Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Back in October 2012 I shared the success story of Hastings and Ruth Fuvu in Malawi. They had received a $150 Small Business Fund grant in early 2012, ramping up their business of selling tomatoes and onions in the market. This expanded business increased the family income enough to buy school uniforms for their children and seek medical attention for their daughter Miness, who experiences periodic seizures. The 2012 post ended with Fuvu’s dream to build a house of their own, using burnt bricks.

Malawi, bricks

Hastings and Ruth with bricks for their house. (2012)

Well, in July, 2014, I got to visit that new house! We sat in their home, listening to their story of how their lives have improved since growing their business: “We have wealthy relatives,” Ruth told us, “and they have never given to us, but SIA has given to us.”

This week I received another exciting update from Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Manyamula: Hastings and Ruth have been able to connect to the new electrical grid.

Canaan reports:

“After making enough savings, they molded bricks, built a house and now they have electrified the house. One part of the building they are using it as a barbershop where they get the additional income. With the same power, they are renting to someone who is welding at the premises. This is an income diversification for the family.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

“The family was quick to tell me that very soon they are Sharing the Gift by assisting one person to begin as they began.

“Life is new because they no longer go for fuel to light up their house. Life is made easy as darkness is simply cured up with pressing the ‘on’ switch in the house.

Imagine such a difference in just three years! This $150 small grant is continuing to pay amazing dividends to the Fuvus and others in the community.

Malawi, house, home

Tanya in front of the guest room of the Fuvu family’s new home. They invited me to “take a sleep” at their house next time we visit!

I want a Kenyan cell phone!

I want a Kenyan cell phone!

When you think Africa you might not think cell phones. You should though! In Kenya especially they are doing some really cool, innovative things with cell phones. In fact, there are a few ways I wish my North American cell phone service could be more like the Kenyan system…

Maureen Kasadi in Nairobi texts with a friend before our Small Business Fund meeting starts.

Maureen Kasadi in Nairobi texts with a friend before our Small Business Fund meeting starts.

1. Cheaper service

Have you noticed how expensive cell phone plans are in the US? Of course you have! Even the “pay as you go” plans can have $10/month minimums. In 2013, 70% of Kenyans had cell phones. Once you purchase the phone in Kenya, you can buy of “air time” to “top up” your account balance. Unlike the US, these airtime minutes are sold in increments of about 50 cents to $20.

The Kenyan system is truly pay as you go. If you can only afford 50 cents of airtime you can buy just the amount needed for that one important call. In the US it seems that monthly minimums keeps rising, giving me much more than I need each month.

2. Sending money

A banking revolution is happening in Kenya – and it’s happening because of cell phones. About 70% of Kenyans do not have access to a bank. They DO have cell phones though. Enter M-Pesa! M-Pesa allows people to transfer money through their cell phones.

The sender brings money directly to an M-Pesa dealer (which operate out of city grocery stores and the tiniest rural kiosks) and gives the dealer the cell phone number of the receiver. Then the receiver gets a text saying the money is available. They go to their local M-Pesa dealer and pick up the cash! Whereas before a daughter working in the city might’ve had to travel hours by bus to bring cash to her parents in the country, now she can transfer it instantly to them.

We are even using M-Pesa for SIA! We can make one bank transfer to Kenya and then have the Small Business Fund coordinators M-Pesa the money to each other. Each bank transfer costs us $10. Each M-Pesa transfer costs just $2-3.

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.

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

3. Shopping around

Most Kenyans have non-smart phones – phones for texting and calling, rather than easy internet use – and most have space for two different SIM cards. This means they can switch between cell phone carriers as suits their needs. Airtel, Orange, and Safaricom are the three most popular carriers and each have different deals and rates for different times. When you have both an Airtel and a Safaricom SIM card, you can shift to use whichever has cheaper evening calls or cheaper calls within the carrier network. This flexibility seems like a dream for those of us locked into one carrier based on the phone or a 2-year contract!

