a joint project with the UN Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund is improving their access to markets so they can network and learn from other businesses. The project is called The Gambia: Addressing the drivers and causes of vulnerability in migration among border communities along the Trans-Gambia transport corridor.

The project partnered with the UN Trust Fund for Human Security to support the participation of 25 women cross-border traders at the trade fair.

The trade fair jointly organized by the Gambia Youth Chamber of Commerce and the Gambia Women`s Chamber of Commerce is the country’s second-biggest trade show. The event brings together entrepreneurs, especially women and youth, to sell their goods and services. Over 300 businesses participated in the event.

Gambian woman shows basket of beauty products
Ndey Fatou Ceesay shows off a basket of her beauty products.

Beyond building networks and learning from other businesses, Ndey said the event also boosted her sales.

“The sales have been great. I have been able to generate over $1,344,” the 31-year-old said with a bright smile. “I never thought I was going to make that amount of money.”

“I am thanking ITC for supporting my participation and for creating the opportunity for all of us to come to sell our products,” she said. “Today, I have built a customer base that I am able to sell my goods to in many parts of the country.”

Small businesses like Ndey’s are at the forefront of driving innovation and job creation, which boosts incomes and eases poverty. Her ambition is to continue growing her business so that she can employ more people. Currently, Ndey employs two young people.

Ndey anticipates taking part in subsequent trade fairs because of the many opportunities the event presents.


About the project

The project, funded by the Migration Multi-Partner Fund, is called The Gambia: Addressing the drivers and causes of vulnerability in migration among border communities along the Trans-Gambia transport corridor. The corridor has seen a significant increase in trade and migration with the 2019 opening of the Senegambia Bridge, which crosses the Gambia River. The project aims to allow border communities to reap the benefits of the transport corridor without being at risk of harm by addressing the challenges along the corridor related to irregular migration, organized crime and the specific vulnerabilities faced by female migrants and traders.