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Notes from the Field
Posted by: BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA at 3:19AM EST on March 22, 2013
Im BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA Secourist Red -Cross in Uvira south-kivu rep democratic of congo im looking for a jobs in rdcongo .contact mail email@example.com tel 243 971603199 243 853195164 . fanks for your helping job .
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:05AM EST on November 2, 2012
September 25— "I had no idea how to make a living, but now I know how to save money and reinvest it. I used to sell corn once a year; now it's several times. We live a better life now. My children go to school; I have no more debt at the health center; visitors get to eat at my house; we have enough cooking oil and salt; and I don't fight with my husband anymore when I want to buy a new dress. Thank you, CARE," Jacqueline, a 40-year old mother of eight, explains. Jacqueline is the president of a group of 30 that benefits from CARE's socio-economic program that advises members of poor communities on how to collectively save money and better invest it in small businesses.
Jacqueline's group lives in Mulo, a rural village of 8,500 people right outside Lubero center in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group is mostly made up of women and they have gathered this morning to officially end the first one-year cycle of the group's existence. They sit in a circle on benches outside with the money they collectively saved presented in the open.
"The money is safe; no one steals here," the accountant tells the CARE staff that attends the meeting today. When they first came together as a group a year ago, some contributed 500 Congolese Francs (CF), which is around 50 cents, others up to 2,500 CF to a common pot. They continued with weekly contributions, which not only provided members with a savings mechanism, but allowed the group to provide members with small credits. With the interest paid, the group managed to accumulate a total of $1,341, which gets divided proportionally today.
"In the beginning, it was difficult to trust that the money won't get lost. But we all stuck to the agreement," one member says. Most of the group's members have invested in the production of a local alcoholic drink and the sale of palm oil and fish.
Through the project Pamoja, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CARE supports post-war communities in developing sustainable livelihoods. Celestine's group benefits from what is called Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), which allow very poor communities or groups to save money and invest to start small businesses. Pamoja has already established 228 such groups in Lubero and is planning to create another 122.
"I am so happy where I am today. As soon as we conclude the meeting, I will go to the school to pay for my children's fees. I don't have much to say, but thank you so much," Anastasia, 59 years old and a mother of ten, intervenes.
"It's the same for me," Dieu Donné, a 31-year old father of four, confirms. "Since we've started, our lives have changed. Our clothes are always clean because there is always soap."
Everyone agrees with a shout of ‘yes' that they will continue with the group's activities into the second cycle. Dieu Donné jumps up and says jokingly, "My wife pushes me every day to not drop out of the group and when I am travelling, she attends the meetings for me." The group giggles as Dieu Donné retakes his seat.
Also in Mulo, only about 1,640 feet away, the joy is similarly big. Through the project Ushindi, CARE works with seven vulnerable women, including survivors of sexual violence, to reintegrate into society and earn a living. As the CARE team arrives, the group is in the middle of a soap production—the first one since they have been trained in soap-making a few days ago.
"This will change our lives. It helps us to make some money and the community will benefit from soap at the same time," 25-year old single mother Imakele says. It's the first local soap production in Lubero and the group's members are proud.
Ushindi, funded by USAID through consortium lead International Medical Assistance, provides training for income generating activities to survivors of sexual violence and other vulnerable members, which helps them to develop sustainable livelihoods and regain a respectable position in their communities.
"We have also learned how to make soap. I will use what I make to send my children to school, feed them, and buy medicines," a mother of 12 affirms.
In addition to improving their lives, they will also be able to participate and pay their share in a VSLA. The seven women agree that the group has not only trained them in soap making and given them an opportunity to make a better living, but they have also gained new hope for a better future, thanks to the solidarity and encouragement they have experienced in the group.
Posted by: Andisheh Nouraee at 4:12PM EST on September 28, 2012
Acknowledgment of the success of our VSLAs from Melinda Gates would be very meaningful to us under any circumstances, but it was doubly so yesterday. That’s because the same event also included the African launch of CARE’s new Pathways program to improve the food security and long-term resiliency of women smallholder farmers and their families. Supported by the Gates Foundation, Pathways will use the success of VSLAs as a platform to enable women farmers to access the skills and services they need to promote sustainable agriculture in their communities and reduce poverty and hunger.
In a session following Gates’ talk, Pathways Team Leader Dr. Jemimah Njuki explained the program's aims, and discussed how Pathways is setting standards for other CARE programs. For example, the measurement tools developed by CARE for Pathways are already being used in four other CARE programs. Over five years, Pathways will help 150,000 people in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania.
To learn more about CARE’s Pathways program, visit www.CAREPathwaysToEmpowerment.org. To find out more about the African Green Revolution Forum and efforts to boost sustainable agricultural growth in Africa, visit www.AGRForum.com.
And for a short photo blog detailing Melinda Gates' visit this week to a CARE Village Savings and Loan Association near Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, visit the Gates Foundation's Facebook page.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:03AM EST on July 9, 2012
Story and photos by Allen Clinton
Turning Ideas into Livelihoods
Known as palta in many South American countries, avocados have long grown wild in Peru. But until 10 or 20 years ago they were seldom cultivated as a cash crop. In 1993, there were only 30 hectares (75 acres) dedicated to growing avocados commercially in the country. The avocado is now one of the most important of Peruvian fruits, as evidenced by its demand in foreign and domestic markets and the high prices paid for it. It has become a popular crop because of its nutritional properties, particularly the high concentration of protein and unsaturated oils and no cholesterol.
"We work together to overcome poverty," says Hector, who grows Hass, Fuerte and Linda avocados. "Before, when we didn't have money, our hands went up in the air and no one came to help. Today we are improving our lives and incomes with support from CARE."
CARE first approached Hector and other farmers in 2002 to create a small demonstration area where, over three years, they learned to grow and harvest avocados. Realizing it was a great opportunity, the farmers formed a group called the Asociación de Fruticultores del Valle de Huanta and began investing in their individual plots. Hector took a loan of 75,000 soles ($20,000) from the microfinance institution EDYFICAR to buy an acre of land close to town where he planted 85 avocado trees.
