Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Success Story: “Darkness is cured”

Back in October 2012 I shared the success story of Hastings and Ruth Fuvu in Malawi. They had received a $150 Small Business Fund grant in early 2012, ramping up their business of selling tomatoes and onions in the market. This expanded business increased the family income enough to buy school uniforms for their children and seek medical attention for their daughter Miness, who experiences periodic seizures. The 2012 post ended with Fuvu’s dream to build a house of their own, using burnt bricks.

Malawi, bricks

Hastings and Ruth with bricks for their house. (2012)

Well, in July, 2014, I got to visit that new house! We sat in their home, listening to their story of how their lives have improved since growing their business: “We have wealthy relatives,” Ruth told us, “and they have never given to us, but SIA has given to us.”

This week I received another exciting update from Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Manyamula: Hastings and Ruth have been able to connect to the new electrical grid.

Canaan reports:

“After making enough savings, they molded bricks, built a house and now they have electrified the house. One part of the building they are using it as a barbershop where they get the additional income. With the same power, they are renting to someone who is welding at the premises. This is an income diversification for the family.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

The Fuvu home with electricity! A welder pays to tap into the electricity. Welding has been only available with generators before the grid came to the village.

“The family was quick to tell me that very soon they are Sharing the Gift by assisting one person to begin as they began.

“Life is new because they no longer go for fuel to light up their house. Life is made easy as darkness is simply cured up with pressing the ‘on’ switch in the house.

Imagine such a difference in just three years! This $150 small grant is continuing to pay amazing dividends to the Fuvus and others in the community.

Malawi, house, home

Tanya in front of the guest room of the Fuvu family’s new home. They invited me to “take a sleep” at their house next time we visit!

The rental market in Manyamula

The rental market in Manyamula

I often mention that when families are successful in their Small Business Fund businesses they begin to invest in burned bricks for their home. In rural Malawi there is a lot of space and land is relatively inexpensive. That means that even poor families can access land where they might build a home.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

Harriet in front of the house she built with business profits and a low-interest loan and now rents out to a school teacher.

When we visited Malawi I was fascinated to be in a place where most young families dreamed of (or were actually working towards) building their own home.

Most of the houses in Manyamula Village are made of brick. Adobe might be a more accurate word, since the bricks are made of earth, and they may or may not be fired. The fired bricks last much longer because the rain easily breaks down the bricks that are only sun-dried. And they are also much more expensive: 10 Kwacha (USD $0.02) per burnt brick, compared with just 3 Kwacha for a dried one.

The Manyamula Rental Market

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Brick maker in the pit of red earth which will be used to make the adobe bricks.

Because almost everyone builds their own homes, there aren’t a lot of places available for rent. So a few of the successful Small Business Fund groups have invested in building secondary buildings on their land to rent out to visiting school teachers, doctors, and other government officials to the village. A widow, Harriet now lives with other family members so that she can rent out her home for additional income. A school teacher pays her 3500 Kwacha (~USD $7.50) per month.

Across the street and down a few hundred yards, Reverend Isaac bought a plot of land for under $200. He hopes to have the rental house built in seven months. We visited while they were in the process of forming the 15,000 bricks needed for the home.

Bricks drying in the sun

Bricks drying in the sun

Red dirt is mixed with water and then slopped into a wood frame. The brick maker makes sure the earth is settled and leveled in the frame and then carries it to the drying area. With a *th-wunk* sound the bricks are dropped out of the frame onto the ground. The lines of bricks are covered with straw and left to dry in the sun for three days (we were there in the dry season, with no chance of rain). Then they will be stacked into kiln-like structures for firing.

Rural Electrification

People like Harriet and Isaac are taking advantage of the new electrification that is coming to Manyamula. We saw a few shops that were already tapped into the new grid. Mostly people are setting up wiring and electric boxes and are eager for the day they will be able to connect. The general consensus in Manyamula is that the electrification will bring more people to the village. When it does, some savvy business people will have nice burnt-brick rental places ready to offer them.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

One of the first electricity towers in Manyamula Village. July 2014.

 

[UPDATE: In the comments, Marsha Johnson asked about solar power use. Here is a blog post about one of the solar panel systems that I saw in Malawi.]

Helping Businesses Succeed

Helping Businesses Succeed

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money].”

Like in the US, small businesses have a special place in the African economy. It was clear from my visits to Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda that in the rural areas there’s not much employment outside of farming. So I wasn’t at all surprised when I read a study that said that 42% of rural African households had some sort of non-farm enterprise in 2014 (52% in Nigeria; 42% in Uganda; 17% in Malawi). This study,* which used data complied by the World Bank in 2005-2013, included detailed data from three SIA partner countries (Nigeria, Malawi, and Uganda) as well as Ethiopia, Niger, and Tanzania.

