The booming renewable energy market in Uganda

The booming renewable energy market in Uganda

A briquette fuel making initiative, organized by the Ugandan grassroots organization LUWODEA, is creating hundreds of jobs in their community. They used a SIA grant to buy a briquette production machine, which takes plant waste and compresses it to form a highly efficient fuel source. LUWODEA also formed a women’s cooperative to work together and share profits! (Read more about the cooperative here.)

A trainer with LUWODEA meets with the women from the briquette cooperative.

So far the production is a great success! Mrs. Sharon, one of the group leaders, shared, “We are happy to report that the beneficiaries and other groups are now making their own briquettes to be sold at local markets and to hotels, restaurants, schools, and bakeries around Kamuli Township. In last few days of Christmas preparation, we were able to produce 1,300 briquettes. This is equivalent to 238 pounds of fuel.”

The briquettes can be made out of a variety of locally available waste materials like coffee husks, banana peals and charcoal-dust. Reusing these materials as fuel saves trees from being cut down. Additionally, the briquettes have a high heat content and burn for longer times, with less smoke, compared to wood fuel.

Growing Interest and Expanding Businesses

Looking around the village, LUWODEA is impressed with how many people have already started using and selling briquette fuel. “Currently, the local demand is not able to be met by the LUWODEA women, so we have been promoting and encouraging many other people in the surrounding communities to engage in briquette production as a potential business to help fight extreme poverty in homes.”

Mrs. Sharon reports that a Mr. Nelson, “had abandoned his firewood selling business after three weeks of successive losses. He had many obstacles in conducting his firewood business since most of his clients are resorting to buying briquettes from women working with LUWODEA.” Firewood can’t compare with the more affordable and more efficient briquettes!

The LUWODEA briquette radio show also inspired Moses to start his own business. This year, Moses hopes to be able to employ 10 youth to help with production. Moses writes, “Thank you Spirit in Action for not providing us with fish, but teaching us how to catch fish. I now feel self-empowered and am using realizing fully my potential to fight poverty in my home.”

Sparking hope this Christmas!

Sparking hope this Christmas!

Pictured above are members of the Namayiana Women Group. The group is based in Archer’s Post, Samburu County, Kenya, and has a membership of 25 women. The women make beaded jewelry and accessories, wooden artifacts, and souvenirs for tourists on safari. The Self-Help Group received a grant from Spirit in Action to build a roadside shop. Through the shop they will generate income for their families and provide assistance for more girls to attend school.

The store will be located close to the entrance of the famed Samburu National Reserve. The women are prepared to take control of their financial situation in a collective effort to improve the lives of their families and community at large. This new business venture comes from their realization that self-employment creates self-empowerment. The decision to start their own business was sparked by their community’s participation at Pastoralist Child Foundation workshops and learning about the importance of formal education. The construction will start next week.

Merry Christmas!

We are honored to spark hope and support the self-empowerment of these women! This Christmas, let us celebrate the good that can happen when groups of committed individuals come together to work for change.

Merry Christmas from Spirit in Action and our international partners!

Five years in the making…

Five years in the making…

Reposted from my co-editor, Jennifer Lentfer’s How Matters blog. “Co-editor?” you ask. Read on…

This is how it began…

From: JENNIFER LENTFER
Date: Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 5:29 PM
Subject: invitation to join “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative
To: Tanya Cothran

Dear Tanya,

As people making small grants internationally, you are part of a growing number of people that specialize in offering direct funding to local initiatives and community leaders.

You have vital expertise to share with the aid and philanthropic sectors as many are wondering  what more can be done to enable grassroots movements to emerge and gain strength.

Therefore I am inviting you to share your experience via the “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative, which aims to gather varied grantmakers’ approaches and experiences as a collective source of knowledge to share widely via an online or printed publication. In the collaborative, you and/or your staff will be engaged in a reflective learning process with my support and that of participants from other organizations…

***

5 years, 22 contributors 

And five years, 22 contributors (and many other supporters and friends along the way), here is where we ended up…

smart risks book cover

Coming April 2017

from Practical Action Publishing!

In a rapidly changing world and after decades of failed international aid, it’s high time to build the dialogue about how international actors can build their own skills and institutional processes to accompany and support community-level leadership and systems, rather than overpower or co-opt them.

Luckily there is a growing number of small NGOs and foundations that specialize in offering direct, responsive funding to grassroots leaders and small, often “informal” initiatives, groups, and movements. And over twenty of them have come together to write this book!

Compared to the old-school, donor-controlled, large-scale, project-based international aid funding, the authors use the concept of “smart risks” to build upon existing human and social capital to unleash people power and social innovation. International grassroots grantmakers are adept at keeping their minds (and perhaps more importantly their hearts) open to the possibility of results when the common good is tapped in unimagined and unanticipated ways.

People in poor countries or communities who want to make change should no longer tolerate an charity-modeled system that makes them struggle and wait endlessly for funding to trickle down to them, marred by burdensome requirements and restrictions from donors. Pushing the sector forward needs smart risk-taking, and the authors’ experience is an untapped resource for the international aid and philanthropic sectors as a whole.