Hector's biggest early obstacle to success growing avocados was access to water. Successful agriculture in Peru has always been about devising clever ways to capture and apply water. Centuries ago, the Nazca people built underground aqueducts. Incas used reservoirs and canals, known as Waru Waru, to coax life out of desert land. Hector uses an irrigation system that he believes his ancestors would be proud of. With CARE's technical assistance, Hector dug a hole the size of a backyard swimming pool and double-lined it with thick plastic to create a reservoir. It instantly quadrupled his water supply. But capturing water is only half the challenge. Avocado trees require irrigation every 24 to 48 hours. Time spent by Hector with a hose in hand was not only labor intensive but also wasted valuable water. He took out a second EDYFICAR loan of 6,500 soles ($2,000) to automate the farm's irrigation with sprinklers, known as riego tecnificado. He paid back the loan in nine months and now makes three times more than other producers because he uses irrigation technology.
Steady Drips of Progress
CARE has supported Hector and his fruit growers' association by helping them build the value chain, supplying technical assistance and linking them to local and export markets, particularly in Europe. Last year, the association exported approximately 200,000 kilograms (440,000 pounds) of organic avocados, receiving 3 soles ($1.10) per kilogram.
Now 8-years old, Hector says his trees each produce 80 to 100 kilograms of fruit a year. Approximately 20 percent of his production is exported with the rest going to nearby markets. But Hector isn't putting all his avocados in one basket. He's diversifying his income in case the demand ever reduces or weather affects production.
Hector keeps his trees well fertilized using manure from the cuy (guinea pigs) he raises in a large shed next to his plot. "Cuy keeps my avocado production organic," he says. "But I raise cuy for more than their manure."
Once eaten by Incan royalty, cuy meat remains a delicacy in Peru. It tastes like rabbit or dark chicken. Raising cuy is a stable source of income for poor, rural families.
When Hector started planting avocado trees, CARE provided him with a dozen cuy and training on how to breed, feed and market them. Today he has nearly a thousand cuy. Whereas avocado trees take a few years to mature, cuy take less than three months to reach their ideal sale weight of 800 grams (1.8 pounds). Hector and his association sell cuy for 12 to15 soles each ($4 to $5) to six restaurants. Their profit margin is 50 percent. One of the restaurants, for example, buys 200 cuy a day. In a small field between his shed and avocado grove, Hector also grows alfalfa and another type of plant he calls saylla (also the name of a town near Cuzco known for its traditional baked cuy), which he uses as cuy food.
Meeting farmers like Hector is invigorating. His enthusiasm and drive for self-improvement are infectious. Hector's two value chains complement each other and his patience and hard work have rewarded him by improving his living standard and helping preserve the environment. Hector expects another good season with higher export volumes than last year. He hopes to tap into the U.S. market.
"The stage is set for many years of profitable sales," says Hector, who eats half an avocado a day not only because he likes the taste but also to test the quality. "We will continue to grow and look to supply new markets."
Whatever the challenges they face, smallholder farmers like Hector in Peru are now empowered to meet them head on with a smile. The impact of CARE's efforts is clear when struggling farmers and their families become aware of the benefits they can realize when they apply new technologies and environmentally friendly farming methods, whether in growing avocados or other cash crops like white corn, artichoke, golden berry and cocoa.
"It is so promising to see that the knowledge learned by the farmers during training is being successfully adopted," says Alejandro Rojas, CARE's agriculture program manager in Peru. "Smallholder farmers and their associations are helping transform Peru into one of South America's major exporters of agricultural goods."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:33AM EST on June 1, 2012
By Rodrigo Ordóñez
In the last few weeks, I have talked to families in several regions of Niger, while traveling on my own or when taking journalists to the field. Despite the variety of personal circumstances, certain elements appear often in people's stories.
Life has never been easy for these people. They've increasingly got used to enduring what others would consider unbearable. Their ability to eat has been highly dependent on weather and rains since they can remember. Most families have lost children because they couldn't feed them and they fell ill easily.
This cycle of poverty has become the ‘new normal' for them.
This is also the case for the people I talked to in Saran Maradi, a village in the region of Maradi, southern Niger.
This year has been harsher than usual, and crops were insufficient to feed their families. They couldn't afford to buy food in the markets either, because of the high prices. Only a few people in the village have grain left, but it's only for planting. Many sold their goats or sheep to buy food, but the prices are low, up to half of the standard price.
CARE is providing income to 61 families in Saran Maradi so they can buy food during what is commonly known as the ‘lean season,' the gap between the time people run out of food stocks and the next harvest. "It's a support that came at the right moment," says Achirou Inoussa, a 42-year-old man from Saran Maradi. People receive cash in exchange for part-time work in projects identified by their community, or as a handout in the cases where nobody in the family is able to perform manual labor.
The cost of this type of emergency project is relatively low, but it has a very tangible impact.
"Normally, around this time of the year, all the young people are gone," says Moussa Garba, an elderly man who claims to be over 80, although he doesn't know exactly. Sitting under a tree, he and other men explain to a visitor that during the nine months of the dry season most men in the village go to Nigeria to work in low-qualification jobs; as porters, water sellers, or emptying septic tanks. This year, however, some came back when they found out about CARE's project and the opportunity to earn a living in their doorstep.
Apart from preventing seasonal migration, cash-for-work projects bring extra benefits to the communities. In Saran Maradi, people are turning an unused piece of land into pasture. After removing weeds, they sow grains which will germinate during the rainy season and create a new area for cattle to graze.
I was interested in knowing more about the impact of this project in the homes, so I talked to women; they are generally the ones who face directly the difficulties to feed their families in times of hardship. I wanted to know what they were eating before and after this project started.
Delou, Halima, Maka, Mariama, Sahara and Sakina benefitted from this project. They are mothers and grandmothers between the ages of 25 and 80.
All combined, they have 41 children, although their families could have been larger. Through the years, these six women have suffered the loss of 24 sons and daughters in total. Sahara Mahama, 40, lost four children; one of them was only 14 days old. "I lost the youngest one during the rains, in the lean season. I didn't have enough to eat," she laments.
All of them emphasize that this year there wasn't enough rain, and little to eat. "Two years ago at least there were people who harvested spikes of millet, but this year the crops have been worse because of the drought and the leaf miners," says Delou Ibrahim, 70.
CARE's support has allowed them to feed their families at a critical time.
