4 Things Making Me Happy (including Black Panther)

4 Things Making Me Happy (including Black Panther)

A round-up of some exciting news from around the Spirit in Action network:

1. SIA partner recognized for anti-FGM work

Samuel Siriria Leadismo, co-founder of Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) and one of SIA’s grant partners in the fight against female circumcision, has been honored for his work. The Kenyan Anti-FGM Board presented Samuel with the very first “End FGM Male Champion of the Year Award.” Samuel and PCF have trained more than 5,000 school children to respond and say “NO to FGM.”

Samuel accepts the award for male allies in the right against FMG.

2. Smart Risks Book in Swaziland!

Smart Risks, the book that I co-edited and which features Spirit in Action, is now available at the University of Swaziland Library! Smart Risks author Clement Dlamini is from Swaziland and held a book launch at the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre last week. He wrote about his experience with community resiliency and how international partnerships can build on communities’ and people’s strengths. I love that the book is moving all around the world!

3. Energy-Efficient Stoves in Kenya

At a recent on-day seminar in Maua, Kenya, representatives from CIFORD Kenya talked to farmers about how to best care for their produce after harvest. CIFORD Kenya (a SIA partner) is a holistic community organization, dealing with issues of female empowerment, sustainable agriculture, and peer support. As part of the seminar, energy-efficient stoves (called jikos) were distributed to some families to reduce the need to cut down trees for firewood.

When I visited CIFORD last June, Joseph and Penina Ayemo showed me the jiko in their cooking hut. Penina told us, “This saves a lot of wood. We can cope now with just a few poles. The wood that used to last for one night now lasts for one week.”

Energy-efficient stoves for distribution at the CIFORD workshop. Photo from CIFORD Kenya.

4. African Fashion in Black Panther

Have you seen the new movie, Black Panther yet? It is a comic book story set in an imaginary African country called Wakanda. The cool part is that the costumes actually reflect African tribes and cultures. Also, several of the actors are (rightfully) from the African continent, including from Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Kenya! Check out some of the amazing costumes and their inspirational sources here.

Malawi dance at COMSIP grand opening

At the opening ceremonies of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Training Centre, a group of men danced a healing dance and dance of welcome. (May 2017, Malawi)

Bonus! Recommended Reading: A study finds positive impact from a program that provides poor households in Uganda with a combination of cash transfers, mentorship, business training, and support for the formation of savings groups over a one-year period. Read the report here.

 

What We Learned: SIA Team Members Visit Kenya & Malawi

What We Learned: SIA Team Members Visit Kenya & Malawi

*Today’s post is a reflection from SIA Team Members and Advisory Board Members, Michael Hegeman and Dana Belmonte, who traveled with me to Kenya and Malawi last year. I appreciate their insights on the SIA program and the success of the trip.

Africa Trip 2017: Team Member Report
By Michael Hegeman and Dana Belmonte

It is with an overflowing sense of gratitude that we begin this report. Over the last eight to ten years, we have heard about and supported the mission of Spirit in Action (SIA) and have enjoyed spreading the news about SIA’s work to others in our various friend circles. Our appreciation and love for the relationship building, business training, mindset preparation, and grant giving has only grown and deepened.

Tanya Cothran, Dana Belmonte (left) and Mike Hegeman (right) with two local teachers who rent a room at the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative training center. These two women teach tailoring skills at the technical school. They made the shirts that Dana and Mike are wearing, having produced them in 24 hours from the COMPSIP cloth and from the pattern of shirts given them by Dana and Mike.

Upon our return home, it seemed many wanted us to compare and contrast the countries we visited with our own. We found ourselves searching for words simply because there is no comparison. Suffice it to say, life is very different in Malawi and Kenya and immediately upon arrival in Malawi we were reminded that one must take the new culture and tradition being experienced on its own terms. The time spent simply soaking in the atmosphere, listening, and quietly figuring out the rhyme, reason, and rhythm of our surroundings was very important and an education in itself.

Concepts around time are fluid. “Hakuna matata,” roughly translating to “no worries,” is a mentality that rules the day. Seldom did we have to be concerned about plans not working out, but flexibility around timing and expectations of arrival/departure/meeting is required. That being said, our hosts were very aware that we come from a more clock-oriented society and they strove to keep us on schedule. “Going with the flow” was key to any success we had.

