The importance of gathering

This July we will again bring the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators together for a conference. This will be an opportunity to discuss what about our program is working and what can be improved. Our time together, hosted by the Ugandan Coordinators, will be valuable for team-building and evaluation. Here is some of what came out of the last conference, which was held in 2011 in Kenya:


“My Joy is to see the SIA family grow and work as a team. We finished [the retreat] with a theme A healthy team grows and that’s all I see with SIA every day,” shared an inspired Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya. His enthusiasm for growing, changing, and learning perfectly captures the mood at our Coordinators Conference in Kenya last summer, where we gathered eight of our local micro-grant coordinators from six different countries to discuss our grant-making process.

Spirit in Action local Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators are the leaders who guide new grant groups through the steps of starting a business, including initial training sessions and on-going support throughout the yearlong grant process. This conference – funded by our donors! – was an extremely valuable gathering of those who intimately know and understand the context of the work of Spirit in Action in their community.

And they all had so much to share and learn from each other.

Shared Challenges

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

One experience that resonated with all the leaders was the difficulty of choosing groups to receive grants. Our SBF guidelines, based on training materials created by Trickle Up, call for the Coordinators to serve the poorest families in the community as determined through a Poverty Assessment tool and poverty indicators specific to their communities.

But targeting the very poorest has challenges too. Canaan Gondwe, SBF Coordinator in Malawi, targeted the poorest of the poor in his community for the first SBF Malawi grants in 2004 and ended up disappointed with the progress made by those groups. “I noticed that there were people who were indeed poor and needed encouragement but weren’t the absolute poorest in the community.” Several other Coordinators nodded their heads in agreement.

Recognizing Opportunities

Tanya listens to the coordinators' experiences

Tanya listens to the coordinators’ experiences.

Since this fruitful discussion last summer, Kiprop, Gondwe, Board Member Boyd Cothran, and I have been working together to create an Opportunity Assessment, which will be used in conjunction with the Poverty Assessment to identify and exploit the unique opportunities held by grantee groups.

Family members with skills that are not being used, access to local resources, and Sharing the Gift grant recipients ready to expand their project are just some of the opportunity indicators we hope to have all Coordinators evaluate when deciding where to award SIA SBF grants.

In addition, we believe that Coordinators can help groups recognize and unlock their unique opportunities; encouraging people to embrace an opportunity mindset. To that end, Gondwe put together these suggestions:

  • Help the group see the skills they already possess
  • Encourage them to use their time and energy productively
  • Train group in decision-making and prioritizing
  • Form groups of several households to encourage social sharing and peer support
  • Share spiritual nourishment to help them see the good God has in store for them
Coordinators play like a team too.

Coordinators play like a team too.

We’re not at the end of this process yet and the Opportunity Assessment is still a work in progress. Coming back to Kiprop’s theme, a healthy team grows, we celebrate that the Coordinators and I are still building on our discussions from last summer. We push each other to grow as leaders and collaborate to continually evaluate and improve our Small Business Fund program.

[Update: We have created and implemented the Opportunity Assessment and at least a few of the coordinators have reported that it has really helped them select groups. I’ll look forward to getting a more complete update from all the coordinators this July!]

Read more on the Small Business Fund program and FAQs about the program.

You can donate to this years SIA Conference in Uganda here.

5 things to brighten your day

Here’s five things making me happy this week. I hope you all had an inspiring Easter!

1. Ready for Easter: Eggs in Malawi

Lilian and her daughter with eggs from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans cooperative chicken coop. The group manages the chickens and uses the profits to provide low-interest loans to members.

Lilian and her daughter with eggs from the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans cooperative chicken coop. The group manages the chickens and uses the profits to provide low-interest loans to members.

2. For your contemplation: We are already part of the Whole

“Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are.
You are a ray of God’s own light.
You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun.
You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine.
A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean.”

— Martin Laird, in Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation

3. Let’s Dance: Traditional Dance from Malawi

I stumbled across this great display of traditional dance in Malawi. The background song is by a Malawian musician and the moves, especially running on stilts, are amazing!

4. Grant for SIA 

The Vestry at the Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, CA recently awarded a grant to SIA!  The grant will start 3 new Small Business Fund groups in Malawi. Thank you for supporting the growth of SIA. (Psst. Did you read last week’s success story from Malawian Small Business Fund businesses?)

