Old Laptops Gain New Life in DRC

DRC Coordinators using laptopLast year, just before Christmas, Jacob Lipandasi, the SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) received a gift in the mail – a laptop computer. Since then, Jacob has used the laptop, which was donated to SIA, to greatly benefit his community and SIA.

As a SIA SBF Coordinator, Jacob receives a small stipend to cover office expenses associated with sending reports and keeping in touch with the SIA office, however, this amount is rarely enough to cover all costs. Before the gift of the laptop, Jacob had to travel a great distance and pay $1-3 USD/hour to use a computer at an internet cafe. As a result, his emails were brief and often a long time passed between our letters.

The laptop greatly improved his experience. Now Jacob can write his reports and letters to SIA at home on the laptop. He can take his time to write thoughtful responses and take time to figure out the English phrases he may not know (they speak French in the DRC). Then he puts the letters on a flash drive and brings that to the Internet cafe, which means he only has to pay for as much time as it takes to get online and send out his letters. I’ve been impressed by how much more thorough his reports are now that he can compose letters on his own time without having to pay for every second on the computer.

Not wanting to keep this great gift all for himself, Jacob Lipandasi gets together with his wife Jacky Buhoro and SIA SBF Coordinators Benoit Malenge (DRC) and Francois Hamuli (Rwanda) once a month to “Share the Gift” by giving them computer training lessons. Above they are pictured meeting to discuss their work with SIA, practice their English, learn to use Word and Excel, and pray together.

When Ric Shafer contacted us offering to donate his old laptop he warned that it worked fine but was slow. However, Jacob reports that the “laptop is doing miracles in our life”!

We never know how we are able to help someone else, or how much good a small gesture can do, until we do it – that’s Spirit in action!

SIA Small Business Fund – explained

I just read a blog post by Aaron Ausland of “Staying for Tea” outlining how large micro-finance institutions seem more interested in profit and donors than the people receiving loans.

Reading his “six shifts in the face of microfinance that make it almost unrecognizable to someone like me made me very pleased to be working for Spirit in Action. We remain true to our focus on empowerment, trust, and holistic assistance.

I want to take this opportunity to contrast Aaron’s six points with our current practices, showing how our Small Business Fund (SBF) is still truly helping poor entrepreneurs around the world.

1. shift from poorest of poor to the moderately poor
The solution was to abandon the very poor and begin lending the moderately poor – a safer and more profitable lot.

Spirit in Action’s practice: We still target the people most in need in a community. Our SBF Coordinators use a “Community Profile” and a “Poverty Assessment Tool” to help them determine which households qualify as the poorest in their community. The grants are targeted to these poorest households. They have the most to be gained by our small grants.

2. shift from rural to urban
To lower the operating costs many MFIs began operating exclusively in places with a higher population density – i.e. cities. This limited the time and cost required for a loan officer to service his caseload.

Spirit in Action’s practice: All of our 8 on-the-ground SBF Coordinators help coordinate new small businesses in rural areas of their country. Often, they will travel to small villages 30-40 miles away and seek out poor households in each community. This month Dennis Kiprop traveled 60 miles southeast of Eldoret, Kenya to visit Rose Aiyabei and her group and check in on their progress. Rural villages do not often have any access to formal financial services.

Rose Aiyabei with her newly purchased chickens.

Rose Aiyabei with her newly purchased chickens.

3. shift from starting businesses to growing businesses
So, those who already had some capital and income generation were given access to more, while those who had none lost the opportunity.

Spirit in Action’s practice: We do not have specific guidelines about this. Many of SBF businesses are indeed new and other times our small grants help a small business to expand. However, we do not give additional grants to the same group. Instead, we ask the groups to budget at least 10% of their profit for business reinvestment and expansion.

4. shift from peer lending to individual collateralized lending
It turns out that it is also a lot less time consuming to work with a bunch of individual lenders than it is to manage the complexity of peer lending groups or community banks. (…) This has been the saddest shift for me. Peer-lending was the key to solving the incentives puzzle in the first place. It was a practical way to value the relationships people had in their own communities as an asset you could bank on.

Spirit in Action’s practice: We have always seen the value of working with groups of people and encouraging cooperation and consensus decision-making. All SIA’s SBF grants are given to groups of 3-5 people. Also, one of our latest grants was to support the creation of the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Group in Mzuzu, Malawi. We see this as a way to strengthen the whole community and take advantage of leaders and networks already established in the community.

