Savings Groups Making Healthier Families and Churches in Rural Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya -- I saw a miracle yesterday.


I've been in Nairobi attending the second GAFCON Conference with a number of fellow Five Talents Board Members and leaders, meeting many of our clients and partners and making new friends. We took a day away from the conference yesterday to drive up to Thika to visit the Thika Community Development Trust, a savings group sponsored by Five Talents.

Under the guidance and leadership of Bishop Gideon Githiga, and the direction of Peterson Karanja, Program Director, the Trust has grown dramatically from its modest beginnings in 2005. The program now has almost 5,000 members, 41 savings groups, and over $1 million in accumulated savings. The program is being acknowledged a great success, and is already being replicated in one adjacent diocese, with two more dioceses planning to launch similar programs. I spoke briefly this morning with Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya, who spoke highly of the Thika program and said that he hopes that they will eventually have similar programs in every diocese in Kenya!

Exciting as this is, Five Talents has always been about more than numbers. Indeed, there are numerous microfinance programs in existence that can boast growing membership and good financial performance. However, Five Talents has always had a commitment to reach the "riskier, poorer, and smaller" areas that have been underserved by commercial programs, and has maintained a focus on the whole person, rather than just financial performance. And by that standard, this program is even more impressive.

I had visited Thika twice before, and had heard Bishop Gideon state previously his commitment to microfinance as a key part of ministry in his diocese. But yesterday I heard firsthand the testimony of a parish priest, who stated that families in his community had grown stronger as a result of their participation in their savings group, and that their prosperity and well-being had increased to the point that they were able to meet their own needs, and were able to contribute more to the life of the church as a result.

One outcome of this development has been that the congregation is better able to support itself and the diocese, including greater material support. Bishop Gideon had previously told me that he could tell which of the parishes in the diocese had active microfinance programs, because they became healthier parishes. But this firsthand confirmation extended all the way to the individual family! Their goal is to expand until they have a savings group in every parish in the diocese.

I saw Bishop Martyn Minns last night after returning to Nairobi, and told him the story of the day's events in Thika. I reminded him that Five Talents was started at his house just 15 years ago, and has grown from that outlandish vision into a ministry that last year served 72,725 clients around the world, and is living out daily its commitment to "create jobs, fight poverty, and transform lives".

I feel amazingly privileged to be a small part of this ministry, and am thankful beyond words for having been able to witness this miracle unfolding! To God be the glory!

Jim Oakes, a 30-year veteran of the health care information systems industry, is on the Five Talents USA Board of Directors.