Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Planning a ribbon cutting ceremony in Malawi

Three years ago, August 2014, I helped the Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Cooperative (COMSIP) in Malawi break ground for their new training centre and office building. This summer – in just seven weeks, to be exact – I’ll be there to commemorate the official opening of the building. And I’ll be staying a few nights in their guest rooms!

“We are planning that as you come to the community, there will be an official opening of the building facility,” shares Canaan Gondwe, leader of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative. “You and the other SIA team members will lead the procession and be the Guest of Honour. Traditional leaders, COMSIP Union staff, as well as Government representatives, and all cooperative members will be there to celebrate.”

Tanya at the site of the future Manyamula COMSIP Training Centre, guest house, and office building! (Malawi, 2014)

This ribbon cutting ceremony will kick-off my three-week trip to visit SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi. The days will be filled with visiting Small Business Fund group shops, and homes that have been renovated as a result of business profits. I will be greeting, celebrating successes, and listening to their thoughts on how we can improve our work to have a greater impact.

Trip highlights:

Visit SIA projects in Malawi (3 days)

    1. Manyamula Savings and Loans Group Cooperative
    2. Small Business Fund groups
    3. Youth entrepreneurs in Blantyre

Conference for SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators (4 days)

  1. Program evaluation and peer-to-peer learning
  2. Training for new and potential coordinators

SBF Coordinators canaan Gondwe (Malawi) and Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) at our conference in Uganda in 2014.

Visit SIA projects in Kenya (7 days)

    1. Samuel and Rhoda Teimuge’s Samro School
    2. Small Business Fund groups in Nairobi and Eldoret
    3. CIFORD Kenya (girl’s empowerment)
    4. Megabridge Foundation (piggery)
    5. Dressmaking and beadworking training in informal settlements around Nairobi

Training to Expand 

Over the last two years we have been expanding our SIA Small Business Fund program. We have added new local coordinators in Malawi, Uganda, and two more in Kenya. Families are able to best use these $150 business grants when they are also mentored by our wonderful local coordinators. This means that we are only able to expand the Small Business Fund program as fast as we can find dedicated, reliable coordinators. During my last trip to Africa I realized the need for a more robust training program for recent and incoming coordinators. This time, we will take two days to train new coordinators so that we can ensure our coordinators are ready and prepared to lead and mentor the new business groups.

Tanya and Mike Hegeman leading a song.

Traveling with me will be my wonderful husband, Boyd, and also two very dear friends, Dana Belmonte and Mike Hegeman. Boyd, Dana, and Mike are all SIA Advisory Board members and passionate about our work. Traveling with a group will give me more space for true listening and connection, while leaving the documentation and logistics to our capable team.

If you would like to contribute to the travel fund for the Small Business Fund Coordinators to attend our conference in Malawi, please click here!

 

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!

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

1. Five new small businesses sponsored in Malawi!

Last week, five new entrepreneurs attended a day-long workshop with Small Business Fund local coordinator Canaan Gondwe to plan their new business ventures. Over the course of the day they formed Business Plans and described the roles each family member would play in the business. Help me in welcoming:

New business leaders in Manyamula Village, Malawi, received SIA grants this month!

2. Run-raiser

We’re going to write the name of Spirit in Action all over Alameda, CA! When I say “we,” I mean SIA friend Joshua Brooks. 🙂 Joshua is going to trace SIA’s roots (Alameda is where Del lived and our first office was located) and run a solo half-marathon on March 18th to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! I hope to have details about how to follow along in real time soon. To contribute to the campaign, click here. 

3. Crops threatened in Malawi

“The outbreak of fall armyworms has erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and follows a crippling El Nino-triggered drought which scorched much of the region last year.” The armyworm caterpillars are attacking the maize corn crop, which is the staple food and is essential to the diet in Malawi. (Read more about the effects of the armyworm in Malawi.)

So far, the crops in Manyamula Village are mostly unaffected. The crops will be harvested in April/May and so we pray that they will be fine until then!

Canaan Gondwe’s crop of “groundnuts” (peanuts) is about read to harvest! 

4. Fresh manna

SIA Board Member Barbara Deal sent this to me, remarking how closely it resembles the language that Del used to talking about needing “fresh manna” each day.

“I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

-Langston Hughes

A second chance for Sylvia

A second chance for Sylvia

It’s not easy being divorced in Malawi. Three years ago, Sylvia S.’s husband left her and ran off to South Africa, leaving her (now age 33) alone with her two daughters (ages 7 and 12). Sylvia had no visible source of income. Previously, Sylvia had relied on her husband for income. She spent her time caring for the children and their home. Suddenly, she was without her husband and without a job, and without money for even soap or food.

She didn’t have a lot, but Sylvia did have some experience as a hair dresser. It is the goal of the Small Business Fund to reach people like Sylvia. Our local coordinators recruit families who are well below the poverty line and who also have some skills that they will be able to leverage with the $150 grant. (Read more about how we choose business groups.)

New Beginnings

Sylvia used the first grant installment of $100 to rent a shop in the Manyamula market. She also bought things like hair weaves, shampoo, and other hair products that would appeal to her new customers. The Debbie and Nomsa Hair Salon (named after her daughters) was open for business!

Sylvia with a customer. She has a style chart and many options for extensions to braid into her customer’s hair.

Just three months later, the shop was so busy that Sylvia needed to hire an assistant to help with the hair braiding and styling services. She used some of her profit to buy a new hair dryer so that she could expand the services at her shop.

Sylvia is now earning her own income and is able to provide for her family. She has enough money for food and to send her two daughters to school.

In a letter from Canaan Gondwe, our local coordinator who recruited, trained, and is mentoring Sylvia, he reports that, “Sylvia is grateful to SIA for the transformation in her life, and most times you find her smiling.”

Training youth to run better businesses

Training youth to run better businesses

We know the value of business training from our Small Business Fund program. Grant recipients are trained in marketing, record keeping, risk management, and planning so that they are well prepared to start their small enterprise. This helps them find the right product for the market and make sure their businesses will be profitable.

Seeing the confidence that people have after the training, I am so excited to announce our new partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) to train high schoolers in Malawi to be entrepreneurs! The JA program is being run in 120 countries around the world, including 16 in Africa. Nick Vilelle saw the “mind-blowing” benefit of the JA Company Program in Swaziland and is eager to introduce it to students in Malawi.

boy makes samosas in uganda

Youth making samoas for his family’s business in Uganda.

Hands-on Learning

The Company Program is a hands-on way of learning business, teamwork, and creative thinking. Approximately 25 students at the high school learn by doing as they form, capitalize, operate and liquidate their own companies over a 12-week period, using real money raised from “shareholders.” JA uses volunteers as teachers, mentors and role models for the students, keeping the cost low and integrating the community into the program. Since it is an extracurricular, after-school program, it attracts students who are motivated to learn and get involved.

The SIA Community Grant will fund implementation of the JA Company Program at five urban and 5 rural schools in southern Malawi. This will reach a total of 250 high school youth! And  will serve as a test case for expanding the program to other parts of Malawi.

Paying-it-Forward

I really appreciate that JA has Sharing the Gift built into its model. To begin with, the majority of the work is done by volunteers from the community. Often, these are accomplished business people, donating their time to help teach the students these important business basics. This is a great example for the students to see.

Second, as a part of forming these mini-companies, the student teams are expected to build Corporate Social Responsibility into their plans. This often takes the form of students volunteering on Saturdays to help out a less fortunate member of their community. “The learning gained from carrying out this part of the program is powerful,” reports Nick, from his experience in Swaziland.

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