Being Grateful for What We Do

Being Grateful for What We Do
Tanya shows off a basket and hat woven by one of the Small Business Fund groups. I'm grateful for the generosity of our grant partners!

Tanya shows off a basket and hat woven by one of the Small Business Fund groups. I’m grateful for the generosity of our grant partners!

In the U.S. this is a week to reflect on and say out loud what we are grateful for. Recently, a friend asked me to list the three reasons I’ve chosen this work, and this organization. The three points express well my thankfulness for Spirit in Action: 

1. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with how much need there is in the world, how many people still live in sub-standard conditions without a clear way to improve their lives. Working with SIA, I feel that we are reaching out to people and directly influencing them to make lasting positive change in their lives.

2. SIA is an organization that really empowers people, working together with them as partners, listening to their needs and ideas, and being flexible enough to respond to what we learn and adapt programs to local situations and local knowledge.

3. SIA acknowledges and celebrates the dignity of each person. We never portray people as helpless or without possibility. We see potential in each person. I feel so good about that and I am proud of this approach.

Also check out some Thanksgiving table graces that pray for the world.

Fikire Chime (Malawi) takes her donuts to market 3 days a week. I'm grateful for her dedication to her business!

Fikire Chime (Malawi) takes her donuts to market 3 days a week. I’m grateful for her dedication to her business!

4 Things To Help Me Not Feel Overwhelmed

4 Things To Help Me Not Feel Overwhelmed

1. Catching Dennis Kiprop’s Contagious Optimism

Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) and Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) chat during a break in the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator conference in Uganda last summer.

Dennis Kiprop, a SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya and our source of unending optimism, shared this encouraging story, called One Matters, with me this week.

He prefaced, with his usual positive outlook, “SIA is a unique organization that has changed a lot of lives that once were hopeless and now have a reason to smile!”

And the story: One old man was walking on the shore of the beach, it was windy and so tides were strong and pushed out thousands of starfish onto the sand of the shore. When the tides went back in, it left the starfish on the scorching sun, not to return to the ocean soon.

The old man saw a young boy trying to pick the starfish and throwing back each starfish back to the ocean. When the old man saw this, considering helpless star fish lying along miles and miles of beach, he shook his head and asked the young boy, “Young boy, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “I am throwing the starfish back to the ocean.”

“You can’t get all the starfish back to the ocean,” said the old man. “There are thousands along the beach, no matter how many you will put back to the ocean, you will not finish.” The boy paused a little bit to look at the old man. Then he bend down to pick one more starfish and threw back to the ocean and said to the old man, “that one mattered!”

Dennis concluded affirming: This is exactly what I see in our communities today and what SIA is doing; one life changed matters a lot to God. We can’t meet all the needs out there, but the continued pick-up of star fish around us matters the most, and lives are being empowered in special ways.

2. Remembering that change is already happening! 

Many women as part of the Kasozi Savings group

We met with women from the Kasozi Village Savings group in Uganda this summer. Even without outside money, the women are saving together, to improve their lives and community. We are not creating a movement, we are happy to uplift it.

3. This quote by Wendell Berry about vulnerability and being okay with not knowing what to do.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

4. Rereading this post about starting small.

What’s One “Small Thing” I Can Do For Peace? 

How do we choose?

How do we choose?

People often ask me about how Spirit in Action chooses the groups who receive our $150 Small Business Fund (SBF) grants. Today, I’ll share just two of the factors that help us in our decisions.

Members from the newest cohort of SBF Businesses in Eldoret, Kenya. They all received their training together in October from SBF Local Coordinator, Dennis Kiprop.

Members from the newest cohort of SBF Businesses in Eldoret, Kenya. They all received their training together in October from SBF Local Coordinator, Dennis Kiprop.

Community

Part of how we choose is determined by where our Small Business Fund Local Coordinators are located. Rather than choose one family in this rural village, and two groups in a different village, we give grants to a cohort of five new groups all in the same area, at the same time. This provides both peer support to each new business group group, and the support from the local coordinator who is relatively close to all the groups.

Over time, our sustained grant-giving in particular areas means that our efforts are more concentrated and the cohort of supportive group grows bigger and stronger. For example, there are now almost 100 SIA business groups in the Oruk Anam area of Nigeria! They all (or mostly all) still meet together at specific times to share their stories and encourage one another.

