5 things: Giving

5 things: Giving

A story of Giving

Last summer, when packing for my trip to Africa, I added a few gifts for the many people who would host me. Some were designated gifts and others (a few deflated soccer balls and two bike lights) were for spur of the moment gifts. One evening in Malawi our meeting with the local host team went late. It was long past sunset when Matthews hopped on his bike to ride home. There are no street lights in Manyamula Village and the moon was new. Suddenly I remembered the bike lights. “Wait!” I called and ran to my room. I brought out the light and attached it to Matthews’ handlebars. Everyone stood back to admire the bright LED light. Matthews clapped and gave me a hug. As he rode off, the light cast a satisfying glow on the dusty road. It was the perfect gift and the perfect moment!

The Joy of Giving

“There are some things that science says make us feel good. … And, counterintuitively in our individualistic culture, giving to others is one of those things.” (I can’t find the source for this quote.)

Sharing the Gift in Uganda

Rehema gives a package of groundnuts to Tanya as a gift. Rehema sells second hand clothes along the main road. She adopted 4 orhpans, 1 boy and 3 girls, into her family. (Kasozi Village, Uganda)

Rehema gives a package of groundnuts (peanuts) to Tanya as a gift. Rehema, received a Small Business Fund grant and now sells second hand clothes along the main road. She adopted 4 orhpans, 1 boy and 3 girls, into her family. (Kasozi Village, Uganda)

The Gift of Music

A body-moving, soul-filling song from the bank Songhoy Blues, from Mali. For a time, music was banned in northern Mali. This group wrote this song, during the ban, from another part of Mali.

Giving the Gift of Giving

A blog post from 2011 describing our Sharing the Gift pay-it-forward program. “The Small Business Fund and Sharing the Gift enables people who have grown up with very little to have enough to share with others and to be respected for their gifts to neighbors.”

Generosity is Catching

Sharing the Gift of piglets

These healthy piglets were raised by recent high school graduates, who received SIA grants. They are now ready to be shared to widows in the community.

Last week I heard another story of pay-it-forward generosity. A chain of 457 people each offered to pay for the drink of the person behind them at the Florida Starbucks drive-thru. There’s something about generosity. When we see other people giving we also want to give. My Facebook feed has been flooded (no pun intended) with buckets of ice water showing just how contagious and fun giving can be. When we see people who give, it creates a good kind of peer-pressure: the pressure to do good.

It is just this truth that underlies our “Sharing the Gift” initiative (or “Spread the Blessing” as one partner in Uganda called it). Families who receive SIA’s $150 Small Business Fund grants are receiving a huge act of generosity. I know our local coordinators are met with questions from the grant recipients about why people half-way across the world and from a country so different from their own would want to give them money to start a business.

It’s pretty amazing, really. Imagine getting a (legitimate) email in your inbox from someone – someone you didn’t know – who wanted to give you money. You might have questions, rightly so. Our Small Business Fund coordinators explain that SIA gives because we see potential in them and we feel compelled to help them improve their lives – to lead more stable and prosperous lives. The best grant recipients see and recognize this generosity and our honest intentions.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

Winkly and his wife invited us in their home to tell how they both received and gave piglets through Sharing the Gift. They are proud of their brick house.

And so Sharing the Gift is a way for them to respond to that generosity. They have received. One year after receiving the grant, they are asked to also give.

That’s all a big preamble to say that Sharing the Gift – just like other acts of generosity – is contagious. When Small Business Fund families see other people giving, they also want to give.

Culture of Giving in Malawi

Years ago, Winkly Mahowe received a “Sharing the Gift” gift of a piglet from a neighbor. That was the start of Winkly’s SIA journey towards building a new house, expanding his piggery unit, investing in poultry. He has a life now that he is proud of. In July, with a twinkle in his eye and a huge smile on his face, Winkly told us how he has also Shared the Gift of a piglet to another family, who is starting their own piggery. He knows deeply what an honor and opportunity it is to receive a piglet through SIA Sharing the Gift, and he was so pleased to be able to pay-it-forward to another person.

Hi there piggy!

Hi there, piggy!

SIA Small Business Fund (SBF) in Malawi is full of Sharing the Gift moments. Visiting over 50 small businesses in Manyamula Village this summer I saw that there was a real culture of generosity in the community. People were proud to be able to share and give to others. And that pride was contagious. As Fikire Chima told us about sharing the gift of a piglet to a widow who lived nearby, she added solemly, “It is all thanks to Canaan [the SIA SBF Coordinator] who models generosity for us. If he was greedy, I would not have considered Sharing the Gift.” 

