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.”

Relying on our network

Relying on our network

This is Part 2/2 of excerpts from my presentation about rigorous humility. Part 1 is here.

In 2016 Spirit in Action celebrated our 20th Anniversary. It was 20 years ago that Del Anderson – then aged 90 – a retired businessman, realized that he wanted to do more to support businesses in developing countries.  Del was a man who really practiced rigorous humility and was always learning.

Let me share a favorite quote from Del: “I am not the Del I was yesterday. I can’t eat yesterday’s stale manna. Yesterday’s manna is not good enough for today. Manna has to be fresh. It’s an ever-changing world.”

Expanding the vision

Spirit in Action started with Del writing letters to people. He had been a successful entrepreneur and he wanted to help other entrepreneurs around the world. The first grants were given to people in Del’s personal network; people he knew well from years of correspondence. We are still working with some of those people.

Since 1996 we have expanded a lot, and we are currently supporting hundreds of people through community organizations in African countries.

  • We have started almost 700 Small Businesses through our Small Business Fund program which provides $150 grants to families, and also provides them with training and a local mentor;
  • We have also impacted thousands of people through 26 grassroots organizations in over 8 African countries and 2 South American countries and 2 in southeast Asia.

Giving up the role of expert

So with this growth, how do we stay connected? We place a greater emphasis on relationships than 5-year plans. This focus on the long-term relationship gives room to work towards the best results, expecting the best each person can give. And it also leaves open the door for faith and personal growth. Humility comes when we embrace the mystery of social change.

Another aspect of rigorous humility is “giving up the role of expert.” That means I don’t have all the answers. It means that the network is stronger than the individual.

The Small Business Fund program is designed to allow for local context and local adaptation. The local coordinators in Malawi, Uganda, and Kenya each tailor the workshops and the meetings in a way that makes the most sense in the community. We like the local coordinators to work directly in the communities where they are living. And when that is not possible, we have coordinators form partnerships.

Women from 8 SBF groups in Korogocho. Wambui, the local coordinator stands behind Tanya. Josephine is pictured left of Tanya.

For example, we have a wonderful coordinator in Nairobi, named Wambui, who wanted to work with the very poor families living in the information settlement of Korogocho outside Nairobi. She didn’t live there but she knows someone who does – Josephine. And so Wambui and Josephine are working as a strong team. Wambui has the training skills, which she uses in her career of peacebuilding and healing-from-trauma workshops. And Josephine is known in the community as being a mentor and a “mother” to many of the women. Wambui can help me get the reports I need. And Josephine helps Wambui get the access to the community. This teamwork is vital to Spirit in Action.

Practicing Rigorous Humility

Practicing Rigorous Humility

The excerpts below are from my presentation to the congregation of the First United Methodist Church of Point Richmond in November.

Being open and willing to say “I don’t know” is one of the key characteristics of what my good friend Jennifer Lentfer calls rigorous humility. This is a concept that she finds central to being truly effective in the fight against poverty. This humility is about listening effectively and balancing power between grantmakers and grant recipients; between those giving, and those asking and receiving.

In my job as Executive Administrator I have many, many opportunities to practice and deploy rigorous humility.

Let me give an example. A few years back I had this great idea to be in contact more with the local SIA coordinators on the ground. I wanted to build a stronger relationship with them, and there were also some donors that were wanting more feedback and more reporting on how the things were going on the ground. So I figured that I would just start writing more emails, even weekly, to the coordinators in an attempt to spur more connection.

Considering from the other side

Of course, I hadn’t really thought about what this would mean for our partners. I hadn’t thought from their perspective. For me, sending an email is a simple as typing and then hitting “send” from the comfort of my own home. For Canaan in Malawi, it means traveling dusty (or muddy) roads to the nearest internet café, paying for access to a computer, paying to scan any documents, etc. You get the idea.

Coordinators walking on the muddy road.

SIA partners walking on the muddy road in Kenya. It was too muddy and steep for the van to take us on this part of the journey.