Mottos on the dashboard.

Our trip included the following valuable connections:

Training new Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators and reviewing the impact and efficiency of SIA’s program. The Coordinators conference was an education for us. Sitting with the coordinators and hearing about the day-to-day issues they face as they employ SIA’s business training model as well as review the SIA Coordinator’s Manual was an important look at the “nuts and bolts” of SIA.

The SIA SBF Coordinators are a strong part of our worldwide network! Pictured left to right, local SBF Coordinators with Tanya:: Dana Belmonte, Hastings Phiri, Thomas Nkhonde, Naomi Ayot, Dorcas Okoti, Canaan Gondwe, Tanya Cothran, Braswell Nkhonjera, Mike Hegeman, Dennis Kiprop, Boyd Cothran.

Meeting with and encouraging Small Business Fund entrepreneurs in Kenya and Malawi. It was inspiring to see the on-the-ground reality of how SIA is reducing poverty. Program grantees were eager to show us their successful shops and other business models, as well as tell us about these life-changing benefits: Ability to pay school fees, access to medicine, improved housing, better diet, and essential home furnishings.

Witnessing the impact of SIA Community Grants and developing closer working relationships with grassroots partners. Meeting partners face-to-face strengthened our relationship and facilitated better understanding in future communications. Listening to beneficiaries helped us confirm that the program is working.

In the afternoon of June 11, 2017 the SIA team met with the gathered women and a few men of CIFORD at the training center. The women shared their stories of empowerment, business success and how they encourage others to join in the education and empowerment of young women.

Ensuring that funds are being spent as proposed and reviewing potential future projects. In-person visits are one way to do due diligence and verify that grants are reaching those they are intended to help. Visiting potential partners allowed us to evaluate and discern how we may be able to work with them in the future. The amount of people benefiting from SIA grants is amazing. We saw so many examples of sustainable business and through which lives have been changed.

A few months out from the trip, we find ourselves coming back to some key points:

SIA’s model is working! It is a model that is balanced, positive, and welcoming to everyone. SIA’s work is based on the belief that a small grant and sincere encouragement can enable people to tap into their own potential. This is the most important element leading to better food and nutrition, education, housing, etc. The grantees, and not the SIA board and team members, are the true experts and we learn from them.

SIA approaches business training from an abundance mindset and NOT a scarcity mindset. A business serves the community. “When others are doing well, I’m doing well” is an encouraging way to look at business.

Failure is OK. While we saw a lot of success stories, there were some accounts of failure or things that did not work or did not go as planned. It is important to learn from these experiences and be open to the possibility that mindset preparation may need to be revisited rather than simply abandoning the cause.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael G. Hegeman
Dana A. Belmonte

Mike reading with one of the students at Maruge School in Kenya. Children here are reading quite well, decoding the words easily. Reading comprehension was sometimes affected by the subject matter. One boy was reading a book about weather conditions that included snow, sleet and fog. He could pronounce these words, but did not know what these were.

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

Partner Spotlight: Matungu Community Development Charity in Kenya

A group photo of the members of the Matungu Community Development Charity in Kakamega County, Kenya. Vincent Atitwa sits on Tanya’s right. (June, 2017)

Every six months we check in with our grassroots grant partners to ask how their programs are going and how they are impacting their members. We like to hear about their challenges as well as their successes, and about how they are reinvesting to make their programs sustainable outside of SIA’s funding. Today, I am sharing this wonderful report from the Matungu Community Development Charity in Mumias, Kenya. They received a Community Grant from Spirit in Action in May and I visited them in June and got to see them collect their weekly dues for the table banking cooperative.

The following report is from group leader, Vincent Atitwa:

Vincent Atitwa, the gracious leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity

The approved purpose of the grant: We will start a table banking and a collective poultry project. Our project is empowering small-scale farmers by helping them to improve farming practices and gain access to credit and financing.

Estimate the number of people who have benefited from this project: 20 members benefited directly and 80 members benefited indirectly as family members and friends.