5. Speaking of Grants…

I’ve updated the list of grants that SIA has given to others! There are descriptions and photos for each grant, including the three new grants that the SIA Board awarded in November 2013.

SIA is continually finding new, worthy, grassroots organizations that are dedicated to working in their communities for positive change. Click here for the grants list.

Have a wonderful, wonder-filled week!

Positive Change in Mary’s Family

Martin uses a bicycle to carry goods from town to their shop to sell.

Martin uses a bicycle to carry goods from town to their shop to sell.

Mary Phiri, aged 36, is married to Martin Ndoio. They have five children (2 boys and 3 girls; the oldest 13 years old) and they live right near the Manymula Trading Centre in rural Malawi.

Canaan Gondwe, the local SIA Small Business Fund coordinator, met with  Mary and Martin several times to listen to them and hear their challenges. They had moved to the Trading Centre with nothing, they lived on little or no food at times, and their family life was often unhappy. Mary would spend days begging or looking around for food.

“I explained to them about all of us being created in the image of God and that God wishes us well. I further talked about the potential within them,” says Gondwe. He used the locally-developed evaluation criteria and invited the family to receive a small grant to start a business “because of the insecurities that hovered over the household and because of the hard-working spirit that both showed.”

Soon after recruitment into the project, the family opened a shop at Manyamula Trading Centre. With the disbursement of $100 they purchased soap, cooking oil, sugar and other household items in bulk to sell at the outdoor market.

Mary, Martin, and three of their children proudly show off their new dining table.

Mary, Martin, and three of their children proudly show off their new dining table.

Canaan recently wrote with joy of their success, “Both the husband and wife worked extrememly hard and have in three months managed to raise a remarkable profit. Things at home have begun changing positively. Now they have enough food and they have even bought the furniture for their house (dining table and six chairs).

The profit has also pair for school uniforms for their children. Although elementary education is free in Malawi families must pay for uniforms.

I think we can all agree with Canaan when he says, “This is a big change indeed.” In just a short time, the family has managed to create a welcoming home and to better support one other. And this is only the beginning, “Now that they have received the 2nd grant of $50, I hope that more change will take place as I mentor them over the next year.”

This is the power of the Small Business Fund.

A letter from Del

Del and Tanya at Del's desk in 2006

Del and Tanya at Del’s desk in 2006

A central part of Del Anderson’s ministry prior to, and continued after, his founding Spirit in Action was writing letters. He wrote regular letters to possibly hundreds of people throughout the US and the world.

I love receiving letters in the mail and I remember Del’s letters were always stuffed with sage advice and funny tidbits of inspiration. Even though he must have been in his 90s by the time he was sending letters to me, there was always a short, heartfelt handwritten note at the top of the page. 

Today I came across a copy of a letter he sent to a lay minister couple in Kenya in 1995. I wanted to share it with you because it captures so fully his love for humanity and his beautiful way of encouraging and affirming those around him. What do you remember from Del’s letters?

February 13, 1995
Dear friends,

Thank you for your letter. Lucile and I, each morning in our quiet time, join you in prayer. We undergird you in your dedicated and difficult ministry of service to so many. Surely, without your presence how much greater the chaos would be.

As I see it, it is only through the simple committed self-giving service of persons like you two that God has any opening to enlighten and nurture the souls of people so they may be aware of the Indwelling Presence within them.

In my life of 88-plus years, I am learning how important it is for me to pray, listen, abide in Christ, and wait and rest in God’s Divine Grace until little by little we each, like the Prodigal Son, come to an awareness that we can’t do it on our own; we must practice daily arising and going to our Father. Then, more and more, we are forgiven and feasted by the Almighty One.

We appreciate you two.
Yours in His love,
Del & Luicle


One of my favorite envelope stuffers from Del.

For more from Del:

New Video: SIA in Uganda

New Video: SIA in Uganda

Things are coming together for my trip to Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda this July! This 4 minute video features just a few of the SIA Small Business leaders that I will meet when I am there. After, if you’re inspired, please see to my online campaign page to contribute to the trip.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of Kisosi Village!

My gratitude to SIA local coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, for recording and sending me the footage. And to Shariff Wasswa of Kampala,Uganda for translating parts of the video into English.

For more videos of SIA’s work, click here.

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