"Before this support, I couldn't; I was eating leaves," explains Maka Ali, an 80-year-old widow. "Not only can we buy millet and sorghum now, but also corn and condiments," explains Mariama Oumarou, 55.
"With this support, we get to eat abundantly," explains Halima Abdou, 25. She and the other women I talked to are now able to give their children two daily meals; porridge in the morning and sorghum paste in the evening.
Delou Ibrahim has four children and suffered the loss of nine. She has about 40 grandchildren, 16 of which live with her.
"I've seen several crises. The famine in 1984 was the hardest. Rains were very weak. The stems of millet came out but the spikes gave no grain - nothing," she recalls. "Two years ago at least there were people who harvested millet, but this year the crops have been worse because of the drought and the leaf miners."
Delou's last crop was 30kg, which only provided food for about two days. Delou and her family receive cash from CARE. "I get to buy cereal to feed my family, particularly my grandchildren." They have two daily meals, porridge in the morning and sorghum paste in the evening.
Halima Abdou has five children. Sakina Moudi has six children and suffered the loss of one.
Last year they harvested 40kg of cereal. "It only lasted for five days," says Sakina. This year they didn't get any crops.
In the periods without food, their husband collects and sells wood to buy yam flour. Now their husband participates in CARE's cash-for-work project and continues to sell firewood to get additional income. "With this support, we get to eat abundantly," explains Halima. "We buy millet, sorghum, and corn." They serve their children two meals per day, one in the morning and one in the evening.
Maka Ali has been a widow for twenty years. She has eight children and about twenty grandchildren. She has experienced the loss of six children, four of them at an early age. "I was alone taking care of them, so I cannot say their deaths weren't related to lack of food," Maka recalls.
Nobody in her family can work, so she receives a cash transfer from CARE. "When I receive the payment, I buy sorghum and maize," Maka explains. "Before this support, I couldn't; I was eating leaves."
Sahara Mahama has seven sons and a daughter. She lost four other children; one of them was only 14 days old. "I lost the youngest one during the rains, in the lean season. I didn't have enough to eat."
Eating has become increasingly harder through the years, recalls Sahara. "When I was a kid, we used to have three meals: in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.” However, one meal a day has now become the norm. "It's never guaranteed, but we try."
Sahara participates in CARE's cash-for-work project. With the money she receives, she buys cereal and gives her children two meals per day.
Mariama Oumarou has ten children and three grandchildren. Through the years she has lost four children and two grandchildren. She participates in CARE's cash-for-work project. "Not only can we buy millet and sorghum now, but also corn and condiments."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 11:22AM EST on April 30, 2012
By Suzanne Berman, CARE Field Coordinator
Siaya is a town twenty miles from Lake Victoria, in Western Kenya. I am in town to visit community groups that my CARE Kenya colleagues (Alex, Lucy, and Margaret) have been working with in the last six months. The first group we visit named themselves Twelve Sisters, but they are quick to tell me they have fifteen members, as they have been growing. Six months ago, these women started working together as a community savings and loans group. The women meet twice a month, and at every meeting they contribute money to the group. They are required to contribute 20 Kenyan shillings (about 30 cents) to the group's social fund, and then they can choose the amount of money they want to contribute to the group's pooled funds. The pooled funds are lumped into shares, which cost 100 Kenyan shillings (about $1.50).
At any meeting, group members can take out loans from the group's pooled funds. In April, Dada started an embroidery business. Frances improved her poultry farm. Alice paid the secondary school fees for her children. The women repay their loans a month after they take them out, along with 10% interest.
The social fund, however, is a different matter altogether. The social fund grows every month, and if one of the women has a problem, the group votes on whether or not to use their social fund to help her. Two months ago, Frances' house caught on fire, and she lost many of her possessions. Twelve Sisters voted to nearly deplete their social fund, giving Frances a way to start over. Unlike the loan system, the social fund does not need to be repaid.
Beatrice, the group's president, tells me, "this box is a painkiller…before when we had problems we had nowhere to turn, but now we have a resource." While we only spent a day together, it was clear to see that Beatrice was a force to be reckoned with. In addition to leading Twelve Sisters, Beatrice is a community educator on clean water. Trained by CARE, Beatrice goes into rural villages armed with PUR water packets. Donated by Proctor and Gamble, these packets purify 10 liters of water. The packets cost 15 Kenyan shillings (20 cents), but thanks to Proctor and Gamble, Beatrice and other health workers can distribute samples for free when they conduct community trainings.
Beatrice shows me how she demonstrates the packets. She empties the packet into a bucket of brown water that she collected from the nearby river. As she sings a song about the process, Beatrice stirs the bucket for five minutes. Then we wait. Twenty minutes later, the water is miraculously clear. Beatrice ties a white cloth around a second bucket and uses it as a filter for the sediment that floats on top of the translucent bucket. "Now it is safe," she says. I must admit, I'm impressed.
Alex and Margaret, who run CARE's water and sanitation programs in Siaya, tell me that the funding from Proctor and Gamble will last two more years, and their clients are always asking for more PUR packets. The mortality rate from water-borne diseases has dropped significantly in Siaya since CARE started the Safe Water System Project, and families are eager to use the PUR packets because the water looks and tastes better, and they see immediate improvements in their health.
Beatrice asked me what I was going to do when I got back to the United States. I explained that my job is to tell stories to members of Congress, so they will support programs like Twelve Sisters and the Clean Water Project. I hope to make good on my promise.
There are two bills in Congress right now that could help women like Beatrice and groups like the Twelve Sisters. The Microenterprise Empowerment and Job Creation Act (H.R. 2524), and the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act (H.R. 3658). Please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for the office of your member of Congress, orclick here to send him/her an e-mail in support of these life-saving pieces of legislation.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:57AM EST on March 1, 2012
Sparrow McGowan, CARE Canada
Five years ago, 40-year-old Rowshan Ara was making thread for a living, earning an average of 200 to 250 Taka (2 to 3 USD) a week. Coupled with her husband Toiab’s small income as a handloom labourer, they struggled to buy food and were unable to afford school costs for their children. Today, Rowshan Ara reflects on that time, saying that she knew that owning their own handloom would give them the opportunity to make change in their lives, but the 6,000 Taka (approx. 72 USD) price tag for a handloom was out of reach.
