#GivingTuesday – Support entrepreneurs in Malawi and Kenya!

#GivingTuesday – Support entrepreneurs in Malawi and Kenya!

#GivingTuesday is here! As we receive, so are we called to give. And as other receive, they also pay-it-forward to help another. This ripple of giving is embodied in our Spirit in Action logo, and it is at the core of what we do. Start a new ripple of hope today by donating to Spirit in Action now!

Supporting Families

Wilson Nikosi (Manyamula, Malawi) “I did not even have a piece of soap or a blanket. I was using a sack to sleep on. I was failing to send my child to school. And then I met Canaan Gondwe and he talked to me about Spirit in Action. And with the Small business fund I bought groceries supplies and paid school fees. Now my children are eating. Now I have a house made of baked bricks and I have iron sheets as a roof on my house.

“Yes, I have been sharing the gift. I have assisted two people by giving them tomato seeds and sharing compost. Without the grant, I don’t know where I’d be. I am all thanks.”

Thomas Nkhonde, Wilson Nikosi, and Tanya Cothran in Wilson’s shop in May.

Supporting Women

Pheris Amati (Nairobi, Kenya): “I’m grateful for the Small Business Fund support. I can now feed my family. Kids are going to school. I can pay the rent. My husband has been sick and now I can get medicine for him. With my business, I am making bags like this backpack. For Sharing the Gift I have taught a friend to also sew these bags.”

Support Girls’ Education

Rose (Meru, Kenya) I met with Rose in June and had tea in her house. Four years ago, Rose received a water tank from Spirit in Action through the local organization CIFORD Kenya. In her garden she grows kale and green onions, alternating rows of each. The green onions keep away the aphids and screens keep the chickens out of the garden. She also uses manure from chickens as compost.

With the profit from her garden, Rose bought flour to make ugali, the staple food in Kenya. She now doesn’t have to buy as much food, because they are growing it themselves. Both of her daughters attend university! Rose told me, “Now I can pay for school fees for my daughters. University is subsidized, but it still costs $350 a year.”

Today, with giving in the air, please consider supporting families, entrepreneurs, and girls’ education with a donation to Spirit in Action. Thank you!

A Song of Praise and Thanks for SIA

A Song of Praise and Thanks for SIA

Our last night in Manyamula Village, Malawi, the SIA team met with the Manyamula COMSIP cooperative management team to celebrate13 years of working together and to plan for the future. I have deep respect for these leaders who work tirelessly to reduce poverty and to promote prosperity for all in their community. As the sun set and the air grew cool, Matthews Mahowe – a farmer, schoolteacher, COMSIP leader, and Small Business Fund grant recipient – recited his poem of thanks and praise for SIA. He performed the poem in the local language, Tumbuka, and Canaan Gondwe interpreted in English for us.

A song of praise and thanks for SIA

by Matthews Mahowe

I have a song of praise and thanks for SIA.

Yes, I have come out of the depths of poverty because of the Small Business Fund.

Life of food insecurity, begging, even poor clothing, I am out of it.

I have a song of praise of SIA and the whole Board.

When I sleep and have some inside thinking, I think about SIA and the Board.

Why would I fail to sing a hearty song for SIA and the board?

When I see the motorbike, when I see maize mills, when I see people eating well, I think of SIA.

When I remember the time when Boyd and Tanya were doing the ground-breaking,

These remind me that I sing the song of praise.

In 2014, Tanya and the Manyamula COMSIP Team breaking ground for the Training Centre, guest house, and office building, completed in 2017! Matthews is pictured to the right of Tanya.

We have been given funds for five years for operations what stops me to sing the song of praise?

If I fail to sing a song of praise, if it birds from the bush who will sing that song looking at the infrastructure and bricks.

Leave me alone to sing a song of praise.

When I see that home, the office block and the guest wing block, then I have tears of joy and gladness falling through me.

If dead people were to come alive, they would have said, “God bless Spirit in Action.”

If you look at the chairs, if you look at the cooking pots, and women dressing well, that is part of SIA’s support.

Singing a song of praise for the Maize Mill.

SIA affects changes again through Sharing the Gift.

We have a story of a project, Pig-Pass-On, whose major source is the maize mill from Spirit in Action.

We have also this concept of Sharing the Gift, which is a concept born of Spirit in Action, through the Small Business Fund.

Yes, even the district commissioner came to say that, “I have never seen a huge project like

this one done by local people.”

So, we thank you, Spirit in Action!

Tanya Cothran and Rebacca Mahowe in Our Grace Mini Shop. Rebecca and her husband Matthews were the first Small Business Fund recipients in Manyamula Village, in 2004. They started the restaurant, then a grocery shop at home. Rebecca buys chickens then she cooks and sells them. The family is now able to afford good clothing, food, and education.

This poem was also featured in our latest newsletter, available here!

Blessings for a happy Thanksgiving!

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

Lessons from a coworking space in Malawi

This is reposted from the blog Centre for Social Innovation’s blog. I wrote it for my coworking community in Toronto.

Halfway around the world, stepping into the Blantyre Entrepreneurs Hub was reassuringly familiar. Even though the dusty streets and tin-roofed houses of Malawi, a tiny country in southern Africa, are very different from the condo towers and streetcars of Toronto, spaces of social innovation around the world seem to share more similarities than differences.

Motivational quotes from famous innovators decorated the lime green walls. Bright orange chairs surrounded the black glossy work tables. The office was quiet on the cool evening in May when I visited. Most of the entrepreneurs – the photographers, caterers, and website developers – had already gone home to their families or guest houses for the evening. Dineo Mkwezalamba, Program Manager for Entrepreneurs Motivation Network (EMNET), greeted me with a warm smile. She was excited to show me around the cooperative’s facilities.

