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.

Sharing Acts of Kindness

Sharing Acts of Kindness

This Friday is World Kindness Day, a day of coordinated acts of kindness, of gifts from the heart that we can offer each other and that have the power to transform the world.

Last month at my church we were invited to be thoughtful of ways that we could offer simple moments of grace to a stranger. Some people bought a meal for someone or paid for someone’s coffee order. My simple act was pressing the “open” button on the subway turnstile so that someone with a bike could easily exit. This small gesture cost me nothing and yet offered a moment of ease and an opportunity to move more gracefully though life.

Generosity is Global

I like that this is World Kindness Day. It’s not rich people giving to poor people day. It’s an everywhere, everyone acting kindly towards another, or towards themselves. I was moved last week by this story video about Generosity and the Gift Economy. What stood out to me was Nipun Mehta’s awareness that generosity is the answer to the universal problem of inequality. And generosity is present in communities all around the world. (You can watch the full 20-minute here.)

Mbwenu with milk from his cow for us to take home and enjoy. We encountered generocity wherever we went! (Manyamula, Malawi; July 2015)

Mbwenu with milk from his cow for us to take home and enjoy. We encountered generocity wherever we went! (Manyamula, Malawi; July 2015)

Sharing the Gift

Mehta told a story of meeting a poor woman in Japan who experienced a real low point four years before. Her health, relationship, and finances were all presenting challenges. In the video he relays her healing process when she was ready to make a change: “then I remembered that when you feel like you don’t have anything is when you start to really deteriorate your spirit and so she said, what do I have? What are the gifts that I can offer the world; when it seems like I have nothing; when the conditioned mind is saying I am bankrupt? She decided that every day she’d make a rice ball and give it to one stranger. She did it every single day for 4 years.”

Then things began to turn around for her. She experiences a lot of happiness now, she owns a successful restaurant. And she credits the practice of giving the one rice ball as the source of her strength.

That joy in giving is something I know as a donor, and it is something that our Small Business Fund groups know as they Share the Gift with someone else in their community. Their acts of kindness might perfectly reflect this woman’s practice of sharing a rice ball, though in Malawi it might be sharing a donut or tomato.

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SIA Small Busienss Fund leaders in Malawi practiced Sharing the Gift by teaching other women how to bake and market donuts and breads.

Go Out and Experiment!

On this World Kindness Day I encourage you to Share the Gift and to give because you have been given to. Mehta concluded his statement in the video with this advice: “Go out and have some part of your life which is no strings attached and just notice how that makes you feel, and just notice the ripple effect of what happens there.

“We tend to think that if you give freely, that I’ll be taken advantage of, that it’s not going to work out. But you might surprise yourself. And what comes out between the two of you – which was previously transactional and now just is trust-based – that possibility is going to be a whole new paradigm.”

Bonus Track!
“Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant

Let’s make a difference!

Let’s make a difference!

This Saturday is Make a Difference Day in the U.S. You are encouraged to lend a hand, to improve someone else’s life, to build a positive movement with others in your community. I wrote recently about the importance of giving money internationally to make a big impact, while also noting that volunteering locally is a great way to effectively put your giving spirit into action.

I was impressed that the Make a Difference Day website has 20 projects organized in Santa Cruz! The projects range from cleaning up neighborhood parks and schools, to removing graffiti, to painting picnic tables for public use.

However you put your spirit into action for positive change this weekend, you might take a moment to connect in common purpose with our many SIA partners in towns, villages, and cities across Africa.

  • Canaan Gondwe at the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative for economic justice;
  • Jeremiah Mzee leading Progressive Volunteers to provide education for even the poorest in Nairobi slums;
  • Margaret Ikiara with CIFORD Kenya meeting with girls and widows to talk about their rights;
  • Moses Mukongo with CMAP Kenya for a more sustainable environment;
  • and so many more who are volunteering their time to make a difference in their communities.
Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

If you don’t join one of your official community projects, consider how you might be making a difference in your everyday life. Sometimes the pebble is cast even when we don’t know we’ve thrown it: “The biggest differences I’ve made are the ones I don’t even know about. If you’re working for justice and you’re living with compassion and integrity, you are probably making a difference in people’s lives every day. You just might not realize it.” (Barbara Harrell-Bond)

Enjoy your week!