Identified by CARE’s SHOUHARDO program as being amongst the very or extreme poor, Rowshan Ara became eligible for support. She was given a grant of 1,500 Taka (approx. 18 USD). Still short of the cost of a handloom, Rowshan Ara and her husband took a loan from a local organization and were able to purchase a loom. They returned that loan and through saving and borrowing have grown their business to include six handlooms, producing 150 saris a week in their small factory. They sell the saris at the local market and earn between 24,000 and 25,000 Taka weekly. What's more, they employ six workers.
Rowshan Ara points out that the relationship between her and her husband is excellent. With him managing the purchasing and selling and her managing the factory, they are a team. The business not only ensures that they, their sons (22, 16 and 3 years old) and daughter (13 years old) are now able to eat regular, healthy meals, but her 16-year old son and 13-year-old daughter are also in school, and her eldest son is part of the family business. In the community, Rowshan Ara is now seen as a role model and business competitor.
In looking to the future, Rowsha Ara points out that currently the factory is all hand-based machinery, but they are planning to eventually bring in modern machines so they can increase the number of workers and the factory size.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 4:14PM EST on January 4, 2012
Haiti – 2 year anniversary of earthquake
Like so many places in Haiti, idyllic natural beauty and the harsh reality of deep poverty collide in Tiawa.
Perched atop a mountain in Léogâne, Tiawa affords an extraordinary view of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, much of that vista is scarred by destruction. Haiti's devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed 80 to 90 percent of the buildings in Léogâne, according to official estimates. It was the area hardest hit by the quake.
In Tiawa, the quake gave rise to an impromptu camp of 1,500 people; people who had lost many members of their families, and nearly all of their possessions. CARE began supporting the families with emergency relief supplies immediately after the earthquake. Now CARE is helping them make the transition from recovery to rebuilding.
Today the camp's population is steadily dwindling. Many residents have rebuilt their homes. Others have moved to improved shelters built with assistance from CARE or other aid groups.
Integral to CARE's five-year, $100 million program to help Haitians rebuild their country are initiatives to help them develop their own economic opportunities after they've moved out the camps. In the fall, CARE launched the first Village Savings and Loan Association in Tiawa. VSLAs are self-managed savings groups. CARE teaches participants, the majority of whom are women, who save and loan money in small groups.
Members borrow money from the savings fund to pay household expenses and to start small businesses. The loans are repaid with interest which is then shared among the group members. Participants earn a greater rate of return on their savings than they would in a bank, while building bonds with their neighbors. VSLA loan repayment rates are near 100 percent.
Crucially, VSLAs elevate the status of women in their communities by demonstrating how the economic empowerment of women helps not just women, but everyone around them, including men and boys.
At one of the first VSLA meetings in Tiawa, the group sang a song composed by VSLA field manager Yves François Constant. "Where VSLA people stand, there's no space for misery," they sang. "Where VSLA people stand, women have autonomy."
The Tiawa VSLA groups grew out of a gender-based violence counseling and support group CARE launched after the earthquake. After helping women survivors cope with the aftermath of gender-based violence, CARE is helping them take the next step by offering a VSLA program as a way to help the women weave their own economic safety nets. CARE's objective is to help women, and therefore their families, gain autonomy.
Although all of the money in a VSLA comes from the participants, CARE is facilitating VSLA growth in Tiawa and elsewhere in Haiti by fostering connections with responsible local businesses. Through CARE, VSLAs will soon team with Haiti-based Earthspark International to market green and clean energy products in Haitian communities. Conservation and better environmental stewardship are essential to Haiti's long-term recovery.
And to make sure their growing savings are stored safely, CARE will partner with a local mobile phone provider to develop a mobile wallet designed specifically for VSLAs. It will allow VSLA members to securely store and transfer money electronically, eliminating the need for group members to guard large stores of cash.
Though the VSLA model is new to the earthquake zone, it is not new to Haiti. Prior to the earthquake, CARE helped groups of women start VSLAs in Grand Anse, in the southwestern corner of the country. When survivors from other parts of Haiti poured into Grand Anse after the earthquake, the families with women who participated in VSLAs were better able to cope.
"Parents had to accommodate and feed their [returning] children and grandchildren," said Léonne Rochas, a regional VSLA chairwoman in Grand Anse. "The financial autonomy they gained from VSLAs helped them a lot."
CARE and the original Haitian VSLA groups in Grand Anse are now rapidly expanding.
"We don't advertise this product. It does its own marketing," Rochas says. "The women around us have seen how savings have gained us more respect in our families and communities. We are role models now."
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 3:41PM EST on August 11, 2011
By Trond Skramstad
My fourth week in Mozambique was spent in the northern part of the country. We visited with financial services businesses, NGOs and VSLA groups in and around the towns of Pemba and Nampula which lie in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula respectively. A relatively large and stretched out country—almost two times the size of California and the distance from north to south almost twice that of California’s as well—traveling around takes time here. Adding poor roads and infrastructure to the equation means that distances become multiples of what we are used to back home and as such the cultural differences and state of economic activity are also magnified. So, getting around to observe these differences is important for our project.
Pemba lies on the Indian Ocean in Cabo Delgado province which borders Tanzania to the north. It is a majority Muslim province and one of the poorest regions of the country (Mozambique is about 25% Muslim in total). Being closer to the equator it is a lot hotter than Maputo and the “cultural” differences, not to mention the distance to the capital and central administration gives it a very different feel. Combine that with a beautiful stretch of beach and a bit of a backpacker’s destination, the mix of people there is interesting indeed.
Probably four or five years old and hardly a toddler anymore, this little boy sat completely still in my arms, most of the time just resting his little head on my chest. He did not want to let go—more than 30 minutes later I finally just had to put him back down… Photo by Alessandra Valent
One of the most exciting things about life in general I think, is the opportunity to not just experience the unexpected and serendipitous, but also that which makes you feel something genuinely new and surprising—something that sets your thoughts off on a different path and ends up tweaking your view of the world and yourself just a little bit. Travelling to new places is one of the ways that affords you a chance to take these small steps into the unknown. While I am hardly a Dr. David Livingstone travelling up the Zambezi here, this trip has provided me with more than one such occasion.