Tanya with Dineo (pictured left) the HUB director, and one of the top entrepreneurs (pictured right).

The Hub, as it’s known, is a coworking space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, which is the financial and business capital of Malawi, and a city of one million people. The space provides access to high-speed internet, meeting rooms, electricity, and security. These are big perks for the entrepreneurs, most of whom do not have access to the electrical grid at home. The collective buying power of the Hub makes the amenities affordable. In addition to the monthly memberships, they’ve begun to offering day-pass for about CAD$1.75. The hope is that once entrepreneurs visit the Hub for a day, they’ll become sustaining new members.

On the tour, Dineo pointed out the ocpen-seating desks for Silver Members (like CSI’s HotDesk space), the café (with member discounts!), and the closed offices that can accommodate up to four people in a single business. One of the offices stood empty and Dineo assured me that this was because the interior design company had recently “graduated” up to an office building of their own.

The vibrant Hub space for entrepreneurs in Blantyre, Malawi.

Training Youth to Be Entrepreneurs

In addition to providing space for entrepreneurs, EMNET also hosts a local Pitch Night (read an article from the BBC about their pitch night) and runs a youth entrepreneurs training program. I eagerly listened and took notes as she told me about how they frame the concept of entrepreneurship for the youth. I wanted to be able to remember the way she described their mentorship program, connecting local business leaders and high school youth, and the way she connects the concept of entrepreneurship with ideas that the youth already understand.

“All youth know vendors,” Dineo explained to me, “because many of their parents and family members are vendors.” According to the latest labor statistics, 89% of people who are working in Malawi are in the informal employment. Informal employment covers farming and, especially for women, buying and reselling food and household items.

When Dineo talks to youth about entrepreneurship, she wants them to think beyond selling eggs. “Youth know that vending is the first step to being an entrepreneur. Our goal is to help them get to business success, and to make sure entrepreneurship doesn’t seem like a scary thing.”

Dineo and her team use the motto, “train to sustain,” when teaching the youth about adapting a mindset of starting a sustainable and scalable business. I am incorporating this process of helping people imagine themselves as entrepreneurs into my work with Spirit in Action International.

“I have not failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Animating Community

Similar to my experience at CSI, perhaps the most important perk of the Entrepreneur’s Hub is the access to community and to those serendipitous moments of collaboration. I told Dineo about one of my favorite parts of CSI – Salad Club. Some of the best conversations and exchanges of ideas at CSI have been over a plate of salad. When I mentioned this, Dineo smiled with a twinkle of excitement in her eye. She’d been working on creating more buzz around the Hub office. In July, I got a text message from her, “Keep an eye on our Facebook page today! Your visit sparked some new activities!” That day, the Hub kicked off their #SocialFridays, showing a movie in the lounge space. Generating ideas for animation from their community, they’ve also established: Leadership Mondays, Startup Tuesdays, Business Wednesday, and She Leads Malawi Thursday.

It’s so easy to focus on the differences between places like Blantyre and Toronto. In my experience, Malawians are just as likely as Canadians to think that there’s little we could have in common. Representations of North America arrive in Malawi through the distorted examples of volunteer programs, television shows, and music videos. These leads to a belief that Americans (and Canadians lumped in with them) are all rich people who don’t have any worries or challenges.

Similarly, representations of Malawi (lumped in with all of Africa) mostly arrive in Canada through calls for charity and news about poverty. There are not many opportunities for each of us to see the wealth of experiences and cultural diversity in each country or to experiences each other as individuals.

My conversation and exchange of ideas with Dineo felt different. It gave us a chance to connect as individuals and peers. I left feeling like we were on the same team. Around the globe, there’s always a need for spaces like CSI and the Hub. Places to build community, to bring people together, and to share costs so that entrepreneurs can get our ideas and products out in the world.

Inspiration from Kenya: Change, one step at a time

Inspiration from Kenya: Change, one step at a time

At the blessing of the piglet ceremony in Malawi in May, all the guests were invited to share some words of inspiration and encouragement. The assembled group included members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative where were gifting the pig, the boy receiving the gift, and Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinators from Kenya, Uganda, and other parts of Malawi. In turn, each offered prayers, words of gratitude, or Bible passages.

This piglet was given by the community organization to a promising young boy in the neighborhood. A cooperative member presents the piglet to be blessed.

Soft-spoken and earnest Dennis Kiprop from Kenya stepped into the circle and greeted the group. He had a story to tell us, a story of encouragement. He spoke in English, with fellow SIA SBF Coordinator Thomas Nkhonde from Malawi, interpreting into the local language, Tumbuka, for the rest of the group. 

Dennis Shares a Story:

This is a story about a ten-year-old boy playing on sand along the beach. As he was playing, he noticed that the tides were pushing little starfish up onto the shore and into the scorching sun.

The boy paused to watch and felt he should help in some way. He started throwing the little starfish back into the ocean. As he did this, an old man who had been watching from a distance approached the boy.

The old man looked at the boy and said, “Young boy, what are you doing?” The young boy replied so humbly, “I’m throwing the starfish back to the ocean, to keep them alive.” The old man looked at the boy and at the long beach filled with scorching starfish. He shook his head and said to the young boy, “No matter how long you do this, you won’t really make any progress.”

The young boy looked into the old man’s eyes. He picked up one more star fish and said, “this one matters.”

Here is the moral to the story: We can’t solve all the problems in the world at one time, but one little thing counts, day by day!

Thank you, Dennis, for sharing your optimism and hope with Spirit in Action!

Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Kenya, always had a motivational story to share with the group!

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