Harriet Mambo started her bakery business in 2006, after receiving a SBF grant. She had been recently widowed then. Now, she used profit from her bakery to build this house, which she rents out for $8 a month to a school teacher. (Malawi)

Harriet Mambo started her bakery business in 2006, after receiving a SBF grant. She had been recently widowed then. Now, she used profit from her bakery to build this house, which she rents out for $8 a month to a school teacher. (Malawi)

Assessing Need

Once we know where we are giving the grants, each SBF Coordinator uses a Poverty and Opportunity Assessment rubric. This tool, which is designed specifically for their community, helps them discern which families (or groups of people) will be able to use the grant effectively.

The Assessment seeks to find a balance between the very poor in the community, and those who have an opportunity to leverage our small grant into a lasting business. The poverty part of the assessment might note whether people are living with a thatched roof, if they are eating only one meal per day, or if they have no other source of income (recently widowed, for example). These factors are different in Nairobi and rural Uganda, and they are reassessed regularly. At one point a cell phone might have been a sign of wealth in Malawi. Now, cellphones are everywhere!

Tanya and Boyd visiting a Small Business Fund family in Manyamula Village, Malawi.

Tanya and Boyd visiting a Small Business Fund family in Manyamula Village, Malawi.

Assessing Opportunity

Our Coordinators found that the very poorest of the poor families were not ready to start a business. They needed to take care of other basic needs first. And so, the Opportunity part of the assessment (added after our 2011 SBF Conference in Kenya), asks what unique position is this group in and how might that help them start a successful business?

For example (real examples from SBF), maybe the family already has a small peanut business and they can use the grant to expand their business and become wholesalers. Or, it could be a youth recently graduated from high school who wants to earn money to save for university. Or, suddenly there is more demand for someone’s baked goods because a new school building opened in the area.

The Coordinators use the Poverty and Opportunity Assessment before choosing the new groups for each new round of funding. And this tool helps them find those people who are ready to make the big investment of time, knowledge, and energy to start or expand their business and who are not so worried about basic needs that they won’t be able to focus on the new adventure.

I hope this helps illuminate part of Spirit in Action’s Small Business Fund program for you. If you have more questions about how we work, let me know!

See also: SBF FAQs

Wisdom from Del: “Act in the Truth”

Wisdom from Del: “Act in the Truth”
school children

Boyd and Tanya with school children at the SIA Small Business Fund nursery in Manyamula Village, Malawi.

On this election day in the U.S., I post something to remind us of our core and common humanity. Del Anderson wrote the reflection below in the weeks just after September 11th, 2001, and for me it is a call to search for and hold onto that flame of hope within each of us. Where ever you are, I hope today you reclaim that “boldness, firmness, and humility to act in the truth.”

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This is a difficult moment in which to write. The September 11th bombings seemed to further destroy the hopes of humankind and the building of peace, as the gulf seems to widen daily between peoples.

Using violence, and killing people to prove that it is wrong to kill people, has also proven futile through all of the history of civilization. Throughout history, force has resulted in more and violence. Such response breeds defeatism, fear and despair.

I believe that humans, as transcendent creations of God, have within them the Spirit of God and the capacity to participate in, with, and through our Creator God.

A mix of footprints and bike tracks on the dusty road in Manyamula Village, Malawi.

A mix of footprints and bike tracks on the dusty road in Manyamula Village, Malawi.

Our responsibility is not to lose our willingness to seek the truth and the boldness, firmness, and humility to act in the truth. As we hold fast to this consciousness, we cannot despair.

Great ideas may often be expressed in simple words such as, “All humankind are brothers and sisters from the same Creator.” We are not here by chance, but as an individualization of God and in union with our Creator and each other.

We each are unique and distinct, one of a kind. We lack nothing and are here to fulfill God’s special purpose through each of us for this generation. What a glorious, sacred, holy privilege and responsibility. Let us realize we are needed and important.

The time of decision is now.

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Del ends with this prayer, which he used in the mornings and evenings. He adapted it from John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Brewing of Soma”:

Drop thy still dews of quietness
Till all my strivings cease;
Take from my soul
The strain and stress,
And let the Christ within express
The beauty of thy peace.

Click here for more inspiration from Del.

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