So there you go. When we see someone give, we want to give. When we have received a gift, we want to also share gifts. Perhaps this is a call to make your giving show, and to recognize the call to give when you see others giving. Maybe the next viral charity challenge will be to call on friends to live without electricity for 24 hours, or to hand wash your clothes – and then to support a SIA family with a small grant so that they won’t have to do those things anymore.

Read more stories of SIA generosity in Malawi:

Donate to SIA Small Business Fund here.

Sharing the Gift in Malawi (x2)

Sometimes giving the perfect gift is more fun than receiving and unwrapping a gift, right? Do you know that feeling of knowing just the right gift for someone, and being in the position to get it for them? It’s exciting!

This excitement of giving is right at the center of our Small Business Fund (SBF) program. Spirit in Action gives grants of $150 to families to start a small business and then this family is called to “pay-it-forward” to another family. They get a chance to be the givers in their community and share their success with someone else in need. This passes on the prosperity and the excitement!

Lackson caring for the 6 new piglets.

Lackson caring for the 6 new piglets.

Lackson Lungu, one of the youth business leaders in Manyamula Village, Malawi, recently got to experience this joyful moment of Sharing the Gift. In January 2013 he and his family used their SBF grant to buy two piglets. Lackson, age 20, took charge in caring for them, building them a pen, and giving them necessary medications. And this year his diligence was rewarded with the birth of six piglets!

Knowing about the Sharing the Gift initiative and being grateful for the six healthy piglets, Lackson decided to give one of the piglets to Tionenji Mumba, a widow in the community. This is just one example of how a gift can ripple out to help many more than the original gift recipient! Thank you for passing it on, Lackson!

Lackson generously shared one of the piglets with Tiwonenji.

Lackson generously shared one of the piglets with Tiwonenji.

Another ripple is happening in Manyamula. Last month I sent a book from the SIA office, The Small Scale Pork Producer, to Canaan Gondwe, the SBF Coordinator in Malawi. Canaan has long been an advocate for pig farming in rural Malawi and so I knew that he could put the book to good use. I had the joy of sending him a present I knew would help others.

True to Canaan’s spirit of Sharing the Gift in all aspects of his life, he is taking the information from the book to share it with many more people. “The [Manyamula Savings and Loans] cooperative management will arrange for training sessions for pork producers and tackle relevant topics so that we maximize the productivity of swine. At the moment, the leadership will take time to read the booklet and mark all relevant topics for training. Thank you for the book.”

It’s good to see the spirit of giving alive and thriving in Spirit in Action!

A reminder of goodness in the world

A reminder of goodness in the world
The MAVISALO Maize Mill cooperative helps bring food security and prosperity to rural Malawi.

The MAVISALO Maize Mill cooperative helps bring food security and prosperity to rural Malawi.

Have you heard those stories about people pulling up to the coffee drive-through window, ready to order, only to find out that the person in front of them has already paid for their drink?

What a gift! And often, that person turns around and pays for the person behind them – passing along the gift to another fellow café-goer.

My friend was part of just such a chain of giving in Minnesota. The chain was 19 links long when she got to it, each person wishing the stranger behind them, “an awesome day.” It was something that was fun; that brightened her day. For those who heard the story, it was a reminder that goodness exists in the world.

An Example from Malawi

MAVISALO members working the maize mill. Maize is the staple crop, and milling it into a coarse meal significantly increases the market value.

MAVISALO members working the maize mill. Maize is the staple crop, and milling it into a coarse meal significantly increases the market value.

This sharing of the gift – passing along the joy – is built into the very fiber of Spirit in Action grants. Sharing the Gift can take many forms, though I haven’t yet heard of a Kenyan coffee giving chain yet. Until then, here’s an example from Malawi:

Manyamula Village Savings and Loans Cooperative (MAVISALO) members have benefited greatly from the 2013 SIA grant to collectively purchase a maize mill. (Read more about the maize mill here.)

The co-op rents out the use of the mill, providing a good source of income to the group. Funds from the project – the total profit from 2013 was an impressive $600 – have added to the capital base of the loan fund in order to meet the high demand for low-interest loans among MAVISALO’s members.

What about Sharing the Gift?

The next generation of piglets will be passed on to vulnerable families in the community.

The next generation of piglets will be passed on to vulnerable families in the community.

Social assistance is part of the mandate of the MAVISALO and so some of the income also helps to pay secondary school fees for orphans and vulnerable students from the community. That is part of Sharing the Gift and paying-it-forward to benefit the community in the long run by education its youth.