Alessandra, my colleague on this project and a regular churchgoer, managed to find a place for herself to attend Sunday’s service located inside the Iris Ministries’ orphanage at the outskirts of Pemba. Having been invited to come back, she asked me to return with her to get a tour of the place and meet some of the kids. We went back later in the day and found our way into the orphanage—a first for me. The setting is special with baobab trees, notable for their enormously thick trunks and being many centuries old—dotting a gently sloping hill down towards that blue of the Indian Ocean which in the late afternoon light no painting or photograph ever can do justice. By no means a fancy place though, the kids are fed, taught, nurtured and perhaps more important than anything, regularly given a little affection and a warm human touch. There are a good number of volunteers as well as the regular employees there but of course, the adults are far outnumbered by kids. It didn’t take long after we entered the little area set aside for toddlers and babies before a little friend stood in your way, arms stretched up just looking at you and wanting to be picked up. How could you not? I can’t see how anyone goes untouched by such experiences…at least it makes you stop and think.
No, its not a Christo art installation. Samora Machel under wraps in Nampula, protected from damage from road work. Trained as a nurse, he was a socialist revolutionary leader and the first president of the country (at the age of 42) following its independence from Portugal in 1975. He was killed in a plane crash in 1986—not sure what the circumstances were around that...
In Pemba we visited with the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) offices. The AKF is a multi-sector charity and has a fledgling microfinance operation in Cabo Delgado and is launching a VSLA type project in the area as well, and as such someone we might garner further insight about our project. Also getting a glimpse into how another, and very different NGO type operates and understanding their underlying structural differences was fascinating. Although a charitable organization with Shia Ismaili roots, AKF has a secular mission but says it is guided by the Islamic principles of consultation, solidarity with those less fortunate, self-reliance and respecting human dignity—ideals one hardly can argue with. The Imam Aga Khan is the leader of the organization and part of his family fortune is used to help fund it.
One of the things I had hoped to get out of this trip was to better understand how different charitable organizations operate and the types of people they employ—not to mention how the “business” of aid and development function at a grass roots level. The one thing I have found, whether it is a Christian orphanage, the Aga Khan or the people at CARE, at the source of the engagement there lies is a deeply shared intent of doing good, something I believe all healthy people share as part of their humanity. How one best helps out however, and which organizational types are the most effective is another and much more complicated question. I plan on getting back to that later, perhaps in one of my “weeklies” towards the end of my stay here.
One hen. Not leaving empty handed. It was given to us by a VSLA group as a “thank you” for taking the time to visit. What do I do with this thing—its alive! It would be very rude not to accept the gift…Photo Alessandra Valenti
After a few days in Pemba, we took the short flight inland to Nampula, which is the second or third largest city in Mozambique (depending on who you ask). The place has an industrious feel to it but little of the cosmopolitan flair of Maputo. Nampula is also the regional, and for some the national headquarters location for a number of NGOs. It is the site of CARE's second largest office in Mozambique, and the Natural Resources Management sector, for example is administered from here. One of the very helpful things about CARE’s significant presence in the country is that there usually is some infrastructure in place to handle the logistics and a friendly face to greet us when we arrive—indeed, seeing someone with the "CARE" logo in hand as you exit the airport terminal in a place you have never been gives you a slight sense of relief in the knowledge that you will be well taken care of when in town.
The visits in Nampula were entirely focused on microfinance and VSLAs outside the auspices of CARE and we got an opportunity to visit several VSLA type promoters and NGOs as well as microfinance and "technical support" organizations. The main purpose of these meetings were to learn more about alternative models for delivering financial services to the poor, including ways to do linkages of VSLA like groups (other NGOs also organize savings groups but the structure is often a bit different).
Some General Thoughts on Microfinance and VSLA Groups
When it comes to giving financial services to the poor, there are some significant differences in how NGOs and microfinance institutions do this, not just in Mozambique, but around the globe. There are also some big questions with regards to what the objectives should be, what realistic expectations are as well as the efficacy of such programs. In my opinion, the biggest distinction is whether to take a “savings first” or use a “credit driven” approach. Importantly, microfinance is an umbrella concept and microcredit is not synonymous with microfinance—it is just one of its dimensions as is savings, small ticket insurance and so on. While an oversimplification and not an “either or” issue, in my opinion the main question is whether the better way to help is one of the immediate impact of microcredit vs. the more gradual one of a microsavings-led approach. Both have their advantages and shortcomings. The second and very important difference in my opinion is whether microfinance is provided as part of a “bundle” of financial literacy education with other components of a broader development effort within a community or if it is done in isolation. In other words, the longer-term positive impact is likely to be broader and more lasting if microfinance is offered as part of a bigger picture effort although the measurement of the impact of the microfinance component in such “bundled” deliveries of aid become near impossible to measure. In any circumstance, in my opinion microfinance is just one of many ingredients in aid, and that if done right may contribute to economic development in a meaningful way only over longer time horizons.
One way to do microfinance is to take a credit led approach where you effectively start out by immediately putting fresh cash into the hands of the poor in the form of a loan. This is typically done after a brief training period, usually a week or less—sometimes none. While practices vary, some microcredit organizations administer a “financial literacy” test before credit is extended, probably a good idea. The main thrust behind microcredit is that it provides an immediate economic lift through the financing of cash for working capital, like money for a farmer to buy seeds for planting his crop or perhaps a woman buying a sack of beans wholesale and repackaging them into small bags for "retail" sale at the local market. Such credit also can go to funding “capital investment” like a seamstress buying her first sewing machine and thus dramatically enhancing her own productivity. Money borrowed on such credit also at times is used for tuition, school uniforms or perhaps buying medicine. This kind of use of microcredit is typically what donors like to hear about and is trumped as “how microfinance works” on many NGOs’ and microfinance institutions' websites. Often though, the actual numbers tell a somewhat different truth—indeed a lot of credible research show that a lot of microcredit is just plain old consumer lending for small items like food, a basic TV set, taking a trip to visit relatives, in some parts of Africa even paying for a little girl's circumcision (yes, that's unfortunately a fact), or perhaps paying off another loan and so on.