Most of these rural non-farm enterprises are family businesses, running some form of trade business. Trade in household goods and foodstuffs are pretty low-risk and easy to start since they don’t require huge equipment costs. These families are still getting most of their income from farming and 91-100%(!) are informal, and operating during the times of the year when farming is less demanding.

Because these families still are focused on farming, if the crop is going well, families in Malawi and Nigeria are not as likely to start new business, using their labor hours in the field. On the other hand, if a recently-educated person returns to rural life, they will probably create their own business, since there are very few opportunities for more formal employment (except perhaps teaching).

The chalkboard menu at Malumbo Theu's  new restaurant. He had been working in South Africa as an undocumented worker and got deported. The SBF grant helped him establish a business (the first restaurant in Manyamula).

The chalkboard menu at Malumbo Theu’s new restaurant. He had been working in South Africa as an undocumented worker and got deported. The SBF grant helped him establish a business (the first restaurant in Manyamula).

Professional services, transportation, and bars and restaurants were the least common types of business activity in Malawi, each representing less than 1% of household enterprises. Though there is demand for these businesses, they require higher start-up costs. This is where SIA’s Small Business Fund (SBF) grants can help out. A few of the new SBF groups we visited in Malawi in July were in this category – including Malumbo Restaurant, Fikani Transportation Services, and FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care. Each owner saw the demand for these services, and SIA grants give them the money to help cover the larger up-front costs.

Importantly, rural non-farm businesses that are started out of opportunity, rather than necessity, are much more productive. Our SBF Needs and Opportunities Assessment, conducted by the local coordinator along with the family receiving the grant, helps foster this success by focusing on the skills of all household members (including women and older youth). They then consider how best to incorporate those opportunities into the new business.

One of the school teachers at the FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care.

One of the school teachers at the FirstSteps Nursery and Day Care.

Businesses tended to fold, according to the study, because of shocks (such as illness or death) or because of low profitability and lack of finance. While SIA isn’t directly addressing the first challenge, our local SBF local coordinators do provide mentoring to help with marketing products and improving profitability. And several of our SBF communities have savings groups and low-interest loans that help with longer term financing for the businesses.

It was great to read the article and understand the larger picture of rural non-farm enterprises in Africa. I got to see how SIA is integrated into this small family business reality and how we are helping families to have more productive and long-lasting businesses.

*Non-Farm Enterprises in Rural Africa: New Empirical Evidence. by Paula Nagler and Wim Naudé. Available at http://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1596/1813-9450-7066

Children at Nellie’s school recite colors and ABC drills for us. The school started in January with just 7 children and it has already grown to over 50 students!

Children at Nellie’s school recite colors and ABC drills for us. The school started in January with just 7 children and it has already grown to over 50 students!

“Life has improved”: Updates from Kenya Small Business Fund

“Life has improved”: Updates from Kenya Small Business Fund

Wambui is the local coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. We spent a week together in July 2014 evaluating and improving our Small Business Fund program.

Exciting updates! Just yesterday I received a whole packet of business reports and new business plans from the latest 10 Small Business Fund grant recipients in the Korogocho area of Nairobi, Kenya. It’s thrilling to see our investment (in the form of small grants) making a positive impact in so many families!

Below are 3 updates from Wambui Nguyo, our Nairobi local coordinator, about groups that received their initial grants in September, and 2 profiles about groups that are just beginning this month:


God’s Favour Group – Tailoring Services

These are a group of friends and are still keeping the business strong. They bought a new sewing machine and added to their stock. Carolyne said they are able to pay school fees, eat better, and pay rent from their profits. Judy, who had taken her kids to stay with her mother in the village, said she will bring them back because life has improved. Alfayo, who is in high school can pay his school fees and meet his other needs.

Playstation Group – Video Game Cafe

Wako, age 17, the leader is so hard working. He bought a new game terminal for the Playstation. The other Small Business Fund women in the area (who would be Wako’s mum’s age) are so pleased with him. He is not engaged in drugs or alcohol like most of his peers. They are orphaned and Wako does care for his 6 siblings and takes care of them. Josephine [a leader in the community and a mentor/trainer in the SBF groups] adds that he was able to pay the exam fees for his siblings who are at Josephine’s school in the slum.

Imarisha Maisha Group – Grain Shop

Sarah the group leader could afford a smile. She no longer goes to Josephine to beg for some food for her and family. She is able to pay her rent and has not been locked out [because of non-payment] so far. She bought cereals [rice, beans, barley] with her grant and still sells by the roadside and at times takes them around to people to buy. She has the plan of adding plastic stuff like buckets and soap to add to her stock. [Tanya’s note: I wrote 2 weeks ago about how SIA Small Business Fund is specifically designed to get people out of cycles of begging. It’s so good to hear these stories of the grants doing just that!]