Members of the Micro-Savings and Loans group discuss their lending guidelines.

Members of the Micro-Savings and Loans group discuss their lending guidelines.

5. shift away from auxiliary services
As the focus shifted toward making profitable loans and away from alleviated poverty, the ability to justify expenses to investors that were unrelated diminished. Quasi-related services like literacy and health training were the first to go.

Spirit in Action’s practice: No way! We believe that an important step towards empowerment is receiving skills training, in addition to a grant. After a day-long training new business leader Moses Kigen reported, “We didn’t know at first how we will coordinate the activities within the group, but when Samuel and Dennis trained us about listening prayer and reaching consensus agreement, we saw a ray of light come our way and began to understand there’s a higher power, higher guidance, a higher understanding.” Indeed, 75% of business leaders report that they greatly appreciate learning how to run a business as part of the SBF program.

6. shift from the poor as the primary beneficiary to the investor

Spirit in Action’s practice: We believe that our relationship with SIA international partners and grant recipients is the core of our organization. Without their dedication and energy we could not keep operating. Donors without grant recipients don’t produce change! We focus our energy on encouraging the new business leaders and we trust them to make decisions that will benefit their communities.

I hope that after reading this you not only understand more about how we function, but also understand why I am so pleased to work for SIA, and organization that is working with integrity to give people a leg up in the world!

From Del's Journal: Receiving God's Gifts

I am learning, “the great power of prayer is not in asking, but in learning how to receive.” Receiving requires acceptance and willing obedience.  It requires us to fasten our gaze on the Christ and let (allow) God to re-make us in His image and perfect pattern.

This process of cooperating with God requires us to know ourselves, to appreciate and respect ourselves and to be true to ourselves.  We learn to be aware of God’s All-Presence (Lo, I am with you always) to give Him our attention, to see things as God sees them, looking through the outer, transient appearances and conditions, and fastening our gaze on the eternal spiritual reality and truth of His creation.

Thus, God takes the dimness from our eyes and we hold fast to our oneness in God.  We look through the false evidence of separation and look through our false beliefs and attitude of “them and us.” We learn to perceive something of Christ’s potential in everyone.  Then the unifying power of Spirit breaks down the barriers of self-centeredness, and Spirit heals the breaches and divisions between us.

God has given each of us His awareness, has empowered us to make conscious choices and has given us the will to act.  He cannot change and transform us just through our “seeing” or consciously choosing, unless we also act in willing obedience.

God’s presence is constant, continuous activity of Spirit.  As God’s co-creators, our cooperation is needed to be aware (see), to make conscious decisions and then act.

Then the Kingdom of God is not dimmed and far off, but the Kingdom of God is actively alive within us.

“Listen, stand still and consider God’s wondrous works.”  (Job 37:14)

Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland in the 1910s

Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland in the 1910s

Interesting fact about Del

from his biography by George Furniss

Robert (Ricardo) Delmar Anderson was born July 17, 1906. Del spent his first three months in a refugee tent in San Francisco following that year’s disastrous April earthquake. His family moved to relatively undeveloped East Oakland (E. 73rd Avenue) where he spent his childhood through his graduation from Oakland’s Fremont High School.

From Del’s Journal: Receiving God’s Gifts

I am learning, “the great power of prayer is not in asking, but in learning how to receive.” Receiving requires acceptance and willing obedience.  It requires us to fasten our gaze on the Christ and let (allow) God to re-make us in His image and perfect pattern.

This process of cooperating with God requires us to know ourselves, to appreciate and respect ourselves and to be true to ourselves.  We learn to be aware of God’s All-Presence (Lo, I am with you always) to give Him our attention, to see things as God sees them, looking through the outer, transient appearances and conditions, and fastening our gaze on the eternal spiritual reality and truth of His creation.

Thus, God takes the dimness from our eyes and we hold fast to our oneness in God.  We look through the false evidence of separation and look through our false beliefs and attitude of “them and us.” We learn to perceive something of Christ’s potential in everyone.  Then the unifying power of Spirit breaks down the barriers of self-centeredness, and Spirit heals the breaches and divisions between us.

God has given each of us His awareness, has empowered us to make conscious choices and has given us the will to act.  He cannot change and transform us just through our “seeing” or consciously choosing, unless we also act in willing obedience.

