Local Loans in Malawi

**Don’t miss the video about our visit to Manyamula Village, Malawi posted below!

At the end of last year, Canaan Gondwe, a SIA partner living in rural Malawi, gathered together forty-one other people to form the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans group (MAVISALO). They applied for and received a small grant from SIA to start a poultry house that would serve as the start-up capital for their loan fund. Members also bought member shares of about USD$6.50 each to join the group.

Tanya with MAVISALO members, July 2011

Tanya with MAVISALO members, July 2011

Since their start in 2010, MAVISALO has generated USD$950 from three rounds of broiler chickens and has given out 40 loans, totaling over USD$8,000. Their repayment rate is 98.8%.

Also, because the program is community-based, the interest generated from the loans (at the rate of 5% per month) goes back into the loan fund so that more people have the opportunity to borrow and expand their businesses. “Members of MAVISALO are able to save through shares given to their local-based institution and also they are able to access loans for their economic empowerment,” explains Gondwe.

Building Community

When I visited Manyamula this past July, I saw that MAVISALO was about more than just economic empowerment and loans. The whole group meets once a month to review their constitution and address any concerns. At these meetings, they work entirely through consensus agreement so that everyone is included in the discussion. Also, since they work together in the poultry house, sharing shifts to watch over the baby chicks, they are building a strong team where everyone contributes.

Hear testimonies from the members and encouragement from the leaders, in this video, featuring the MAVISALO group!

The Value of Local Leadership

As an outsider and a visitor, I know that I only got to see a presentation about the program, rather than live with that program. Indeed, since this was my first time to Malawi, I was learning about the culture as I was there. However, rather than be overwhelmed by my uncertainties, I surrendered to the experience and, in the end, came away so grateful for the local leadership of the project. I appreciated that SIA is built on trust of the local leadership, relying on their knowledge of the village context of business and credit.

During the visit, I built a stronger relationship with Canaan Gondwe and I came away so grateful for his leadership and community involvement. He is able to make this savings and loans group successful by adapting it to fit local realities, especially as the program continues to grow, expand, and face challenges. I also saw how much time and effort he was giving to the program. Before, I pushed aside his requests for funds to cover administrative costs, but now I am working with him to define the administrative responsibilities and explore how SIA and MAVISALO might adequately compensate him and others for their energy and expertise, so that the program can continue to thrive.

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Electronics where there is no electricity

I mentioned in my post about life in rural Malawi that Manyamula Village does not have electricity. But people still use electronic tools. How does that work, you ask? How can there be electronics where there is no electricity? The answer is lots of ingenuity and creating solutions with what is available. Here are some of the smart SIA small businesses that have been created to help people thrive without electricity.

Hair Shaving

Zondia at his shaving business. The razor is charged with a car battery.Most people in the village have short hair – buzzed but not shaved down to the skin. Zondia Hunga started the Chilita Ngwa Lusugu Barber Shop in 2008 using a car battery to power his razor. He was busy with a line of customers when we visited the market and saw his stall! When the battery runs low, Zondia uses his new motorbike, which he bought with some of his business profits, to go to Mzimba (22km from the village) to recharge the battery. People can also pay him to charge their cell phones using his car battery, adding extra revenue to his business!


How will Canaan be able to use the laptop we gave him? Luckily, it has some battery life, so it doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time. When it does need charging, he will be able to charge it with the car battery from Zondia’s Barber Shop or another cell phone charging businesses. Another good option is taking the laptop to Mzimba and using the electricity in the Internet café there. Even though he’ll still have to make the long journey to print and scan, with his own laptop he won’t have to wait in line for a computer to be available. Similar to the cell phone network, there is a wireless network that Canaan can connect to from his home through a special USB device, adding Internet time in a pay-as-you-go fashion.

Boyd teaches Gondwe and Lilian to use their new computer given by a generous SIA donor.

Boyd teaches Gondwe and Lilian to use their new computer given by a generous SIA donor.


Movie theater in Manyamula

The lack of electricity can create a great business opportunity for people who do have access to electric voltage. Owoidighe Ibanga started a movie house in the center of town. When we visited, he was showing a Christian VHS movie to a room full of kids during the Saturday market. He uses a generator for his electricity.

Cold Soda

There are many cultures that prefer not to have ice in their drinks, still, for people in Manyamula who want to cool down on a hot day, there is one grocery store at the main town crossroads that sells cold Coca Cola and Fanta out of a gas generator refrigerator. Granted, the fridge is not only for soda, but probably also for some meat products.

Wanting More…

In spite of all this “making do” there is a clear desire for things to be better. Take, for example, Allan Mwale, who opened a bicycle repair business with a SIA Small Business grant in 2008. He uses wire, wood and pieces of metal to fix broken petals, replace brakes, and add back “seats” (people can ride on the back of a bike for a small fee – much faster than walking!). However, when I asked him what dreams he had for the future of his business, Allan said that someday he would like there to be electricity in the village so that he could do frame welding.

This is the kind of problem that Allan needs a welder to fix.

This is the kind of problem that Allan needs a welder to fix.

Quote of the Day: Nalu Prossy


Nalu Prossy, a SIA Small Business Fund coordinator in Uganda, met with the SIA Administrator (Tanya Cothran) and the 7 other Coordinators in Eldoret, Kenya this August to review our program and its impact in the communities working with SIA. They took one day to visit the SBF grantees in the Eldoret area and saw several impressive businesses!

To learn more about SIA’s micro-grants through the Small Business Fund, see SBF FAQs.

To support these programs, see Support SIA.

It only takes a spark

This week I am away at the Journey Farthest Out, Tahoe retreat. While there, I will learn about prayer and practice peace, so I thought it would be appropriate to repost this meditation I wrote back in 2007. 


“I remind you now to fan into a flame the gift God has placed in you. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of inward strength, of love and of self-control.” 
2 Tm 1:6-18

This was my morning mediation today and it really rang true for me – I truly feel that working with Spirit in Action fans the Spark of Spirit that God has placed in me. The Spark is enthusiasm and hope, and God’s Spirit encourages me to fan that Spark into a light and flame that burns bright for all to see. A flame is not timid, it creates a warmth inside (especially necessary during Minnesota winters!) and gives strength to others who see it – passing on hope and encouragement. Prayers and communion with Spirit in Action partners will fan my spark into a flame today.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I fan other Sparks each day – my flame grows stronger.

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