Josephine shows Tanya and Wambui the pot of beans cooking for the lunch meal for students at her school.

Josephine shows Tanya and Wambui the pot of beans cooking for the lunch meal for students at her school.

New Business Grants in Korogocho, Kenya

Wambui and Josephine met with five new groups on the February 26th, explaining about SIA and what is expected of them as they received their initial $100 grants. Here are profiles of two of the new groups:

Ebenezer Shop and Cafe

Pamela Anyango, the group leader, has a small shop and sells items like tissues, diapers and also cooks githeri (a dish of beans and corn) by the roadside. Her husband, Misael, is unemployed and looks for casual work. If in any particular day he does not succeed, he comes to help Pamela. Most of the time they rely on this small shop for the family income. With the grant, they will start cooking rice and sell it to school children over the lunch hour. She has done her research and feels this will be successful.

Mwangaza (Light) Shop and Cafe

Ann Ayuma is already in an existing business of cooking food from her house and taking it to the neighbouring town by motorcycle. She targets the construction workers over lunch hour. Her husband, George Mungai doesn’t have a permanent job – he works with a handcart to carry people’s luggage. With this grant Ann hope to get a place close to where she supplies food and add more foodstuffs. They have 5 children and 2 grandchildren in their care.


For more updates from Kenya:

Better than Begging

We call our Small Business Fund grants “seed grants.” Sure, some of them may go to purchase actual seeds for family farms. The reason for the label, though, is that we are planting investment seeds with the hope of cultivating successful, sustainable, blossoming businesses. They are not intended to be one-time gifts that are sunk, disappearing into the ground.

That said, the grants are going to families who have very little money and very big needs. So there is always the temptation to spend the grant right away on immediate needs (like school fees or medical care) to help the family in the short term.

This tension – between our intention of investment and the immediate needs facing grant recipients – was one that I discussed with our Small Business Fund local coordinators at our conference in Uganda last July. Our coordinators are already conscious about not distributing grants right before school fees are due and about counseling groups to go the very day they receive the funds to buy their business products/materials, so that they do not give into temptation.

Sometimes a visual aid is the best way to convey such a message. And luckily, one night in Uganda, after a full day of discussion and visits, a clear visual came to me.

DSC05635

My chalkboard diagram at our conference in Uganda.

“It’s pretty simple, when you look at the alternatives,” I told the coordinators at our morning meeting session. We sat in white lawn chairs on the grass under a white tent to keep out of the already-hot morning sun. I stood at a chalkboard and explained. “Here is one option: you beg for money for immediate needs, you spend it, and then you need to beg again the next time that need presents itself.” This constant anxiety each time school fees are due is a familiar feeling for many families who live in the communities where we work.

“The other option is what Spirit in Action is encouraging with our Small Business Fund program.” It starts with the demand, which we know is there. The $100 initial grant is the seed investment. “The word investment is intentional, we are planting a seed we hope to see grow!”

After one business cycle, active business groups receive an additional $50 reinvestment grant. At this point, the business groups  also make their own reinvestment with the profit from their sales, expanding and growing the business. For example, a few weeks ago I mentioned that with their reinvestment grant Stanly and Janet were able to buy a second bicycle and expand their business. This is part of building a sustainable business, one that doesn’t require constant grants to stay alive. And one that is also providing sustainable income for the family to pay school fees or any other basic needs.

Rose is a member of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and received a low-interest loan to open her shop. She is now eating and dressing better and she was able to buy a good bed.

Rose is a member of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and received a low-interest loan to open her shop. She is now eating and dressing better and she was able to buy a good bed. (COMSIP = Community Savings and Investment Promotion)

“This reinvestment and building sustainability steps happen many times, each time making the business stronger.” Sometimes the reinvestment also comes in the form of low-interest loans. In Malawi, many of the Small Business Fund groups are also part of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, which has been instrumental in the success of so many SBF groups there, many which are continuing ten years after receiving their initial Spirit in Action grant!

“The final step in the Spirit in Action model – after groups are successfully growing, reinvesting, and having enough money to pay for school fees each time they come due – is that they share the gift with others.” This paying-it-forward spreads the wealth, helps more people start businesses, and plants small seeds in other families in the community. (Click here for stories of Sharing the Gift).

The coordinators nodded their heads in agreement. Several said they would post a similar chart on their chalkboards at their next business training session. It’s a clear explanation. No one wants to have to beg each time schools fees are due. The alternative – long-term success – is available to them, with the Spirit in Action grant. And it will require them to take to heart the idea that this is an investment, one that requires attention, hard work, constant reinvestment, and sharing.

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