More amazing technology & Some challenges

More amazing technology & Some challenges

I had two interesting conversations this week after my blog on how technology is improving our work. (I also added another 2 SIA partners to my WhatsApp contacts!)

Mobile Banking

I had another thrilling moment of wonder at technology as I was talking to Josephine Ameyo (pictured above) about the community bank she wants to start with women in her informal settlement in Nairobi. I know the area can be dangerous – several business leaders have had supplies stolen, and our Small Business Fund Coordinator always arranges for protection when she visits the groups. So I asked Josephine how they would keep the savings safe, and how they would safely transport the savings to the bank.

She responded with good news, “We shall not deal with cash. We have a popular money wire transfer app in Kenya known as M-Pesa which is available in mobile phones here. When people apply for loans we shall remit the cash through that service. And when they repay their loans we shall give them bill-pay number, which is also available from the mobile service provider. There shall be no money exchanging hands hence it will be the safest mode of money transfer.”

The women will be able to borrow money and repay loans through their phones, using the vast network of certified M-Pesa dealers to securely manage the cash. Amazing! (Read more about mobile phones in Kenya.)

Those Left Behind

The second conversation was a sober reminder of the growing technology divide. Margaret Ikiara, director of Community Initiatives for Rural Development (CIFORD Kenya), is a local leader in a very rural community in central Kenya. She works with many women who are caring for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS; women who are struggling to grow enough food for themselves. Sure, some of these women have cell phones, but they are not phones that can handle WhatsApp.

“I saw the update in the SIA Website and surely technology is fascinating and changing so fast,” wrote Margaret. She continued with a troubling contradiction, “In our community what puzzles me and leaves me with no words is that even in the fast changing world there are parents who are not taking their children to school. That means there are people who will be 3 decades behind others. They can not write letters, emails, nor use WhatsApp.”

It is a clear reminder that even as technology is making lives easier it is not close to reaching or aiding so many people in the places where SIA works. This, in essence, is the call for Spirit in Action. Let us strive even harder to support these women so that we are all progressing and benefiting together.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate.  In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

Rehema us tells about how their savings group keeps their funds secure, and their records accurate. In rural Uganda, a box is enough to keep the funds safe.

What’s up? WhatsApp!

What’s up? WhatsApp!

I am thrilled! Technology is once again rocking my world! In a tech/cellphone/screen-saturated culture we can sometimes forget that for Spirit in Action cellphones and their applications are nothing short of a miracle!

When Del first started Spirit in Action in 1996 – 20 years ago! – he was writing letters back and forth to his friends around the world. An airmail letter could take weeks to arrive in Kenya. Even if the person responded right away, Del might not receive the reply until a month after sending his initial letter.

Email sped up the conversation. When I started working with Spirit in Action eight years ago, I could write an email and have a response in a few days. That interaction still required the person in Kenya to go to an internet cafe to respond.

And now…..I can communicate almost instantaneously through the amazing technology of WhatsApp!

A WhatsApp conversation with Naomi this week.

A WhatsApp conversation with Naomi this week.

What’s the Difference?

WhatsApp is a phone app that requires very little data to send text and photo messages. No more international texting charges! I am now one of WhatsApp’s almost billion worldwide users, along with Naomi, Wambui, Canaan, and Jeremiah, four of our Small Business Fund Local Coordinators in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi. Cellphones are relatively inexpensive in Africa (as I have written about here) and while someone in Malawi might check email only once a day or once a week, they always have their phones with them.

cell phones charging

Grace’s shop in the Manyamula Market is connected to the new electricity lines in town and so she provides phone charging services for a small fee.

It’s not to say that I never use email for Spirit in Action anymore. Now when I’m waiting for an email response I can WhatsApp message the recipient and urge them to check their email! Also, the messaging back-and-forth is more like a conversation, so it’s helpful for developing a closer relationship with our partners.

WhatsApp’s technology allows users to send photos without taking up a lot of data, thus making it easy and affordable. I now routinely receive photos of SBF report forms – taken on smartphone cameras and sent through WhatsApp. The process before? A coordinator would have to take the forms to the internet cafe, paying for scanning services and internet time to email the PDFs to me. Or, they’d send the physical forms to me in the mail, costing international postage rates and taking weeks to arrive.

Do you understand now why I’m thrilled?!

News Round-up: Good news on the global war on poverty

News Round-up: Good news on the global war on poverty

I’m starting a new feature this week! It’s a news round-up highlighting two news articles related to Spirit in Action’s work and mission. Thank you to Marsha and Dennis Johnson for sending me the CSM article. If you come across other SIA-related news articles, please email them to me!

Progress in the global war on poverty (Christian Science Monitor)

It’s better than you think! Read on…

“Global poverty has fallen faster during the past 20 years than at any time in history. Around the world hunger, child death, and disease rates have all plummeted. More girls are getting into school. In fact, never before have so many people, in so many poor countries, made so much progress in reducing poverty, increasing incomes, improving health, reducing conflict and war, and spreading democracy.

“In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

“Prior to 1980 just half of girls in developing countries completed primary school; now 85 percent do. Less than 50 percent of adult females could read and write, but today global female literacy has passed 93 percent.