More than one hen. An entrepreneurial VSLA member has built her own prospering poultry business using her savings and borrowings from the group. We found this place one hour’s drive north of Nampula. Truth be told though, these success stories while great to see, are not all that common here. Photo: © 2010 Trond Skramstad/ CARE
Another microcredit “story line” is that poor people can be very good credits and that women in particular pay loans back as promised. While this is true in general, the reality that someone pays back a loan may not correlate with any significant increase in their level of prosperity but rather that if ones reputation in a tight knit community is on the line (or one is hooked on credit) the borrower will go to extraordinary lengths not to default. While there is definite evidence that microcredit can provide an economic uplift to the recipients of the loans and does help a number of people out of poverty, other studies that look more broadly and longer term at the overall economic impact (i.e. also including the non-recipients of microcredit) show that the total community may only be moderately better off. In other words, it is perhaps not quite the magic bullet some rather well know figures in the development community claim it to be. So, the exceptional stories of rags-to-riches entrepreneurial types getting their start with a $100 loan that you can find on a number of websites are just that—exceptions, and probably say more about the unique entrepreneurial talent of some people than it does of the merits of microcredit, although the latter may have been an important catalyst in the mix. Microcredit, that is if it is used for economic activity in the first place, is for the great majority just a means of basic self-employment. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t set the stage for sustainable growth either. The petty trading it often funds and the jobs it creates because of the lack of skill and available opportunities of the borrower does often not amount to much more than a “lemonade stand on steroids” and has such has little to do with true entrepreneurship. Real entrepreneurial talent and drive, as in the developed world, is not something most people are naturally endowed with but is rather something that occurs “naturally” in a few people. In the US for example which is one of the most dynamic economies around, only about one in ten people are self-employed. All this doesn’t mean to say that a credit led approach is all bad. Rather, it suggests that one may have to lower ones expectations and look very carefully at the details and try to understand how a microcredit program is structured and how it is delivered as well before deciding to get involved.
Although a bit of an “aside,” from a very important “bigger picture” perspective the history of consumer credit in the so-called developed world has generally been that your average citizen started to save first. These savings became an additional source of capital for industry that then could invest in size and employ a large number of people, a critical component in putting these economies on a path to prosperity driven by economies of scale and the very important productivity gains that were generated on the back of this. And, looking to Asia as a real life example today, places like China are growing rapidly from low levels of income based on a culture of thrift that likely is an absolutely critical component in funding the manufacturing capabilities that now has made that economy a global powerhouse. Neither VSLAs nor microcredit in their own right can provide this capital, but at least with a savings led approach as promoted in the VSLA framework, there is hope that the building block of “thrift” is put in place, eventually leading to a more significant economy wide capital deepening on a much longer but more realistic time horizon. Indeed, an ample supply of microcredit (particularly if it comes at the expense of the availability of funding to SMEs and bigger businesses) may not encourage scale but could perhaps actually encourage economic fragmentation as an unintended consequence.
The "other" model then, is a savings led approach. A savings led approach doesn’t necessarily mean that credit is not involved but rather that the guiding principle is that one learns to put aside savings first before one gets to borrow. While it may sound disingenuous and arrogant to teach people barely above subsistence the value of deferred gratification, if done on a small scale the longer term educational component from learning how to save may be more valuable than quick access to credit. While there isn't that instant impact of fresh cash into your hands, you are starting a process of teaching financial literacy and understanding that “delaying” now can result in greater “gratification” later but where “later” still is within a reasonable horizon (for the VSLA groups less than one year). To me, financial literacy involves a lot of components. Some of the more important ones, like understanding what it takes to live within ones means by doing “savings first,” provides an opportunity for a person to learn how much money they can put aside each month—and importantly, understanding what the limits are to how much they can borrow to reduce their risk of over indebtedness later. Understanding that there are meaningful rewards from routine and diligent discipline, whether it is with your money and savings over time, or something else that demand such “skills,” I believe this kind of training also can be of great value. Hence, if you skip the savings step I think there is not just a greater risk of getting into more debt than what you can handle, but perhaps more importantly, a missed opportunity for learning and personal growth.
While I by no means am an expert on aid and development, one of the most important things I have gotten out of my visits around Mozambique thus far is that I have an even greater level of conviction than before that the longer-term efficacy of development probably is much, much more dependent on the “mindware” than the “hardware” in giving aid. What I mean by “mindware” are things like education in the broadest sense of the word and work effecting attitudinal change—some as basic as helping build the self confidence and self respect of individuals and communities—another important byproduct of the VSLA approach as well. When the VSLA group methodology works as intended there is almost a year’s worth of NGO involvement and learning, and “mindware” development can go hand in hand with the practical benefits of the VSLA that can help put more food on the table.
The VSLA methodology does have its own limitations on the path to financial literacy and economic development though. Inherently, the VSLA groups are a “closed” system. i.e. the savings and borrowings as well as the learning once the NGO assistance is over, is limited to the group’s own resources. Indeed, the poverty reducing impact (and improving financial literacy and “mindware” development) can only go so far for the VSLAs. What I am very excited about with respect to the bank linkages project we are working on now is that this may perhaps be one good way of clearing a path to the next level of financial literacy while building on the very important lessons already learned by the VSLA members in their group.
The table below is taking a look at a study done of a relatively similar group format in India and shows that there is an initial uplift from implementing a VSLA type, or Self Help Group (SHG) methodology, as it often is called there. It also points out that if left to its own devices, there are clear limitations on how far such groups can take it which may not just be borne out of this study but also makes intuitive sense to me. What I am hopeful about and what would be very exciting to me indeed, is if “linkages” could become one of the components that help produce a further incremental reduction in poverty after the initial round of benefits from the “traditional” VSLA methodology have been harvested.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:58PM EST on August 11, 2011
This last week was spent working from CARE’s head office in Maputo, a fairly typical developing-country capital city with slums, trash laden streets and crumbling infrastructure. It is not unpleasant though as is sits on the ocean and usually catches a nice fresh-air breeze and is not yet completely swamped by polluting traffic. Indeed, you can sense that the potential is there to make it special. There is culture, some attractive colonial-time buildings and wide avenues. There is a good music scene and some fun art galleries and bars as well. While there was a little bit of time to check the city out, the week was spent meeting with a number of financial institutions and consultants relevant to our VSLA linkages project as well as working in the office.
