A good harvest in Uganda

A good harvest in Uganda

When Samsa Ogwang applied for the Small Business Fund (SBF) program, she and her family were not doing well. Naomi Ayot, Spirit in Action SBF local coordinator in Uganda, found that they did not have a lot of variation in their diet, and that they were unable to improve their quality of food. They were also sleeping on floor mats, another indication of poverty.

Naomi chose Samsa’s family to receive the $150 SBF grant so that they could improve their farm and take the first steps towards prosperity. With the grant funds, Samsa purchased improved seeds, including maize (corn), simsim (sesame seeds), and sunflower seeds. Along with other SBF groups in her rural village of Amukugungu in northern Uganda, she also bought a male and female pig.

Samsa planting cassava in her fields in Uganda.

One year later, she reports that the crops produced a good harvest! She and her family harvested 363kgs of maize, some of which they sold for 31¢/kg, and some of which they delivered in-kind to cover school fees for two of their children. Additionally, 284kgs of sunflower sold for $20, and the sesame seeds brought in $65.

She had to sell the pigs when there was an outbreak of swine flu, and for the pair she collected $90. (All this from a $100 grant!!) Samsa saved some of the money earned from the pigs and plans to buy a new set of piglets this spring.

This business has meant a great change in Samsa’s life! She feels content that the project has improved the standards of living and the status of her family in the community.

Money for Education

Through this grant, Samsa has supported four of her children to continue attending school! Enume will be joining her senior year of high school. Akello is excited to start her first year of technical school studies. Ocen graduated from nursery school last year and will be starting 1st grade soon! And the fourth child, Apio, will be continuing elementary school.

In the planting season that starts this month, Samsa plans to add to the diversity of her crops by planting cassava, soybeans, and green beans. The group also has the goal of acquiring oxen and ploughs for tilting the gardens, to help improve the quality of the crops. Without the oxen, they have to plough the fields themselves.

Overall, Samsa and her family are grateful that they have achieved an improved standard of living. They are able to meet more of their basic needs, and also can hire day-laborers to help with the harvesting!

Samsa with her harvest of sesame seeds!

Is it risky to invest in community leadership?

Is it risky to invest in community leadership?

This past weekend, on April 15th, the book I’ve been co-editing with Jennifer Lentfer for the past 5 years, was printed! It is now officially available for pre-order!

The book is a collaborative effort with 22 authors from 20 different organizations from seven countries, representing a variety of viewpoints on the international development and philanthropy sectors.

Is it worth the risk?

On her blog this week, Jennifer explained how this group of authors, all who saw the importance of working directly with people at the community level, came together:

When people in the aid and philanthropy sector learned about our approaches to making small grants at the international level, there were always questions that revealed how “risky” this seemed to people:

How do you find the groups? (In other words, “It’s much easier for us to fund the same, usual players in the capital cities who talk like us.”)

“How do you measure your results?” (In other words, “Small grants are too insignificant to make a real dent in any social issue.” or “Hard numbers are the only way I know if I am getting a return on investment.”)

How do you keep your overhead costs down? (In other words, “It’s too expensive to fund at the grassroots. It costs me the same amount of money to make a US$5,000 grant as a $50,000 grant.”)

We didn’t get it. For us, not investing in the wisdom, experience, and leadership of people most affected by poverty was an opportunity cost we were unwilling to bear.

In our minds, placing our relatively small amounts of money in the hands of people who are already doing something to address the challenges in their own communities was actually one of the least risky things we as funders could do, and also one of the smartest.

Youth learn about their rights and about healthy relationships at a workshop hosted by CIFORD Kenya.

The least risky way to support lasting change

Investing in these local leaders and grassroots organizations is the heart of our work at Spirit in Action. Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, Community Initiatives for Rural Development Kenya (CIFORD), Samro Schools, and so many more community-based organizations are dedicated to working for positive change in their communities.

They do this by using their local knowledge and their connections with local officials, encouraging others to join them, and fostering a sense of solidarity and camaraderie that plants the seeds of change.

There are so many wonderful people and organizations supporting these grassroots partners. So many who honor the role of faith in their work and partnerships. We know that investing in local leaders is worth the “risk.” “Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems” is dedicated to reframing the idea of “risky” grants; to instead look at the opportunity of small grants.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what we and our co-authors have to say!

A grant that gives hope

A grant that gives hope

Last week, I had the great pleasure of sending out the congratulations letters to the groups that received SIA grants at our last board meeting. I work with each of the grant applicants to more fully understand their projects and to refine their proposals. After weeks and months in communication the happy moment arrives when I get to let them know that SIA approved their application!

“Overwhelmed by joy”

Below is the reply I received from Vincent Atitwa, leader of the Matungu Community Development Charity cooperative in Kenya. They received a grant to start a table banking program to provide their members, mostly small farmers, with low-interest loans.

“First, I must say that I am overwhelmed by joy and happiness after learning that SIA funded our project. I say BIG THANK YOU to you and the entire team of SIA, together with their donors who made all the process possible. May God bless you abundantly so that you continue blessing others too.

“To me, this is not just a grant, it’s a grant that comes with a lot of hope and inspiration to our community.

“Finally God has answered our prayers. I believe that the SIA grant holds a key to unlock a lot of business opportunities for marginalized small scale farmers in our community. The businesses will create both jobs and wealth. I am happy to be associated with SIA and its activities, and I look forward to continuing working with you even in future after this grant.”

A Smart Risk

This grant partnership is a great example of Smart Risk #1 from the forthcoming book, that I co-edited with Jennifer Lentfer, about small grants.

Smart Risk #1: Investing in local expertise. 

Vincent and the rest of the team at Matungu Community Development Charity know the context of lending in rural Kenya. They know about the farming cycles and the challenges associated with the climate and markets. They know the community members and can talk to them when they have trouble repaying the loan. For all these reasons, we believe that it is worth investing in local groups.

Follow along this week on our Facebook page for all five Smart Risks! 

Not a corporate board…

Not a corporate board…

The Spirit in Action Board of Directors met over the weekend to approve new grants, receive reports and review our program, and also pray for our partners and donors. We also joyfully welcomed Wendy and Terry Silverthorn of Camino, CA to the board! They are longtime supporters of SIA and are happy to get more involved with our work.

I bet it won’t surprise you to learn that the SIA board does not operate like your average corporate board! After reviewing each grant proposal, we take a few moments of silence to reflect and listen in prayer. Then, we each share our thoughts about the proposal and any guidance that came to us in the silence. This listening prayer and consensus model really does help the meetings flow more smoothly.

New Grants!

Over the course of the day the board approved some very exciting new grants! We funded 23 new Small Business Fund grants, and also grants for a LGBT workshop in Uganda, a savings and loans cooperative in Kenya, a bead work and carpet-making workshop for women in Nairobi, and more! Some of these grassroots organizations are for long-time partners, and others are new to SIA. In all cases we remember Del Anderson’s commitment to building relationships, and his openness to sharing knowledge with each other, and learning what we can about poverty reduction and local needs from our partners.

At the end of the day, and before meeting up for dinner, several of us took a walk in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. After the intensity of the meeting, I reveled in the stillness of those ancient trees and the lush greenness of the resilient undergrowth.

Me next to a giant redwood tree!

During the meeting, board member Barbara Deal shared about her experience of meeting Mother Theresa many years ago. Mother Theresa remarked that the reason she served others, including the most destitute, was that it was an opportunity to “serve Jesus in all his most distressing and glorious disguises.” At Spirit in Action, as we serve alongside our wonderful partners, we also have this opportunity to co-create with Jesus.

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