Bonus: Sharing opportunities

As I blogged about last week, people are excited about electricity coming to Manyamula, Malawi. So far, just a few shops have access to the electrical wires, and others are using solar power. Both are highly valued because electricity is necessary to charge all these cell phones! When we visited Winkly Mahowe he showed us his solar panel connected to a power strip, where he allows neighbors to charge their cell phones for free. Charging is also a viable SBF business- we saw this crowded power source in one of the Manyamula market shops.

The rental market in Manyamula

The rental market in Manyamula

I often mention that when families are successful in their Small Business Fund businesses they begin to invest in burned bricks for their home. In rural Malawi there is a lot of space and land is relatively inexpensive. That means that even poor families can access land where they might build a home.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

When we visited Malawi I was fascinated to be in a place where most young families dreamed of (or were actually working towards) building their own home.

Most of the houses in Manyamula Village are made of brick. Adobe might be a more accurate word, since the bricks are made of earth, and they may or may not be fired. The fired bricks last much longer because the rain easily breaks down the bricks that are only sun-dried. And they are also much more expensive: 10 Kwacha (USD $0.02) per burnt brick, compared with just 3 Kwacha for a dried one.

The Manyamula Rental Market

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Because almost everyone builds their own homes, there aren’t a lot of places available for rent. So a few of the successful Small Business Fund groups have invested in building secondary buildings on their land to rent out to visiting school teachers, doctors, and other government officials to the village. A widow, Harriet now lives with other family members so that she can rent out her home for additional income. A school teacher pays her 3500 Kwacha (~USD $7.50) per month.

Across the street and down a few hundred yards, Reverend Isaac bought a plot of land for under $200. He hopes to have the rental house built in seven months. We visited while they were in the process of forming the 15,000 bricks needed for the home.

Bricks drying in the sun

Bricks drying in the sun

Red dirt is mixed with water and then slopped into a wood frame. The brick maker makes sure the earth is settled and leveled in the frame and then carries it to the drying area. With a *th-wunk* sound the bricks are dropped out of the frame onto the ground. The lines of bricks are covered with straw and left to dry in the sun for three days (we were there in the dry season, with no chance of rain). Then they will be stacked into kiln-like structures for firing.

Rural Electrification

People like Harriet and Isaac are taking advantage of the new electrification that is coming to Manyamula. We saw a few shops that were already tapped into the new grid. Mostly people are setting up wiring and electric boxes and are eager for the day they will be able to connect. The general consensus in Manyamula is that the electrification will bring more people to the village. When it does, some savvy business people will have nice burnt-brick rental places ready to offer them.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

 

[UPDATE: In the comments, Marsha Johnson asked about solar power use. Here is a blog post about one of the solar panel systems that I saw in Malawi.]

Honoring Del and Lucile Anderson

Honoring Del and Lucile Anderson

With hearts full of gratitude, we extend this invitation to celebrate the life of Lucile Anderson (wife of Spirit in Action’s founder, Del Anderson) on April 25th in Oakland, CA. Please see the invite from Lucile’s family for details and how to RSVP.

Lucile’s son, Rob Hanford, shares that in her last days Lucile was “still growing, still teaching. It was amazing and uplifting to see the genuine love that the staff at Windsor had for mom, and the deep sadness at her passing. When you consider that she couldn’t speak during the six years she was there, her presence was very strong.”

We honor the beautiful spirit in Lucile and the kindness, love, and generosity she shared with the world!

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Marsha Johnson, SIA Advisory Board member and former SIA Administrator, remembers: “I could always count on Lucile to thoughtfully speak her truth, whether in a meeting or in a private conversation together. I knew that this “truth” was preceded by prayerful pondering, and then Lucile would say something like:  “My guidance is……””

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Spirit in Action. You can make a donation in Lucile’s memory online or by mail.

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Del and Lucile had quiet time together every morning. Perhaps these words from Del (from 2006) might have been thoughts they pondered during these prayerful times together.