As you all know, the pleasure of going to work every day greatly depends on a few important things such as working on something that is an interesting challenge and feels personally meaningful, having good colleagues, and feeling rewarded emotionally and/or monetarily. I have been lucky. The bigger task at hand—helping people help themselves escape poverty, even if in a very small way—at time feels like an insurmountable challenge, but working on such puzzle can’t help but make one feel humbled but also being part of something that just has to be important. The colleagues at CARE are also great, most all of the ones we have been in touch with positive and very helpful with this project—having robust infrastructure and “industrial scale” capacity is essential in providing ongoing assistance. I often puzzle how smaller organizations/NGOs (in places such as Mozambique in particular) can get more complex things done in anything approaching and economical fashion.
I have also been lucky to get Alessandra as my colleague on this project. Alessandra is a consultant hired in from Accenture (the big global consultancy firm some of you may have heard of that used to have a certain Tiger as their poster boy—now replaced by an elephant on a surfboard…hmm). She is extremely capable and energetic and a pleasure to work alongside on an everyday basis. She joined me on this project here in Maputo and we share the responsibility to get this work done by mid-December but will of course take all the blame if it doesn’t go well J. One interesting dimension of Accenture’s involvement is that they have something called Accenture Development Partners (ADP) which is the non-profit consultancy arm of the organization and bill out—and also pay their consultants who “volunteer”—half of what they ask of commercial clients.
Our work here involves a couple of key components. The first and most essential, is to determine the VSLA groups’ need for access to the formal financial services sector and if so, develop the criteria used to identify which groups should be linked. Additionally, we need to figure out how the VSLA group methodology should be “tweaked” to make the link happen while doing no harm. After three weeks here it is clear to us that there is a need among a number of the groups and we are finding a general interest in using banks among group members—a few are fearful of them but seem in a great minority. CARE has been implementing the VSLA methodology—initially developed in Niger by Moira Eknes (a fellow Norwegian)—in 33 countries in Africa over the last two decades. One of the key sources of success of this approach has been that each group is a “closed system” meaning all the saving and lending is done within the group and that once trained, the groups become self-managing. This allows this methodology to be scaled up and implemented just about anywhere. The “downside” is that with the success of some groups and a modicum of prosperity, the VSLA group has clear limitations—i.e. the savings in the “box” become a real security risk for robbery or fraud and the availability of funds within the group’s resources fall short of members’ borrowing needs. So up against these constraints, what do you do? The key hypothesis is that while these groups may have outgrown the basic VSLA structure, the inpiduals in the group are typically not ready or in a position to approach the formal financial services sector on inpidual basis. Here the “linkages idea” comes in—using the VSLA methodology but making some important changes to make the connection with the formal financial sector. Figuring out how this bit should be done is a work in progress at this stage.
A second key component is to understand what financial service “delivery channels” can work in a cost efficient manner so that the implementation becomes sustainable. What seems to make the most sense to us is to use technology as a key ingredient in linking VSLAs with the formal sector. In countries like Kenya a mobile phone payment system where you “trade” pre-paid airtime for cash in or out, has taken off. More than 14 million people now move money “safely” around using the M-PESA service there and tens of thousands of small shopkeepers or other “agents” effectively become “bank branches” where you can go and “deposit” or withdraw cash, and basic “banking” can thus be made available except perhaps in the most remote areas. At this point such a service is not yet operable here, but mCel, the largest mobile phone operator in Mozambique will launch its M-KESH product over the next couple of months and Vodacom, the second operator (and sister company to M-PESA in Kenya) is not far behind. Cellular usage is taking off and “penetration” is now well over 50%. Indeed, one of the questions we ask of the VSLA groups we meet with is how many members have a mobile phone. Even in the poorest groups there will typically be a handful of members with phones—in the ones we think could fit the “linkage ready” profile, the majority have them. If this could work and the phone based payment system can be connected to the IT system of the banks, it could potentially be a very low cost option. Another strategy (or maybe a combination thereof) may be to use very low cost branch networks and biometrics (finger print recognition and photos allow even the illiterate to be banked) to facilitate the services connection. BOM (Banco Opportunidad Mocambique), part of Opportunity International (a multinational charity focused on financial services for the poor), is probably the furthest along in developing such a low cost network, including using very small branches—effectively a 40-TEU container that can be put down anywhere there is a road and internet connectivity (could be mobile broadband). These branches have as many as five networked PCs, six employees, a safe and a toilet inside. There is an armed security guard outside.
Above: So excited about low cost banking we can hardly contain ourselves—inside a branch in the BOM network
Above: Illiterate in both Xitsua and Portuguese, this customer can still make his deposit!
The third main piece is to figure out what financial institution(s) we should be using for linkage and what products they possibly should and would be capable of delivering in a sustained fashion. Given the regulatory framework and expertise available, VSLA group deposits can probably be taken by most banks and Microfinance Institutions (MFIs). We think the credit piece will be more difficult, and it is already clear commercial banks simply are not in a position to deliver. Unfortunately, there are less than a handful of MFIs in Mozambique of reasonable size and the last year was very difficult for many of them. The global financial market turmoil due in part, there has been lots of turnover among the top management in just about all of these institutions and one of the things we have to worry about is also finding partners that we have confidence are financially viable. There is also very little experience with, and willingness within these institutions to do group loans—understanding the creditworthiness of groups, while well developed in places such as Bangladesh by Grameen Bank and others, is not really something that is a very well understood here. Some creative thinking and further research is in the works to figure this bit out.
Posted by: Maikeru Roran at 8:01AM EST on August 8, 2011
The deep nature of sport is Education and social links, not scores or physical tests. Modern companies invest in pro sports TO BE SEEN by thousands or millions of people. Athletic performance is the key of pro sport today; however the decrease of mass consumption, in the upcoming years and decades, will be closely related with the decrease of mass communication. Sport performance will be less useful. We must be inventive to find a new paradigm. …
“To be seen” is the current main paradigm in sport, “to influence” should be the next one. I imagine breaking into an “Experimental sport” era….. For a basic company, it’s really important to develop its network, diversify human resources, find new talents, new data, and communicate on a social action to promote its own image. Sport is a universal language and I believe in the communication of sport from IDEAS, VALUES, PROJECTS, instead of performances.