“As incomes have risen and democracy has spread, conflict, war, and violence have fallen sharply. This fact surprises anyone reading the daily news about Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan. While I do not want to trivialize these conflicts, we tend to forget just how violent the world was in the 1980s and early ’90s…”

The article also reviews statistics on health, peace, and economic progress. And credits the end of communism, new technologies, and “strong leadership and courageous actions by the people in those countries themselves” with assisting the progress.

“For hundreds of years, people have predicted at one point or another that global progress would halt. But they have always underestimated the world’s growing abilities – even with many setbacks along the way – to work cooperatively, meet new challenges, and expand global prosperity and basic freedoms.”

I heartily recommend reading the whole article.

3 of the 9 computers that SIA helped Samro purchase in 2013. Each evening the computer room is open to the community for free.

3 of the 9 computers that SIA helped Samro School in Kenya purchase in 2013. Each evening the computer room is open to the community for free.

It’s not just about big corporations: A look at local partnerships (Devex)

USAID is recognizing the benefit of working with local partners, citing some of the reasons we also like working with our local partner organizations. Here are some highlights from their report:

“Local private sector partners bring a unique set of benefits, from local understanding to connections. It’s often easier than working with multinational corporations because local firms tend to have a higher risk tolerance, know the local terrain and possess assets like contacts in local governments or the private sector.

“Local partnerships can also offer a more tailored approach than some corporations, which are guided by strategies created at their often distant headquarters.

“Partnering with local businesses also increases the sustainability of a program or a project and can help those companies gain additional skills, further improving local capacity, [Caterina] Valero added.”

Read the whole article.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi is a strong local partner organization. They give members a safe place to save and low-interest loans.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi is a strong local partner organization. They give members a safe place to save and low-interest loans.

Choosing new business groups in Uganda

Choosing new business groups in Uganda

The training started with the chairperson describing how the word TEAM is an abbreviation. It really stands for Together Everybody Achieves More. “He therefore strongly advocated for the spirit of ‘Each for All and All for Each’ if we are to succeed in any event,” read the meeting minutes. And so the group gathered agreed to be a support for each other to make their businesses successful.

This meeting, held in January, is part of the recent expansion of the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund in Uganda. The chairperson is one of the local leaders who will help with training and mentorship. And he is working together with our new coordinator team there – Naomi and Santa.

So far three families in the remote village of Amukugungu have received their $150 grants from SIA. They all decided to use their grants to start piggeries and they are now building the shelters, which will help keep the pigs healthy.

Naomi (in green) goes through the small business training manual with the new business groups.

Naomi (in green) goes through the small business training manual with the new business groups.


How were the families chosen?

Santa and Naomi select the grant recipients using a method called the Poverty and Opportunity Assessment. It helps identify families in need who are also in a position to leverage the grant to start a successful endeavor. If a family is currently facing immediate financial needs and illness, then they may be better served with food and care to address those pressing needs rather than receive the SBF grant, which is designed to be an investment.

When identifying household poverty, Santa and Naomi assess the quality of household utensils. Are the plates and cups broken? Is there a proper saucepan for cooking? They also look at the diet and the variety of food that the family eats. Since this is a rural village, the third assessment criteria is the family’s ability to purchase high-quality seeds. Finally they review the sleeping facilities. Does the family have have a mattress or do they sleep on the ground with a mat?

When looking for opportunities, Santa and Naomi noted when families had plots of land that they could use to build a pig shelter or use for small-scale farming. If families are near the stream they may be able to make bricks or create a fish pond. Sometimes a family has a bicycle, which could be used for selling things door-to-door or at a farther marketplace. 

These three families were chosen because they are both in great need and ready to take on the challenge. They are eager to start and to keep working together to create the best possible future for everyone!

For more about how we choose:


Wisdom from Del: “Life is not a destination”

Wisdom from Del: “Life is not a destination”

From the journal of SIA Founder, Del Anderson, Fall 2005. Even at 99 years old he was still learning, growing, and exploring.

I certainly wouldn’t have desired to break my hip, but now six months later, I’m certain that I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I think it’s a little easier now to understand that “I of myself can do nothing.” I couldn’t take the next breath without the Spirit there to keep me going.

This experience has pointed me in the direction of growth. I am not the Del I was yesterday. My focus is to come forth as a new person each day and realize that I am an expression of God and that I’m here to let God be God in me, through me, and as me. I can’t eat yesterday’s stale manna. Yesterday’s manna is not good enough for today. Manna has to be fresh. It’s an ever-changing world.

As we accept each challenge, each change and seek God’s guidance, we open ourselves to receive the Allness of the God consciousness, expressing and coming forth through us.

Meditation, contemplative meditation, and prayer are three of God’s greatest tools. The major thing is to let go, be still, listen, and focus and focus. Let my meditation be to know that my purpose is to keep expanding my consciousness and to let God take over entirely. “God, each day give me a focused desire that wills to will to do your will.” God’s Kingdom is within us. We need to let it come forth, step by step here on earth even at our most challenging times.

Life is not easy. It’s a challenge.

Life is not a destination. It’s a process.

Read more inspiration from Del here. 

(Pictured above: A path in Manyamula Village, Malawi.)

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