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Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

“We must translate our science into practice.” A simple statement which boils down a Moses Mukongo’s approach to farming in the western part of Kenya. Moses learned about the science of sustainable agriculture at Manor House, and now he and his team at Community Mobilization Against Poverty (CMAP) are passionate about sharing that science with small-scale farmers who can put it into practice. These are farmers who are growing food for their own families and to also sell some at the local markets in the areas surrounding Kitale in western Kenya.

Grant for Workshops

Since receiving a SIA Community Grant last December, CMAP has hosted a series of sustainable farming workshops, benefiting over 165 people. The trainings involve men and women, with women playing a major role in traditional farming in Kenya.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

The trainings involve sessions about double-digging (to promote healthy soil and create raised beds), companion planting (maximizes space and pairs plants that will grow well together), composting (healthy soil and nutrients for the plants), and the use of open-pollinated seeds (so that seeds can be saved from season to season). (Read more about these techniques here – you can implement them in your garden/farm too!)

Moses is passionate about promoting these techniques and telling people the many ways their farms can benefit from using them. “The practices are low-cost and non-polluting, they produce maximize agricultural yields, build soil fertility, and minimize inputs of water, energy, and fertilizers!” The practices not only help people grow more food to eat and sell, they also benefit the environment and help mitigate effects of drought or poor soil.

Sharing the Gift

We ask all our community-based organization partners to “share the gift” by helping others in their community. CMAP embraced this call by implementing the “Five-Farmer Challenge.” Every farmer who attends the workshop is challenged to reach out to five other farmers to share what they have learned. They have also reached out to one of the local primary school to start a school garden as part of their “Farmers of the Future” project. This is the ripple effect of SIA grants!

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Learning from Nature

“In sustainably producing food we must use nature as our guide,” writes Moses in one of his passionate letters to me, “we must escape from the poverty of affluence which is always striving to accumulate more of things and we must ‘seize the day’ in recognizing the opportunity for finding a new way of living in harmony with nature and humankind in the new millennium.” Well said!

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

Steria’s Donuts

Steria’s Donuts

On Sunday morning, I shared donuts with fifteen kids aged 4-12 at my church. We were on a virtual trip to Malawi. Passports were stamped and then we looked at photos from my trip to Malawi last summer. One of the photos was of Steria, a woman who received a SIA grant and now sells donuts in Malawi. At the end of the journey, one child remarked, “I learned that some of the foods in Malawi are the same as in Canada, and some are different!” 

Steria Lungu is a widow in Manyamula Village in rural Malawi. She received a Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action in 2010. (Our grants are $150, given in two installments, along with mentoring and training.) Steria bought some baking pans and fresh ingredients and started baking and selling donuts. And she is still doing that today! She attends three markets a week, some days walking as far as eight miles, and leaving at 4:00am, to reach bigger markets.

I got to visit Steria last summer and sit inside her house – the house she built with money saved from her donut business. We sat on the puffy couches with crochet doilies on the arms. We saw a photo of us together during our last visit in 2011. She said “thank you for coming under my roof.” And she told us that she now has “no problem with food”; that she and her family are still eating from last year’s maize harvest. That is a huge accomplishment because it means that they are food secure.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home, she told me her story of transformation.

My visit with Steria, inside her comfortable home. She reassured us, “your support is not going in vain.”

Steria and four other women in the neighborhood came together to do their own bit of helping a neighbor. We call it Sharing the Gift. They each contributed some flour and sugar and took turns helping another woman sell donuts at the markets.

Importantly, Steria told us that she contributed to Sharing the Gift because she saw in our local coordinator, Canaan Gondwe, also modeling generosity. Because Canaan was generous with his time and with sharing his expertise, Steria and the other women were also willing to give.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

Steria in 2011. Using the profit from her donut business, she was buying iron roofing sheets one at a time. Her roof was thatched with grass at the time.

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Stereo’s house in 2014 – with a new roof! She saved enough to replace the thatch with the iron sheets and so no longer experiences leaks!

Not only was it inspiring to see Steria’s house – one with tin roofing sheets, which she was saving when we visited in 2011, and with stronger bricks – and knowing that her daughter can now attend a good high school. It was also good to affirm that when we are caring and generous (like Canaan is) – when we are being spirit in action – other people see that, notice that, and they want to give and serve also.

In a way, we were just helping one person when we gave Steria a grant. In another way we were helping her daughter, her other children, her neighbor, her community (because it is a grant, all the money stays in the community), and all the people who get to eat her yummy donuts!

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

Donuts for sale in the market in Malawi.

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