Our biggest success has been:

  • We were able to construct poultry house/ structure that can a accommodate 300 birds
  • Purchased 250 poultry birds for the project. We also bought chicken feed, feeding and water troughs and vaccines
  • Disbursed 15 small loans to 15 group members, each getting 12,500 Kenyan Shillings ($121)

Chicks collectively reared by the members of the cooperative raise funds for low-interest micro-loans.

Our biggest problem has been: We have not yet been able to register our intended savings and loaning cooperative. The registrar of societies suggested we register either a company or multi-purpose cooperative since we are also running the poultry business.

Has profit been used to reinvest back into the project? Yes, by purchasing more 30 birds that were given to 5 more new group members.

How have you been able to participate in Sharing the Gift? We were able to purchase and  pass a gift of 10 birds to 2 elderly women who are caring for orphans.

Please explain how this project has affected you and others involved. Have you seen changes in your community? This project has impacted positively on our group members’ lives. Before, some lacked money to start their own small businesses and now at least 15 members are comfortably running and operating their small business ranging from: farming of maize, growing and selling of local vegetable, horticulture, selling of cereals, and tailoring.

Profits made from these businesses are being used to buy books, uniforms and even other basic needs for the beneficiaries’ children. For example, Judith Were, a single mother who operates a tailoring shop, used the loan funds to expand her tailoring business through purchasing more garments and material stock. Judith reports, “This coming festive season around Christmas, I am prepared to do more work. I hope to realize good profits now that I have enough material in stock.”

Judith Were in her tailoring shop. She used her loan to buy more material to make dresses for the holiday season!

What have you learned from this process of project implementation? I have learned that sometimes when people (especially our group members), are supported with unconditional small loans they tend to work hard and make good profits. This is much less stressful compared to working and using loans borrowed from cooperate banks/institutions with strings attached on it. With SIA-supported unconditional small loans, members become custodian of their own funds.

Tanya displays a dress made by Judith Were. Judith tells her story, “I run a boutique. I have a shop, and I am a tailor. I make colorful dresses and skirts.”

Helping their children to have a better life

Helping their children to have a better life

All around the world, parents have the common hope that their children will have better lives than their own. This was the hope of Chimwemwe Beza and Timothy Mtambo in Manyamula, Malawi.

Chimwemwe left high school after her second year and never was able to return. She didn’t have the support of family to continue her education, especially since they were struggling to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and a home. Still, Chimwemwe and Timothy held onto the hopethat their children – Mphatso (15), Jestina (13), and Constance (10) – might be able to attend high school.

In 2014, when the family was invited to join the Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SBF) program, the dream of sending their children to school felt far-off. They used their $100 initial grant to open a small retail shop in the Manyamula marketplace. They also bought a piglet, since pigs are a good way to invest savings in rural Malawi. Timothy and Chimwemwe worked long hours to save some money for their children’s education.

Chimwemwe in her first retail shop in 2014, after receiving the $100 Small Business Fund grant.
Malawi

A year later, the family changed their business from a retail grocery shop to a second-hand clothes shop. This is a good business because they are able to buy the second-hand clothes for a good price and there is lower competition in the marketplace.

The Best School in the County

The business has been so successful that for the last two years, Mphatso and Jestina have been able to attend one of the best elementary boarding schools in the county! The test results are now in and the parents are so proud that both children were selected to attend one of the top high schools next year.

Chimwemwe is so proud to be able to afford a top quality education for her children!

When Small Business Fund local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe talked to Chimwemwe, he reported: “She was all joy to tell me that the Small Business Fund has impacted her children tremendously. She says, ‘had it been not for SBF, her children could not have attended boarding school and would not have been able to make it to high school.”

The business continues to this day – 4 years after the initial grant! – and the family is working hard to continue to support the children in having a brighter future! Instead of Spirit in Action paying for school fees directly, we are helping families earn enough so that they can pay for the school fees themselves.

Chimwemwe in her roadside clothing shop

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

This is reposted from the blog Centre for Social Innovation’s blog. I wrote it for my coworking community in Toronto.

Halfway around the world, stepping into the Blantyre Entrepreneurs Hub was reassuringly familiar. Even though the dusty streets and tin-roofed houses of Malawi, a tiny country in southern Africa, are very different from the condo towers and streetcars of Toronto, spaces of social innovation around the world seem to share more similarities than differences.

