Think starting a business in the US is hard? Try setting up a sustainable enterprise in the developing world, where capital is extremely limited and health problems, floods, droughts and civil war can impede even minimal growth. This blog post is Part 1 in a series about the challenges of starting and sustaining micro-enterprises in the countries where Five Talents works. Read Part 2 here.
Imagine: You're struggling to keep a hat-making business afloat. You made $5 in profit from last month's sales, but now you receive some bad news. A cousin on a motorcycle has driven two hours into your village to tell you that his wife, who is pregnant, is experiencing complications. She needs to go to the nearest health clinic, but the family has no money.
"Can you help us?" he asks.
You don't waste a moment. You return home, collect the $5 you have tucked away in an old pair of shoes, and hand it to your cousin. He drives away. The life of his wife and child are saved. And you have once again stalled out your business. Without that $5, you cannot buy the supplies you need to make more hats, and, thus, make more money.
Adriana, a mother of four living in Bolivia, faced just this sort of situation before she took out her first loan with Five Talents.
After struggling to make ends meet with an ice cream and Jell-O business, a friend convinced her to start sewing towels and skirts. She did, and began to boost her income, but then she received word that her nephew was sick and needed medical care in order to save his life.
Of course, she sent the money necessary to address his medical needs, but in doing so she also lost the capital that would help her to continue her business.
Colleen Dyble, a Five Talents Fellow who worked for two years in Peru with the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF), says that Adriana's story is all too common in the developing world.
"If there is any other external expense, whether there's someone who has died, or someone's family member or neighbor who needs money, or a child's fees, sometimes we find that clients aren't able to handle both household and business expenses," Dyble said. "Sometimes they will take money from the businesses."
Thankfully, in Adriana's case, she was not left hanging. A few days later she received good news – and an answer to her prayers.
Adriana's savings and loan group would always draw straws to determine who among them would get the next micro-loan. At their next meeting, guess who the loan fell to?
She used the loan to help re-start her business. She is now on her second loan cycle and is doing so well that she even donated some of her profits toward the construction of a new building for her church.
But the good news doesn't stop there. Her savings and loan group was also able to support her as she prayed for her husband to come to Christ. He told us that every night his wife would lock herself in their bedroom and pray out loud for his salvation for several minutes.
After nine months of listening to her cry out to God for him, the Holy Spirit touched his heart and he accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
Meanwhile, Adriana's business continues to grow – as does her knowledge of God's plan for her life.
"I am very valuable, very useful for the Lord," she said, "and I want to work for Him with the talents He has given me."