Smart Risks contributors came together because they each have a professional – and perhaps more importantly a personal – resolve to build solidarity with people not as passive recipients of aid, but as whole people and active leaders of their own lives. We know that radical shifts in thinking, attitude, and practice are required and we hope that this book can contribute to shifting the power and charting new paths ahead!

Tanya’s note: It has been my honor to contribute to this process and co-edit these inspiring essays. I also wrote three essays about Spirit in Action that are included in the book! I’ll keep you update on our progress in the next few months!

Building friendships as they work

Building friendships as they work

With a grant from Spirit in Action, LUWODEA, a grassroots organization in Kamuli, Uganda, purchased high-tech equipment for making biomass fuel briquettes. Earlier this month 160 rural women attended learned to make this cheap, reliable cooking fuel. Instead of having to collect wood (resulting in deforestation), they now are making their own fuel by compacting green waste.

“We are so happy to report that women enjoyed the training and they have started off very well producing briquettes for home use. They are also selling off the surplus briquettes for income earning,” reports Sharon Mudondo, LUWODEA’s coordinator.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Agatha Mubula cooks dinner using the smokeless briquettes.

Don’t touch that dial!

As I reviewed Sharon’s report, I was fascinated to learn that LUWODEA is promoting their new product on the radio!

“We held a 15-minute radio talk show at local radio Ssebo, in Kamuli town. We were able to respond to questions from community members about briquette fuel as a business and a environmental conservation initiative. This gave us a chance to create massive awareness about the project and also inform the general public about prices and where they can get the briquettes made by our beneficiaries.”

They talk about how the briquettes burn faster, last longer, and are more efficient compared with traditional wood charcoal fuel. The briquettes are also cheaper!

“Our area being remote, the most common means of communication to masses is radio,” explains Sharon. “About 90% of rural families own small radios, so it is easy to listen to news and other programs like the briquette talk show. We have found the program very effective in terms of creating awareness. It also is helping us to reach more villages than we would if we had to do house-to-house outreach.”

"Women

Women making briquettes in the market place. Biomass materials are pressed to create a dense pellet.

“We smile as we share challenges”

The LUWODEA team report that the women who are diligent about making and selling the briquettes can earn $3-8 per day! This income benefit the family in tangible ways. They can eat more meals per day, and pay for school fees. We learn from the testimony of Nora Karule, that the project also has intangible benefits:

“This briquette program comes with health advantages. These briquettes are smokeless and my children have not been sick in the past one and half months. This also means I can save more money because before I would spend such money that I earned on their treatment. I also find it interesting working with my fellow group mates at the briquette center. We are able to talk freely about issues in our families and even make jokes. We smile as we share challenges and other life experiences we face as women.”

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

Factory jobs in Nairobi: It’s complicated….

The mission of the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre in Nairobi is to train women and men to use the industrial sewing machines to enable them to get jobs. And, as I reported in June, 124 of the 181 trainees have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases the trainees are only able to get the skilled machine operator jobs because of the training centre.

Studying factory jobs

I consider this employment a great success! And so I was interested to read this study that looked at the effect of low-wage manufacturing jobs on workers in Ethiopia. Now, this is in Ethiopia, not Kenya, and I do not know if the workers are taking the same sort of skilled jobs that the Mathare trainees are able to secure.

What did the study find? “It turned out that for most people, working in a factory didn’t significantly improve their income relative to the people in the control group. But getting cash to help start your own business did.”

The researchers, Chris Blattman and Stephan Dercon, summed it up like this:

  • Most people who applied for these factory jobs didn’t like them or intend to stay, rather the jobs were low paid and unpleasant and used as a safety net of sorts, while people looked for other entrepreneurial activities or less difficult wage work
  • But the health risks of industrial work were high and there’s evidence that serious health problems doubled if you took the factory job
  • When you gave them $300 cash [instead of the factory job], they started a small business and earnings went up by a third.
Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

Students in the Samro Poly tailoring classroom in Eldoret, Kenya. Many are wearing clothes that they have made in the class.

What does this mean for SIA?

I wasn’t sure what this all meant for SIA partners. So I emailed Jeremiah Mzee, who is director of the training centre project. He wrote:

“I completely agree with the writer of this article.

“It is true that when a factory establishes in Kenya, it creates new jobs for both the skilled and unskilled laborers. A majority get low wages and there is nothing they can do. Most of them try to work in these factories for low pay with a hope of getting something better. In Ruaraka these factory jobs are considered to be for women simply because they pay low wages, though to the women they believe these factories provide valuable employment opportunities for them. I AGREE.

“Most people working in these factories get wages enough only to meet basic needs and it is true that entrepreneurial women running small businesses in Ruaraka have better income and financial independency.”

It is always useful to get this kind of feedback. It is the great benefit of our long-term partnership with grassroots leaders who know the reality of the situation on the ground. Luckily, Jeremiah Mzee is one of our newest Small Business Fund coordinators. He is already working with these women to help them become entrepreneurs. Another five business groups received their $150 grants last month. And the Mathare Dressmaking and Tailoring Training Centre will continue to train people to be able to apply for the higher paying jobs at the factories, until they can find something better.

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