God’s presence is constant, continuous activity of Spirit.  As God’s co-creators, our cooperation is needed to be aware (see), to make conscious decisions and then act.

Then the Kingdom of God is not dimmed and far off, but the Kingdom of God is actively alive within us.

“Listen, stand still and consider God’s wondrous works.”  (Job 37:14)

Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland in the 1910s

Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland in the 1910s

Interesting fact about Del

from his biography by George Furniss

Robert (Ricardo) Delmar Anderson was born July 17, 1906. Del spent his first three months in a refugee tent in San Francisco following that year’s disastrous April earthquake. His family moved to relatively undeveloped East Oakland (E. 73rd Avenue) where he spent his childhood through his graduation from Oakland’s Fremont High School.

Interview with SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Malawi

Canaan walks down the roadI’ve mentioned before on this blog how Spirit in Action works hard to develop strong relationships with people. Part of the benefit of being a small organization is that we can take the time to engage directly with international partners and really listen to their experiences and the needs of their particular community. Last year, while working with Canaan Gondwe to prepared a grant proposal for the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Group, I took the opportunity to ask him some more personal questions and gave him the chance to reflect on his eleven years of working with Spirit in Action.

1. Tanya: What are some of the biggest challenges you see people face in Malawi?
Canaan: One of the biggest challenges is the poverty level mainly for my rural community. Most of the people live on less than $1 USD/day. Income sources mainly come from subsistence farming and farmers do not yield enough to last them the whole year. The other notable challenge is the untapped potential in many poor households. This is basically because of high illiteracy especially among women.

2. Tanya: Why did you to begin helping the SIA Small Business Fund?
Canaan: SIA with its pro-poor Small Business Fund was my entrance to alleviate the plight of many poor households. I saw that it was a way out to bring people to see the love of God on their lives and that they can come out of their poverty cycle. This fund is empowering and exposes people to acquire the skills and knowledge. This fund shows the love of people to people. Oh! This is wonderful indeed. People serving God by empowering others. I wanted to be such an instrument of love. Love flows through me to others.

3. Tanya: What have you learned from being a SBF coordinator?
Canaan: One thing is that my skill and knowledge to serve the whole person body, soul and spirit is sharpened and enhanced. The spirit of humility and patience has grown. Sometimes I was hoping to see quick changes but it never happened, so I had to want patiently and continue praying and encouraging each other. There have been changes within me as I was coordinating this development process. I have also learnt that people get skills and knowledge at different rates. The other lesson is that SIA is not a very expensive program with about a grant of USD $150 but its result is over whelming and encouraging. Small grants with positive impacts.

Canaan leads a training workshop for new business leaders.

Canaan leads a training workshop for new business leaders.

4. Tanya: How has SBF been able to help people in your community?
Canaan: One business group received a small piglet through the Sharing of the Gift. The pig multiplied from 2007 and they bought iron sheets and they have roofed their house. This is most exciting and clean transformation. It is not easy in Malawi for a less privileged person to build a house.

5. Tanya: How did you get started as a leader in your community?
Canaan: I worked for World Vision International as a Development Facilitator. That job made me meet many people and facilitate development programmes amongst them. This work with World Vision groomed me into a participatory leader in the community. This environment made people have confidence and trust in me.

6. Tanya: What do you think makes Spirit in Action unique?
Canaan: SIA is unique firstly because its principles, concepts and procedures are heavenly mandated. It is based on love your neighbor as you love yourself. It has a mission to transform the whole person (body Soul and Spirit). Finally SIA is unique as it empowers people to do and work for themselves. It works with people and makes them realize their potential.

7. Tanya: How did you meet Del Anderson? When and where did you meet him?
Canaan: I had never come face to face with Del Anderson, but I came to know him through Marsha Johnson, former Administrator of SIA who frequently was sending me soul searching reflections compiled by Del. Del still lives in me because of his inspiring and catching insights and reflections. He lived to make others grow and live a life of empowerment and transformation.

8. Tanya: Tell me about your family.
Canaan: I clocked 44 years by July 24, 2010 and my wife, Lilian, clocked 41 years by October 16, 2010. We are happily married for 22 years now. Both my wife and I come from the Northern part of Malawi. God has blessed us with 4 children.

9. Tanya: Thank you for sharing, Canaan!
Canaan: Thank you God for Tanya to capture me at this moment.

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