“The other most important activity done with this fund,” reports MAVISALO leader Canaan Gondwe, “is the implementation of the Pig Pass On Project in the eight zones of the cooperative.” At the end of the year the cooperative had enough in the social fund to purchase twelve pigs!

The piglets are now in the care of the zone leaders, who are charged with watching and breeding them. Canaan Gondwe, who is experienced in pig rearing, is also helping to insure that the pigs are healthy and growing. Once the pigs have their first offspring, piglets will be given out to the most vulnerable households in each zone.

Pigs represent a big investment in Malawi, much more than a cup of coffee. This Pig Pass On Project, then, is a huge gift given to those in the community who need it most. The MAVISALO members realize they have received a great gift through SIA and they in turn are helping families with HIV/AIDS, widows, and orphan-led families to give them a chance to thrive.

How’s that for a story to remind us of goodness and generosity in the world?

More about MAVISALO:

The case for giving grants, not loans

The case for giving grants, not loans

Micro-grants? Micro-loans? A conversation with a friend about how our Small Business Fund grants compare with micro-credit programs gave me the chance to explain why SIA gives grants and not loans to help alleviate poverty.


It used to be common sense that micro-loans were the only way to ensure the sustainability of a micro-finance program and that the act of paying back the loan would instill the sense of “ownership” in the grant recipients. How could a micro-grant – labeled a “hand out” – do anything but create a sense of entitlement on the part of the grantee? We’ve thought that loans were better than grants because they promoted long-term, individual responsibility; but in some markets, loans wreak havoc with indebtednesshostile payment collectors and inflexible repayment schedules. Grants, unlike loans, can create independence and cultivate sustainable development in a community.

A new pottery business in Uganda.

A new pottery business in Uganda.

In 2006, just as the Grameen Bank and Kiva were becoming household names, there was a rush to start new micro-finance organisations and benevolently provide money to the poor. Unfortunately, those funds come at a great cost and with inconclusive effects. Interest rates of 40-100% of the loan principle and travel costs to get to and from the bank mean that people are stuck from the moment they get the money.

Why grants?

A loan is just a financial arrangement in the business of making money for a bank, but a grant creates space for positive relationships and an empowered individual. Spirit in Action provides $150 micro-grants to groups of 3-5 people throughout communities on the African continent. Instead of a debt-collector, we have local coordinators who train grant recipients in business planning, marketing, and basic accounting. The grant cohort also forms a support group.

Receiving a $150 grant – rather than a loan – means that the first $150 in profit from their successful enterprise can help group members go to school, improve their house, or pay for medical care, and is not used to pay back donors. And through our program, some of the additional profits are gifted to others in the community, generating goodwill and further development on the local level. (Read one family’s success story here.)

Sharing the Gift in Malawi.

Sharing the Gift with a cash grant in the community (Malawi).

We are Grant Recipients

Our model for micro-grant sustainability reflects our home-office organisational practices. We recognise that since Spirit in Action relies purely on donations from individuals for our funding, we also are grant recipients. Our supporters don’t ask us to pay them back – they ask us to pay the gift forward to help people as defined in our mission and programmatic plans. By asking our Small Business Fund grant recipients to pay it forward to a neighbor or community member rather than paying the organisation back, we are asking them to do only what we ourselves do. Paying it forward starts with our donors and passes on to many more throughout the world.

Becoming a Giver

Our paying it forward program, Sharing the Gift, suggests to grant recipients that they have received the gift of a grant from Spirit in Action and asks them, “How can you share this gift with others?” The actual form of sharing varies among groups, with input from the local coordinators. Some tithe a percentage of profits toward future groups, others contribute seeds or baby animals to a new group, and sometimes business groups come together to support a project that benefits the whole community.

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

After receiving a grant, people are empowered to be givers in their communities. Fundraisers know that people receive genuine happiness from giving to others; the Small Business Fund and Sharing the Gift enable people who have grown up with very little to have more to share with others and to be respected for their gifts to neighbors.

Unlike loans, which create an immediate indebtedness in the community, grants and a “paying it forward” mentality make development sustainable in the communities where we have funded small businesses. Even without additional grants, local growth comes from small business owners themselves. The development of their community originates with their desire to pay forward what they have received. Grants are not a hand out; they enable people to invest in their communities in a grassroots manner.

**I originally wrote this post for the WhyDev blogWhyDev is an online community for individuals passionate about development, aid, and other global issues. This post was previously on the SIA blog on December 18, 2012.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...