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I’ve seen how small groups can achieve great things

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

I never doubted that the small group of thoughtful, committed people who came together two years ago to form the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans (MAVISALO) group in Malawi could change their community.

In explaining how small groups can achieve big things, author Henry Hemming looks to the power of giving. “Groups that last longer consist of members who make an equal contribution, creating fellowship, camaraderie and value.” With everyone giving, people can achieve more together than they can on their own.

Collective action to achieve a greater good was the reason for starting MAVISALO.

Pet shows us his farm

Pet shows us his farm, which he was able to expand with a small MAVISALO loan. (Malawi, 2011)

One of the great needs in Manyamula Village was access to capital; money to start and improve businesses and farms, money to pay for school and medical fees. The most common way of addressing this need, commercial micro-finance with high interest rates, is usually counterproductive.

Instead, people in Manyamula were ready with their own solution: a locally managed and collectively run savings and loans group. SIA responded to this enthusiasm with an initial grant for an income-generating poultry project and information about starting the cooperative.

Two years later MAVISALO is growing, thriving, and learning. They are continually improving access to credit, encouraging savings, serving others in the community, and creating fellowship among group members.

Improving Individual Lives

treasurer with chicken feed

MAVISALO Treasurer with chicken feed for poultry project

Canaan Gondwe, in his annual report of MAVISALO’s progress, shared some of the “eminent and noticeable successes and impacts on livelihood” among individual group members:

  1. Easy access to financial services

  2. Creation of self-employment among members

  3. Increased asset creation (i.e. better houses, motorcycles, bicycles, livestock)

  4. Food secure households

  5. Members afford medical bills in private clinics

  6. Members support their children with school fees

Business Investments

group uniform

Tanya with MAVISALO group members in 2011 – all wearing the MAVISALO cloth uniform.

The group has also made a collective investment in a cloth project as another way to increase their loan fund. Together they agreed on a cloth to buy and then purchased the fabric in bulk at a wholesale discount. Cloth pieces were sold to members at retail price with profit going back into the group’s loan fund.

Through this process they increased the amount available to loan to group members and also created a de facto uniform for group members!


Always looking at ways to improve and be transparent, MAVISALO hosted two officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the COMSIP Cooperative Union to audit their books.

Canaan reports that, “it was quite an enriching encounter for us for the first time to have auditors and look at our records in a comprehensive way. Their remark after a review was an impressive one, such that at national level they want us at the MAVISALO Cooperative to train many other community groups in effective and transparent recording. 

mavisalo records book

A page out of the MAVISALO expenditure records book.

“They were satisfied with our member filing system, cash receipts, payment vouchers, reporting, photography, and development of relevant forms for use.”

Perhaps most importantly for the small groups potential to achieve great things, the auditors also, “were surprised at the unity of the members and the way the Cooperative provides its services to the community.” Yes!

Congratulations to MAVISALO for all your accomplishments in 2012! I am confident that this year will provide many more opportunities for your small (but growing) group to achieve big things and change the world.

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