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

How do their lives change?

How do their lives change?

Reposting this roundup of the ways peoples’ lives change after receiving a SIA Small Business Fund grant.

In [June 2015] I highlighted the 5 most common businesses that Small Business Fund (SBF) grant recipients typically start. The groups receive $150 and are mentored over the course of a year. This week I received a batch of final One-Year Reports from our two SBF local coordinators in Uganda. These are short reports that check in to see how each business is doing one year after receiving the grant. The report also asks how the lives of the groups members have improved and what they have used their profits to buy. The responses generally fall into one of five categories.

These are the five basic needs that families are empowered to meet after starting an SBF business:

SCHOOL FEES

Paying for school fees is by far the most common goal and use of SBF profits in Uganda. There is supposed to be free universal education in Uganda, but the public schools quickly fill their limited spaces and the families must pay for private schools. School fees for the average private school near Kasozi Village, Uganda are about $12 per term for each student (with 3 terms per year). This adds up quickly with many children and with the additional costs of uniforms and school supplies!

Yuba Robert and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator is seated on the right.

Yuba Robert (right, standing) and his extended family show us their pottery, including a clay savings box. They have been able to pay for school fees, build a house, and pay for another person to plow their fields. Godfrey Matovu, local SBF coordinator, is seated on the right. (Uganda)

MEDICINE

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

Ziba and his wife Annie started a furniture business this year. The profit will help cover their medical bills and to feed their 6 children. (Malawi)

IMPROVED HOUSING

Before…

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

House with a thatched roof and dirt floor in Uganda.

During…

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda and they are slowly building the house that will also be a storefront. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

A new house in progress. We visited this potter in Uganda. They are slowly building the house that will also have a storefront for their pottery. Bricks for the project are piled in the front yard.

After!

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani started a business in photography and also selling vegetables. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in his house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

Completed brick house with a tin roof in Malawi! Kondwani’s family has both a photography and a retail vegetable business. The family now has a solar panel and wiring for lights in their house. They are waiting for the electrification project to reach their neighborhood.

More stories about improved housing:

BETTER DIET

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

The diet in Uganda is mostly ugali (maize meal, like a dense polenta), rice, and some vegetables such as kale, collards, and tomatoes. Improved diets means having enough food to eat and also adding animal protein, like this chicken dish.

FURNITURE

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other families are able to buy beds and other simple, yet profound, dignities.

A new table for the the Phiri family! Other business groups have been able to buy beds and couches – simple, yet profound, dignities.

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.

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