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Different paths toward empowerment

The question “what does Spirit in Action do?” has many different answers. The thing is, Spirit in Action has two distinct approaches to empowering others.

Small Business Fund


Hastings and Ruth started a brick-making business in Malawi.

On one hand is the Small Business Fund (SBF). Started in 2005, the Small Business Fund is a SIA-specific program where all grantees, whether they are in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, or Nigeria, go through the same training program of business and communication skill development. The local coordinators work closely with me and consult with each other as they implement this program in their communities.

In the SBF, we are directly giving $150 to families to help them take on a new livelihood and improve their lives. (For more about how the SBF works, see these FAQs.)

Community Grants

On the other hand, Spirit in Action is also a traditional grant-maker, like a community foundation or a family foundation, giving grants to grassroots organizations throughout the world that will implement their own programs.

These grassroots organizations (also called “community-based organizations”) are already working to eliminate poverty, grow more food, or stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc. in their community. Think of these groups as similar to your local PTA, community gardening association, local health clinic, or save the shore kind of group. They are concerned citizens who want to make things better for their neighbors and for the community as a whole.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house.

Tanya and student volunteers at SIA poultry project house in Kitale, Kenya.

The small grants, ranging from $500-4,000, support a wide variety of local solutions for the challenges that each community faces. Past SIA grants have start community gardens and collaborative farming efforts, poultry projects, bio-intensive garden trainings, girl’s empowerment workshops, and a savings and loans cooperative.

Why don’t we just fund one type of project, like building wells? Because we’ve seen that 1) solutions brought forth from the community are more effective and quickly gain community buy-in; and 2) empowerment is about trusting communities to know what will best address their problems.

Sometimes a well might be the answer, other times the answer might be water tanks to catch rainwater.

Of course, we don’t just fund every proposal that comes in; I take time to review proposals, develop relationships, give feedback, ask questions, and pray for guidance. (Read more about choosing partners here.)

Common Principle

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Sharing the Gift of a pig in Uganda.

Even though we have two methods of serving communities in Africa, one principle brings the two techniques together, and that is Sharing the Gift. This pay-it-forward initiative is key to both the Small Business Fund and community grants. It’s implemented in different ways: for example, tithing business profits in the Small Business Fund, or creating an emergency relief fund by a Community Grant group. In both, the idea of blessing others as we have been blessed and giving generously to others is central to SIA’s vision of change.

If you have more questions about what we do or how we do it, leave a comment or email me (Tanya) at!

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