Is it risky to invest in community leadership?

Is it risky to invest in community leadership?

This past weekend, on April 15th, the book I’ve been co-editing with Jennifer Lentfer for the past 5 years, was printed! It is now officially available for pre-order!

The book is a collaborative effort with 22 authors from 20 different organizations from seven countries, representing a variety of viewpoints on the international development and philanthropy sectors.

Is it worth the risk?

On her blog this week, Jennifer explained how this group of authors, all who saw the importance of working directly with people at the community level, came together:

When people in the aid and philanthropy sector learned about our approaches to making small grants at the international level, there were always questions that revealed how “risky” this seemed to people:

How do you find the groups? (In other words, “It’s much easier for us to fund the same, usual players in the capital cities who talk like us.”)

“How do you measure your results?” (In other words, “Small grants are too insignificant to make a real dent in any social issue.” or “Hard numbers are the only way I know if I am getting a return on investment.”)

How do you keep your overhead costs down? (In other words, “It’s too expensive to fund at the grassroots. It costs me the same amount of money to make a US$5,000 grant as a $50,000 grant.”)

We didn’t get it. For us, not investing in the wisdom, experience, and leadership of people most affected by poverty was an opportunity cost we were unwilling to bear.

In our minds, placing our relatively small amounts of money in the hands of people who are already doing something to address the challenges in their own communities was actually one of the least risky things we as funders could do, and also one of the smartest.

Youth learn about their rights and about healthy relationships at a workshop hosted by CIFORD Kenya.

The least risky way to support lasting change

Investing in these local leaders and grassroots organizations is the heart of our work at Spirit in Action. Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, Community Initiatives for Rural Development Kenya (CIFORD), Samro Schools, and so many more community-based organizations are dedicated to working for positive change in their communities.

They do this by using their local knowledge and their connections with local officials, encouraging others to join them, and fostering a sense of solidarity and camaraderie that plants the seeds of change.

There are so many wonderful people and organizations supporting these grassroots partners. So many who honor the role of faith in their work and partnerships. We know that investing in local leaders is worth the “risk.” “Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems” is dedicated to reframing the idea of “risky” grants; to instead look at the opportunity of small grants.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what we and our co-authors have to say!

A grant that gives hope

A grant that gives hope

Last week, I had the great pleasure of sending out the congratulations letters to the groups that received SIA grants at our last board meeting. I work with each of the grant applicants to more fully understand their projects and to refine their proposals. After weeks and months in communication the happy moment arrives when I get to let them know that SIA approved their application!

“Overwhelmed by joy”

Below is the reply I received from Vincent Atitwa, leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity cooperative in Kenya. They received a grant to start a table banking program to provide their members, mostly small farmers, with low-interest loans.

“First, I must say that I am overwhelmed by joy and happiness after learning that SIA funded our project. I say BIG THANK YOU to you and the entire team of SIA, together with their donors who made all the process possible. May God bless you abundantly so that you continue blessing others too.

“To me, this is not just a grant, it’s a grant that comes with a lot of hope and inspiration to our community.

“Finally God has answered our prayers. I believe that the SIA grant holds a key to unlock a lot of business opportunities for marginalized small scale farmers in our community. The businesses will create both jobs and wealth. I am happy to be associated with SIA and its activities, and I look forward to continuing working with you even in future after this grant.”

A Smart Risk

This grant partnership is a great example of Smart Risk #1 from the forthcoming book, that I co-edited with Jennifer Lentfer, about small grants.

Smart Risk #1: Investing in local expertise. 

Vincent and the rest of the team at Matungu Community Development Charity know the context of lending in rural Kenya. They know about the farming cycles and the challenges associated with the climate and markets. They know the community members and can talk to them when they have trouble repaying the loan. For all these reasons, we believe that it is worth investing in local groups.

Follow along this week on our Facebook page for all five Smart Risks! 

That second chance that makes all the difference

That second chance that makes all the difference

After years in a difficult marriage, Loveness Nkhoma found herself divorced, back at home, and unsure how to support herself and her three children. Canaan Gondwe, the local SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) coordinator in Manyamula Village, Malawi, recruited her to join the SBF program and start a new business. She quickly grasped the new business concepts and was a big help encouraging the other business leaders in her cohort.

In April 2015, Loveness received her $100 grant and opened a small shop in the village. She ordered vegetables, tomatoes, and other wholesale goods in bulk and then repackaged them into smaller quantities.

Loveness with her repackaged goods for sale.

It’s been two years and the business continues to provide all the basic needs for the family of four! Loveness has saved $69 and reinvested almost $200 back into the shop. She is able to pay school fees for her sons Adam (4th grade) and Raphael (5th grade) and has enough food for her 4-year-old daughter. The demand for their goods has been higher than expected! Loveness bought three goats with the profit. The goats will give milk and manure, in addition to meat.

