I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

I won’t give in: How savings cooperatives help

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in ’til I reach the end and then I’ll start again. No I won’t leave, I want to try everything, I want to try even though I could fail.” “Try Everything” by Shakira

“I won’t give up, no I won’t give in,” proclaims Shakira in my current favorite you-can-do-it song, “Try Everything.” When we fall down, it usually helps when someone is there to pull us up again. In Malawi, COMSIP cooperatives are strong community organizations whose members pull each other up to the next level and to a better, more stable future.

COMSIP stands for Community Savings and Investment Promotion. It is a national project in Malawi that is more than a bank. From what I witnessed at a gathering of the Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, they were like a support group as well as a catalyst for economic growth – giving each other advice and encouragement in their endeavors.

“Our members of the Cooperative are entrepreneurs,” said Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP, and a member of the national COMSIP Union Board. “The mobilized Savings form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of businesses, such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, baking, pre-school and carpentry among others.”

After 3-4 months of saving money from her business, Beauty was able to use the savings as collateral for a larger, low-interest loan from the cooperative. Cooperative members can apply for loans in proportion to their savings shares. Beauty used the loan to buy high-quality feed and medication for her chickens. She knows that the medications are crucial for protecting her investment in the chickens. 

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Beauty with her daughter.

For Grace Banda, a widow, the COMSIP cooperative was just the kind of encouragement she needed to try again. Before joining COMSIP she had taken a loan from one of the traditional micro-finance lenders in Mzimba, the nearest city and 44km away. When an unexpected event caused her to business to flounder, she was unable to pay back the high-interest debt and had to forfeit her collateral.

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Grace in her shop in the Manyamula market.

COMSIP loans are not only low-interest, they also have repayment schedules that are adaptable to the business cycle – with longer terms for farming and cattle rearing. The local COMSIP leaders can work with the members to give them the highest chance of success. Grace’s Kikumala Shop is still going strong, and is a good source of fresh produce in Manyamula.

These are profound ways that COMSIP helps people start again. And the result is that lives are changed. Ninety-five percent of the 150+ cooperative members have improved their housing since joining. Many more can pay medical bills when illnesses arise. Grace Banda can now pay for school for her three children. “Life is continuing to become simple,” she told me with joy and relief in her voice.

This sentiment is echoed in a wonderful article from the World Bank about the successes of COMSIP groups. Gilaselia Denesi, who became responsible for her four grandchildren when her daughter and son-in-law died, shares how joining a COMSIP cooperative in central Malawi has led to positive change in her life. ““Look at me now!” she says. “God be praised, today my grandchildren, are in school, they are not hungry and even I have some time to have tea in my home. Can you imagine that? I am wearing a new dress today and I have some time for tea!””

For more about COMSIP:

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

After Finly joined the COMSIP cooperative and began saving, he used a small loan to buy improved Red Creole onion seeds for his farm.

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

SIA’s pay-it-forward model in the news

In January 2013, Lackson Lungu bought two piglets with a Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grant. We gave the $150 as a grant, without the high interest rates and short repayment schedule that so often come with microfinance loans.

However, there was a string attached. We asked Lackson to pay-it-forward to help someone else in need, once his business was successful. Lackson was happy to comply and in May 2014 he gave one of the piglets from his successful piggery to Tiwonenji, one of the widows in his village of Manyamula, Malawi. (Read more of his story here.)

This pay-it-forward aspect of the Small Business Fund means that each grant sets off a ripple of change. Sharing the Gift can take the form of sharing piglets, teaching other women to bake and sell donuts in the market, teaching sustainable agriculture skills, and sharing seeds or food with more vulnerable members of the community.

Yesterday, Humanosphere, a news agency that focuses on stories of the fight against poverty, gave a shout-out to Spirit in Action for our pay-it-forward model. In her article, “Pay-it-forward model shows potential for microfinance in developing nations,” Lisa Nikolau notes that we are part of a movement that is looking at new ways to help people thrive, without getting them trapped in cycles of debt.

Nikolau quotes Muhammad Yunus, the man who helped develop and popularize micro-credit around the world, who said“Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.” And we whole-heartedly agree!

I encourage you to read the full Humanosphere article here.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

The ripple of change continues with Tionenji paying-it-forward to Msumba.

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

Grant Update: Community Building in Malawi

The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative – a truly locally-led savings and loans organization – has long been a fixture in this rural village in Malawi.The low-interest loans and safe savings have allowed its 180 members to invest in their future and prosper. Now they are building a meeting room (they will not have to pay rent anymore!) and an attached training center to teach people to run similar cooperatives in other villages.

“Apart from the social and economic impacts, the infrastructural image of buildings being erected at the Cooperative premises is the talk of the community,” reports Canaan Gondwe, long-time SIA partner and Manyamula COMSIP Coordinator. “This construction of the Training centre has completely changed the appearance and growth of Manyamula community.”

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

Electrician installing power to the office block. Wired electricity is new in Manyamula Village.

And it’s not just the talk of the village! Word is spreading: “The District Assembly of Mzimba which comprises of Government departmental leaders, Members of Parliament and Councilors paid a visit to the cooperative in their routine inspection of development projects. They were greatly amazed at the project in progress. We highlighted of our contributions and also of SIA as our partners.”