And so even when I sent more, I didn’t get more back. Because I hadn’t taking that extra time and money into account. So, the questions became: How can I rebalance the power so that it’s not my demands that are disproportionately impacting others? Also, how can reports be designed to give feedback to the coordinators and entrepreneurs, as much as they report to the SIA office? How can reports be mutually beneficial?

It was a moment to acknowledge that I hadn’t fully understood and that I’m always learning. How can we do this better? Who else has ideas to try?

Listening for Solutions

Even after I realized that more emails were not going to be the solution, I kept searching and trying things. I created a group email for the coordinators. I created a phone list. Nothing panned out. And then the solution came Jeremiah Mzee, Nairobi coordinator.

He wrote: “Kindly can you create WhatsApp Small Business Fund group. I feel that most of us will be comfortable to learn from each other as far as reporting and management of SBF is concerned.”

Of course! Yes! Let’s do that!

What is WhatsApp? (Read my blog post about it!) It’s an application available for cell phones, which facilitates cheap international texting. So rather than paying high costs per text, we can text for free. The app can use wifi or data. But it takes very little data and it widespread (more widespread than email, for sure) throughout Africa.

cell phones charging

Grace’s shop in the Manyamula Market is connected to the new electricity lines in town and so she provides phone charging services for a small fee.

Another amazing feature of WhatsApp is that it can send files too. So now, a coordinator, instead of having to pay for internet time and scanning fees, can simply take a picture on their phone of the report and then WhatsApp it to me, and I receive it immediately! Amazing!

For now, we have found a mode of communication that really does foster connection, without being burdensome for anyone to use.

The waiting; the listening; the faith I have in my partners’ expertise brought us to this new place of connection. This happens with rigorous humility.

Business updates from Nairobi, Kenya

Business updates from Nairobi, Kenya

Over the past three years Spirit in Action has supported 33 small businesses in the informal settlement of Korogocho in Nairobi, Kenya. The local coordinators Wambui and Josephine continue to train and mentor the groups, helping them improve their current businesses and expand their enterprises with the SIA $150 grants.

I received these updates on some of the latest business groups there:

Expanding businesses 

Amos and Dorcas took their existing grocery business and used the SIA grant to buy at a wholesale level, reducing their costs. Amos reports “I’ve been able to increase my stock and get many more customers. I have also been able to pay school fees and buy food and clothing for my family.” They have two boys, aged 8 and 4. Together the family sells arrow root (also known as taro), tomatoes, onions, and kale.

“Life has changed for the better”

Monicah is the kind of dedicated, smart woman who seems like she will go far in her business! She cooks and sells cashews, mabuyu and coconut. Mabuyu is a Swahili delicacy from Baobab seeds. She also has eggs and simsim (sesame seeds) at her shop.

Wambui reports, “Monicah no longer hawks around but got a place around the area of her house and built a structure. She bought all she said she would buy and has managed to reinvest 20% of the profit into the business. Life has changed for the better. She can now afford school fees, buy textbooks, feed her children well, and attend any medical need.”

Saving and Investing

Patuli buys cakes and mandazi (donuts – yum!) from bakers and resells them. She has been ill in recent months, and even so she feels her life has changed for the better. Patuli was able to join a chama (micro-savings investment group) for the first time and has saved a bit. She is grateful that now her children (aged 11 and 13) can eat three meals a day, like never before.

As you may be beginning to see, most of these small businesses are helping to pay for basic needs. They help parents pay for school fees and rent. They help families stay healthy by enabling them to eat enough food and pay for medicine when necessary.

water-bottle-ad1

Gardens and pigs in Uganda

Gardens and pigs in Uganda
IMG_5939

Small Business Fund leaders in Amukugungu Village in northern Uganda welcome SIA to their village.

“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

IMG_5942

“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” – Deuteronomy 15:7-8

IMG_5936

The five business groups pooled their grants together to invest in a pig rearing project and planting soybeans.

“On some positions, cowardice askes the question “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must do it because conscience tells us it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

IMG_5937

The groups are excited with their success and they regularly visit each others’ gardens and piggery projects to check in on progress and encourage one another.

Lord, give us the audacity to live as though we believe our hands and feet are instruments of prayer. Amen. – Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...