When Canaan went to visit Loveness and check on her business, she was quick to say that she is happy with her progress and is thankful to SIA for giving her a chance. She is positive about her future and she feels secured and stable, a big change from how she felt right after her divorce!

Loveness with the three goats she bought with her SBF grocery profits.

Spelling “SIA” to Raise Money for Small Businesses!

Thank you to Joshua Brooks for running a half-marathon last weekend to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! He spelled S-I-A as he ran and raised $720, enough for almost five new small businesses. Check out his route here (or by clicking on the runner below). Then click the arrow play button on the bottom of the map to see his spelling in action! Thank you to all who contributed to the campaign!

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

Entrepreneurs in Nairobi: “We feel resurrected”

These men and women, chosen to receive SIA Small Business Fund grants, are living in the rough conditions in the informal settlements around Nairobi. They and their families are living without running water or adequate toilet facilities. Structures are made tin pieces and are packed together very closely. Rain turns dirt roads and floors into muddy messes.

And yet, with the chance to start her own business and to provide for her family, one of the new entrepreneurs in Nairobi said that she feels like she is ‘resurrected’ and ‘like other people’ now.

Here are more success stories from the latest Small Business Fund cohort in Korogocho, Nairobi:

  • Mutinda, selling shoes: He feels very confident because can provide food for his family. All his children can go to school and his family can even afford better medical care. Writing is a challenge for Mutinda, but his business skills are excellent!
  • Rebecca, cooking chapatti: She is now her own boss, leaving her old workplace where she also cooked chapatti. Initially, she was selling a few packets per day, but now she can sell in bundles (a big packet of twelve chapatti). Her children still go to school and eat well. She was also able to repair holes in the roof of her rented house. Before, she would be waiting forever for the owner to do it.

Phoebe explaining a point to other entrepreneurs

  • Nelly, making soaps: She was making five liters of soap at a time, and repacking it in smaller quantities to sell. Now, she makes 60 liters and has a much better market. Three people have benefitted from this business and she is able to take her son to a better school. She can afford medical care and is grateful to SIA.
  • Phoebe, selling fabric: She is so proud to be able to send her son to a boarding school out of Nairobi County! Five people benefitted from the business, but the best thing that ever happened to her is sending her son to boarding school just like ‘other people’!
  • Kezziah, selling vegetables: Her profit was more than predicted! Besides reinvesting 20% in the business, she is able to keep 10% for herself. She is able to pay school fees for all her children. She is especially proud that she can pay for her daughter to attend high school. Her family also eats better than before.

So far, SIA has supported 33 businesses in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Josephine, one of the SIA local mentors, plans to meet with all 33 groups and register themselves under the Deputy President’s program for women’s groups!

Improving life in the informal settlement (L to R): Dorcas (who helps with record-keeping), Kezziah, Mutinda, Phoebe and Josephine (local mentor).

How do their lives change?

How do their lives change?

Reposting this roundup of the ways peoples’ lives change after receiving a SIA Small Business Fund grant.

In [June 2015] I highlighted the 5 most common businesses that Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients typically start. The groups receive $150 and are mentored over the course of a year. This week I received a batch of final One-Year Reports from our two SBF local coordinators in Uganda. These are short reports that check in to see how each business is doing one year after receiving the grant. The report also asks how the lives of the groups members have improved and what they have used their profits to buy. The responses generally fall into one of five categories.

These are the five basic needs that families are empowered to meet after starting an SBF business:

SCHOOL FEES

Paying for school fees is by far the most common goal and use of SBF profits in Uganda. There is supposed to be free universal education in Uganda, but the public schools quickly fill their limited spaces and the families must pay for private schools. School fees for the average private school near Kasozi Village, Uganda are about $12 per term for each student (with 3 terms per year). This adds up quickly with many children and with the additional costs of uniforms and school supplies!

Yuba Robert and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator is seated on the right.

Yuba Robert (right, standing) and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator, is seated on the right. (Uganda)

MEDICINE

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

IMPROVED HOUSING

Before…

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

During…

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda and they are slowly building the house that will also be a storefront. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda. They are slowly building the house that will also have a storefront for their pottery. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

After!

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani started a business in photography and also selling vegetables. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in his house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani’s family has both a photography and a retail vegetable business. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in their house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

More stories about improved housing:

BETTER DIET

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

FURNITURE

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other families are able to buy beds and other simple, yet profound, dignities.

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other business groups have been able to buy beds and couches – simple, yet profound, dignities.

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