COMSIP Cooperative members have contributed all the bricks, lime and sand for the construction, in addition to two grants from the SIA Community Grants Fund.

One of their biggest challenges is that the Malawian currency keeps being devalued, increasing the prices of imported items like cement. The cooperative is planning to set aside savings each quarter to pay for future repairs, “to sustain our beautiful buildings.”

One of the shops in Mzimba - the larger town nearby - where they bought cement for the flooring.

One of the shops in Mzimba – the larger town nearby – where they bought cement for the flooring.

Canaan concludes: “The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in true partnership with Spirit in Action, is in the business of changing lives and communities. Manyamula community is indeed grateful to God for this abundant Grace.” We are honored to be in partnership with such a dynamic and impactful community organization!

See past construction updates here and read more about construction and electrification here.

A candid moment before the "snap" (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

A candid moment before the “snap” (picture) during our visit to the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in July 2014.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

Construction on the meeting hall walls.

 

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Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

Top 5 SIA Moments of 2015

This has been a good year for Spirit in Action and our partners! It is so exciting to look back and see all that we have accomplished, and all that our amazing partners have done to bring more prosperity to families in their communities.

  • fb logo_siaNew logo: The year started off with the unveiling of our new logo! We finally have a logo that really represents us to the world. The ripples in the logo continue to inspire and remind me of our focus to spark change that will naturally multiply and expand within communities. (Read the explanation of our logo.)
  • New Small Business Fund Coordinator: This summer we added a new local coordinator to the Small Business Fund team! Hastings Phiri has already begun mentoring families in rural Malawi to start and run new businesses. Hastings is a dedicated community organizer and passionate about reducing poverty and helping families get ahead. He lives in the same region as SBF Coordinator Canaan Gondwe and they two of them meet to share challenges and develop their mentoring and training skills. (Read more about Hastings.)
Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

Girls from Meru and Samburu together; sharing their experience of the alternative rite of passage.

  • Expanding Anti-FGM movement: SIA has supported girls’ empowerment workshops with sexual education and alternatives to the traditional female genital mutilation rite of passage. Just a few weeks ago some of the girls from the Meru workshops were able to attend the Alternative Rite of Passage in Samburu, two hours away. Margaret of CIFORD in Meru reported, “Some girls were excited as they could never have dreamt of going to the Samburu.” Also, CIFORD is gaining national recognition from Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper for their FGM workshops! Read the full article here!
  • Sewing Training Centre: I’m really excited about this grant project which has been able to train 79 women and 2 men and help them get employed in sewing operator jobs in Nairobi. Women who know how to use the industrial machines are paid higher wages and the SIA training center provides them access to these machines and trains them in the necessary skills. The center has been able to receive contracts for sewing projects and they are well on their way to becoming a self-sustaining operation. (Read more about the training centre.)
  • Construction Project: The new Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative conference hall, restaurant, and guest rooms are under construction! I loved visiting Manyamula and seeing the amazing transformation that has happened in the village since the formation of the savings and loans cooperative 6 years ago. This construction project represents a new level of development and I look forward to seeing how it will benefit the community and cooperative members in the years to come. (Read more about the COMSIP Cooperative.)

Bonus: I loved sharing this video made by SIA volunteer and supporter, Carmen Hernandez, about what makes me grateful about SIA.

What story about SIA stuck out to you in 2015?

From skills training to employment

From skills training to employment

One of the exciting new groups that SIA is partnering with this year is Progressive Volunteers, a Kenyan grassroots organization that coordinates local volunteers to improve the poorest communities in Nairobi. We supported them with a grant to purchase several sewing machines and to rent a training space for dressmaking, tailoring, and sewing machine handling classes.

Onyango, the project coordinator, reports on their great success so far in helping people get trained and employed:

“The training center project runs classes for single mothers and girls, to give them relevant tailoring skills to enable them get skilled employment from Ruaraka industries. The first phase of the project saw 43 women trained on embroidery and sewing skills. The second phase began in mid-August and will run till 19th December with 39 trainees.

“To date, 26 of the trained women and girls have managed to secure employment with Rafiki Clothing Industry as machine operators. Two of the trainees were retained in the training centre to help with the management of the centre. The rest of the trainees have been absorbed in private businesses in Kariobangi North and Mathare North markets. This is our success so far this year.” Congratulations to these women and the trainers!

In 2016, Progressive Volunteers hopes to help five women secure funding – grants or low-interest loans – to purchase sewing machines and start their own small tailoring businesses.

New Businesses in Malawi

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

New entrepreneurs ready to start their small businesses in Malawi, with the help of a SIA grant.

A new round of Small Business Fund (SBF) groups in northern Malawi have submitted their business plans and received their initial $100 grant! The first three listed are being mentored by our newest SBF local Coordinator in Malawi, Hastings Phiri. We welcome and wish the best to these new businesses:

  • Tyezee Bakery
  • Mtenthe Winne Tea Shop
  • Gregory Grocery Shop
  • Monily Welding Shop
  • Tawona Grocery
  • Malonje Crop Sales
  • Wangani Cattle Selling
  • Towera Grocery
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