Wisdom from Del: The Path of Transformation

  • Begin right where you are with what you have.
  • Give thanks to God for the gift of your own special life.
  • Thank God for family, friends, community and for all that has brought you to this present, holy moment.
  • Each day, spend time with God in the silence, sensing God’s Spirit of love within YOU.
  • Let go of all that binds and limits you, and sense God’s empowering Spirit coming forth within you more and more fully, day by day.
  • Open to gratitude, expectation and wonder.
  • Recognize that you are a Spiritual being with God’s indwelling Spirit activating you.
  • In the quiet, sense the true needs of yourself, your family, your community.
  • Lay these true needs before God, opening to God’s guidance and empowerment, letting God come forth in every aspect of your life.

Helping Businesses Succeed

Helping Businesses Succeed

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money].”

Like in the US, small businesses have a special place in the African economy. It was clear from my visits to Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda that in the rural areas there’s not much employment outside of farming. So I wasn’t at all surprised when I read a study that said that 42% of rural African households had some sort of non-farm enterprise in 2014 (52% in Nigeria; 42% in Uganda; 17% in Malawi). This study,* which used data complied by the World Bank in 2005-2013, included detailed data from three SIA partner countries (Nigeria, Malawi, and Uganda) as well as Ethiopia, Niger, and Tanzania.

Most of these rural non-farm enterprises are family businesses, running some form of trade business. Trade in household goods and foodstuffs are pretty low-risk and easy to start since they don’t require huge equipment costs. These families are still getting most of their income from farming and 91-100%(!) are informal, and operating during the times of the year when farming is less demanding.

Because these families still are focused on farming, if the crop is going well, families in Malawi and Nigeria are not as likely to start new business, using their labor hours in the field. On the other hand, if a recently-educated person returns to rural life, they will probably create their own business, since there are very few opportunities for more formal employment (except perhaps teaching).

The chalkboard menu at Malumbo Theu's  new restaurant. He had been working in South Africa as an undocumented worker and got deported. The SBF grant helped him establish a business (the first restaurant in Manyamula).

The chalkboard menu at Malumbo Theu’s new restaurant. He had been working in South Africa as an undocumented worker and got deported. The SBF grant helped him establish a business (the first restaurant in Manyamula).

Professional services, transportation, and bars and restaurants were the least common types of business activity in Malawi, each representing less than 1% of household enterprises. Though there is demand for these businesses, they require higher start-up costs. This is where SIA’s Small Business Fund (SBF) grants can help out. A few of the new SBF groups we visited in Malawi in July were in this category – including Malumbo Restaurant, Fikani Transportation Services, and FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care. Each owner saw the demand for these services, and SIA grants give them the money to help cover the larger up-front costs.

Importantly, rural non-farm businesses that are started out of opportunity, rather than necessity, are much more productive. Our SBF Needs and Opportunities Assessment, conducted by the local coordinator along with the family receiving the grant, helps foster this success by focusing on the skills of all household members (including women and older youth). They then consider how best to incorporate those opportunities into the new business.

One of the school teachers at the FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care.

One of the school teachers at the FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care.

Businesses tended to fold, according to the study, because of shocks (such as illness or death) or because of low profitability and lack of finance. While SIA isn’t directly addressing the first challenge, our local SBF local coordinators do provide mentoring to help with marketing products and improving profitability. And several of our SBF communities have savings groups and low-interest loans that help with longer term financing for the businesses.

It was great to read the article and understand the larger picture of rural non-farm enterprises in Africa. I got to see how SIA is integrated into this small family business reality and how we are helping families to have more productive and long-lasting businesses.

*Non-Farm Enterprises in Rural Africa: New Empirical Evidence. by Paula Nagler and Wim Naudé. Available at http://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1596/1813-9450-7066

Children at Nellie’s school recite colors and ABC drills for us. The school started in January with just 7 children and it has already grown to over 50 students!

Children at Nellie’s school recite colors and ABC drills for us. The school started in January with just 7 children and it has already grown to over 50 students!

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