Motivational quotes from famous innovators decorated the lime green walls. Bright orange chairs surrounded the black glossy work tables. The office was quiet on the cool evening in May when I visited. Most of the entrepreneurs – the photographers, caterers, and website developers – had already gone home to their families or guest houses for the evening. Dineo Mkwezalamba, Program Manager for Entrepreneurs Motivation Network (EMNET), greeted me with a warm smile. She was excited to show me around the cooperative’s facilities.

Tanya with Dineo (pictured left) the HUB director, and one of the top entrepreneurs (pictured right).

The Hub, as it’s known, is a coworking space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, which is the financial and business capital of Malawi, and a city of one million people. The space provides access to high-speed internet, meeting rooms, electricity, and security. These are big perks for the entrepreneurs, most of whom do not have access to the electrical grid at home. The collective buying power of the Hub makes the amenities affordable. In addition to the monthly memberships, they’ve begun to offering day-pass for about CAD$1.75. The hope is that once entrepreneurs visit the Hub for a day, they’ll become sustaining new members.

On the tour, Dineo pointed out the ocpen-seating desks for Silver Members (like CSI’s HotDesk space), the café (with member discounts!), and the closed offices that can accommodate up to four people in a single business. One of the offices stood empty and Dineo assured me that this was because the interior design company had recently “graduated” up to an office building of their own.

The vibrant Hub space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, Malawi.

Training Youth to Be Entrepreneurs

In addition to providing space for entrepreneurs, EMNET also hosts a local Pitch Night (read an article from the BBC about their pitch night) and runs a youth entrepreneurs training program. I eagerly listened and took notes as she told me about how they frame the concept of entrepreneurship for the youth. I wanted to be able to remember the way she described their mentorship program, connecting local business leaders and high school youth, and the way she connects the concept of entrepreneurship with ideas that the youth already understand.

“All youth know vendors,” Dineo explained to me, “because many of their parents and family members are vendors.” According to the latest labor statistics, 89% of people who are working in Malawi are in the informal employment. Informal employment covers farming and, especially for women, buying and reselling food and household items.

When Dineo talks to youth about entrepreneurship, she wants them to think beyond selling eggs. “Youth know that vending is the first step to being an entrepreneur. Our goal is to help them get to business success, and to make sure entrepreneurship doesn’t seem like a scary thing.”

Dineo and her team use the motto, “train to sustain,” when teaching the youth about adapting a mindset of starting a sustainable and scalable business. I am incorporating this process of helping people imagine themselves as entrepreneurs into my work with Spirit in Action International.

“I have not failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Animating Community

Similar to my experience at CSI, perhaps the most important perk of the Entrepreneur’s Hub is the access to community and to those serendipitous moments of collaboration. I told Dineo about one of my favorite parts of CSI – Salad Club. Some of the best conversations and exchanges of ideas at CSI have been over a plate of salad. When I mentioned this, Dineo smiled with a twinkle of excitement in her eye. She’d been working on creating more buzz around the Hub office. In July, I got a text message from her, “Keep an eye on our Facebook page today! Your visit sparked some new activities!” That day, the Hub kicked off their #SocialFridays, showing a movie in the lounge space. Generating ideas for animation from their community, they’ve also established: Leadership Mondays, Startup Tuesdays, Business Wednesday, and She Leads Malawi Thursday.

It’s so easy to focus on the differences between places like Blantyre and Toronto. In my experience, Malawians are just as likely as Canadians to think that there’s little we could have in common. Representations of North America arrive in Malawi through the distorted examples of volunteer programs, television shows, and music videos. These leads to a belief that Americans (and Canadians lumped in with them) are all rich people who don’t have any worries or challenges.

Similarly, representations of Malawi (lumped in with all of Africa) mostly arrive in Canada through calls for charity and news about poverty. There are not many opportunities for each of us to see the wealth of experiences and cultural diversity in each country or to experiences each other as individuals.

My conversation and exchange of ideas with Dineo felt different. It gave us a chance to connect as individuals and peers. I left feeling like we were on the same team. Around the globe, there’s always a need for spaces like CSI and the Hub. Places to build community, to bring people together, and to share costs so that entrepreneurs can get our ideas and products out in the world.

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