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Insights from our Coordinators: Small Business Fund

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

You’ve probably read many of my blog posts about our Small Business Fund (SBF) program for entrepreneurs. Small groups receive a $150 (now $250) grant and local coordinators provide training and mentorship. It’s easy to share success stories from the entrepreneurs, and to see the lives changed as a result of their hard work. However, last June in Kenya, a conversation with the SIA SBF Coordinators gave me a fuller picture of the successes and challenges of implementing the program. Here are some of their insights:

Naomi Ayot (Aboke, Uganda):

(Naomi in the floral dress.) “When I first go to meet with potential families, I first talk with them. I talk about SIA and what we do. And I ask them what they expect to achieve”

Mindset Preparation: “When I first go to meet with potential families, I first talk with them. I talk about SIA and what we do. And I ask them what they expect to achieve. I talk to them about transparency and integrity. I tell them, ‘If we cheat SIA, we cheat God.’”

Additional Mentors: Naomi involves leaders from various local churches as mentors for the groups.

Community Trauma: Many people in the Aboke area were forced to leave home during the Kony rebel fighting in the 1990s. Many men died in this violent war. Families are just now returning and rebuilding their lives.

Sharing the Gift: Milly (past SBF recipient) said of her profit, “This is not our money, this is SIA money.” She and her husband gave a neighbor/widower a cow, so that he could use it for a dowry. Other groups pay-it-forward by giving food to people who can’t afford it.

Canaan Gondwe, (Manyamula Malawi):

Mentoring: Canaan now has mentored over 150 groups. But out of the first ten groups he mentored, only four are continuing. “They thought money was for free. They needed a lot of mentoring and patience to get them involved. Now, I don’t talk about money first. I listen to the family, sympathize with them, and talk about opportunity to change. There should be a consensus in the family. The husband has to agree that they want to move to another level.”

Tanya and Canaan visiting Gertrude’s organic farm in Manyamula (June, 2019). Gertrude is growing cassava during the dry season.

Challenges: “Illiteracy really hampers groups from their record-keeping.” Sometimes, the children in the family help their parents with the record-keeping and figures. Another challenge is the temptation to use the funds, or the initial business profits, to go to South Africa. In South Africa, men can work illegally and send home (or not) cash.

Real Life Changes: 30% of SBF groups in Manyamula now have electricity in homes. “They see businesses as employment and work hard at it,” says Canaan. He has also seen a noticeable reduction in violence in SBF families.

Wambui Nguyo and Dorcas Okoti (Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya):

New Friendships: “Women from the first SBF cohort group still meet twice a month to check-in and contribute to a merry-go-round saving fund. They knew each other before, but they weren’t friends until SIA.” (Their gatherings also include dancing!)

Employment: “People used to wait around until they were called to do a casual job or work as a day-laborer. Now they run their own businesses.”

Illiteracy: “Illiteracy is a big problem, making it difficult to keep track of business purchases and sales.” Wambui and Dorcas encourage new business groups to buy a notebook to keep track of each sale, but sometimes even those numbers are a challenge.

Inclusiveness: “Poverty doesn’t choose your religion,” says Wambui. This is why they include Muslim families in the SBF program too. And they make sure to include a mix of people from different tribes.

Temporary Housing: In the informal settlement of Korogocho, it is difficult to track people because they are renting their homes. Sometimes people move because they are able to now rent a better house!

Samuel Teimuge and Dennis Kiprop (Eldoret, Kenya)

Local Cohorts: Samuel and Dennis’s groups are spread out, so it can be a while between their visits to any one group. This is why they encourage local cohorts, which serve as peer support groups and also savings clubs.

Samuel in his garden in Eldoret. He always mentors from his own experience.

Mentor by Example: Samuel always mentors from his own experience. He is a farmer and talks to the groups about reinvestment and food security. He tells them about organic gardening and diversifying their crops. “When I go to visit the groups, I say, ‘Let the small encourage,’” says Samuel. “If you start small and expand, then you will have enough to eat and have some to sell too.”

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