Traditional sport groups in South America, Africa or Asia…. could also provide to the world the most hidden skills in any areas on Earth……and, above all, sport is an experimentation ground.
A social business of sport is a team or only a talented and serious athlete who becomes a link between human communities, and even outside national borders…..because exchange creates wealth. A sports team is not just a service, used by big companies as an advertising tool. Pro sport must be a link between skills everywhere in the world and be used by social groups. Companies and individuals have no needs to fill in, they have talents to express … The social business of sport is a status which will develop Traditional sports and vernacular games, as part of Intangible Heritage. Internationally, we must consider South-South and Local-Local cooperation to obtain an economic impact.
I think a sports manager must be able to bring the most important value for teams and athletes: a socio-economic role. It’s really an economy of sport for the “bottom of the pyramid”.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:41AM EST on July 26, 2011
CARE Ethiopia staff
Dama Godona lives in a place of great contrast: even though the grass in Dire, Borena in southern Ethiopia looks green it is the harbinger of a severe drought. Consecutive failed rains did not provide enough water to yield sufficient pasture growth, which is important to sustain the cattle of the region’s pastoralists. Dama lost seven out of her 17 cattle and used all of her savings to purchase animal feed and water for her livestock. She plans to sell six of her remaining cattle in order to buy more cereals, animal feed, and water.
Over the past weeks Dire woreda (the Ethiopian equivalent of a district) has received some rain. But it is missing the heavy rain needed of bringing new plant or crop growth to the area. The people of Borena are pastoralists and dependent on their cattle, goats, sheep and camels. Due to the drought, many cattle have died leaving people without assets - and prone to food insecurity.What people need most
In order to assess of the impact of the current drought on men, women, boys and girls in this area, CARE Ethiopia conducted focus group discussions with several community members with the purpose of learning how to best address people’s needs. In a sea of colorful dresses, diaphanous patterned head wraps, and brightly colored beads, the 43-year old Dama stood out from the rest of the group.
One can tell by the way she carries herself, that she exudes confidence but that she has also experienced hardship in her life. Her husband died in a car accident and since then she has to take care for her four children alone. During the discussion, Dama took the lead in the group, speaking out on behalf of her community and clearly outlining what they need most now in order to adapt to the drought conditions. When asked what the three most important needs are for people within her community Dama stated that she needs food for her family, animal feed and increased access to water, but also support for Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs).
Through CARE’s Regional Reliance Enhancement Against Drought (RREAD) project she was able to contract two loans of 2,000 Birr (about 118 USD) each through a VSLA over the last four years. Upon receiving the loans, she bought emaciated cattle at a low price, fattened them and sold them with profit. With this profit she was able to open a small road side shop. Since opening the shop, she has paid off the loan with interest and is now the head of the very association which helped her increase her income, protect her assets and care for her family. Dama’s position as a pastoralist and a merchant makes her quite unique in this region.Diversifying is key
Dama clearly sees the advantage to diversify their livelihoods and urges other community members to follow her example. “It is important to diversify ones livelihood in order be less affected by droughts,” the 43-year old says. In her eyes, diversification leads to decreased risks and increase in opportunities. While Dama is affected by the current drought, she is in a rare position to use her second source of income as a merchant to maintain her cattle over time and to take care of her family. Dama proudly states, “I am not dependent on cattle because I am a merchant.”
Dama shows that prevention is key to help individuals in times of drought. She demonstrates how increasing an individual’s ability to diversify their livelihoods can spur entrepreneurship, create employment, generate income and ultimately empower an individual. Additionally, it also shows that when Village Savings and Loan Associations are used correctly they can help people provide for their families and can also reduce vulnerabilities associated with drought. Hopefully, Dama’s example will not be so unique in the near future.
Posted by: Staci Dixon at 5:53PM EST on May 24, 2011
by Andisheh Nouraee
Access Africa’s second annual learning event opened today in Accra, Ghana.
Today through Thursday, we plan to review Access Africa’s strategy and methodology in the 28 African countries where CARE's signature program now operates.
Just as the name suggests, the agenda is improvement through learning. With 2.5 million participants in 28 countries across the continent, the people at this meeting have had a wide diversity of experience to share with each other.
“It’s an African movement for African people,” said Access Africa program director Lauren Hendricks in her opening remarks. “Everything we know about how to do [savings-led microfinance services] and how to reach the people most in need, we’ve learned from the people in this room.”
Today’s agenda: reviewing Access Africa’s growth targets and best practices for our continued expansion. With 2.5 million participants, Access Africa is already the largest non-governmental organization providing savings-led financial services in Africa. CARE with our Access Africa program is on pace to reach 30 million women and men in Africa with financial services by 2019. With the entire household benefiting from these services, that’s 150 million people moving out of poverty!
Posted by: CARE at 6:27PM EST on August 30, 2008
If I could summarize what I have seen in Kaundama village in just a word, it would be "harmony". I have met the delightful, inspiring members of the Namirazi women's association (named for a local river). I was instantly drawn to them because of their joyful singing; I thought it was just to welcome us, but they continued to sing as they walked to and from their fields, as they cooked lunch, after they ate they just clearly loved the camaraderie and companionship they have found in their savings and loan group.
The group works so well together, they have undertaken a major investment in a new business. In the next couple of months, they will start raising poultry. Each member has already committed 3,000 Malawian Kwacha (about $20) to have the coop constructed. It stands at the ready. After they have saved a total of 110,000 Kwacha ($760), they'll be ready for CARE to help them arrange the purchase and transport of the chicks, feed and other supplies to start the new venture.
Posted by: CARE at 2:38PM EST on August 28, 2008
I watched a woman named Rhoshida harvest her groundnuts – you might recognize them as peanuts – as the sun sank behind mountains south of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. It was a beautiful scene for a couple of reasons. First, the setting was spectacular. More importantly, there before me was a woman who was harvesting the fruits of her labor, part of a plentiful growing season that would feed her family throughout the year.... (more)
Posted by: CARE at 5:28PM EST on August 21, 2008
Photographer Phil Borges traveled for two weeks in May to
A village savings and loan association is a group of 10-20 members – usually women – who save small sums of money each week to create a fund from which they can access loans. The loans are used to start or expand small businesses, and are repaid with interest. With the income from interest and their individual enterprises, women are able to improve the health, education and well-being of their families.