South Sudan Community Bank is opening opportunities for subsistence level farmers and their families. Access to savings and loans enables many to send their children to school for the first time.
Amidst poverty and insecurity, community banks promote social cohesion and provide financial services to the poor in South Sudan.
The Mama Bahati Foundation opens a new branch offering microfinance services in Ifupila, Tanznia.
Five Talents Kenya is one of the most successful microfinance programs in Eastern Africa, serving the rural poor with over 99% repayment on loans and rapidly growing portfolios.
I recently returned from an incredible trip to Kenya.
The purposes of the trip were to participate in the launch of Five Talents Kenya, to hold our regular Five Talents International Board Meeting, and to see the progress made in our programs (specifically our Kenyan programs) to date. We participated in a number of meetings and celebrations, but the highlight of the trip came when we were able to visit clients on their home ground and see the amazing transformation that has occurred in the lives of the people touched by this ministry.
Monday, March 7 was our first "official" day, and was taken up by our FTI board meeting, where we reviewed the progress of our programs world-wide, with a particular emphasis on our African programs. Although our programs are strong, we continue to be concerned about our ability to keep functioning in conflict areas, especially in Burundi and South Sudan. That said, it continues to be a source of great inspiration to see how our clients are able to keep operations running in the face of such hardships. As the Bishop of Juba told our Program Director, "Your friends come and visit when you are sick."
On Tuesday, we celebrated the launching of Five Talents Kenya, in a ceremony attended by five Kenyan bishops and an enthusiastic crowd. It was more of a worship service than a business meeting, and reflected our hopes for a bright future for FTK.
The highlight of the day, however, was our visit to "the field" that afternoon. We were able to see the Thungururu Community Bank in operation, and were able to meet Monica, a Five Talents client who used a small (approximately $50) loan to develop a thriving petrol station. We learned that there are now over 40 small businesses operating in the community!
On Wednesday, we travelled to two separate locations to see possibilities for additional expansion. My team went to Mbeere Diocese, where we learned that they are already starting savings groups in anticipation of Five Talents, and have over 8000 people lined up! Their drive is amazing!
Our group had the easier day, as we only had to drive for two hours over some really bumpy dirt roads to get to our meetings. It is easy to forget how challenging the logistics can be in this part of the world!
A personal highlight for me was the opportunity to meet with a young man by the name of Robert Martin. He introduced himself to me, and reminded me that he attended a seminar that I taught in 2012 on business, which emphasized Christian business principles. He is a teacher, and now has a thriving poultry business as well. In addition, he serves as the chairman of the board for the Community Bank! He credits us with giving him the skills and inspiration to start his business. Although I think he gives us too much credit, it is indeed inspiring to see what he has done with a little training and a lot of ambition!
Once again, I came away in awe of these people, and what they can do with just a little assistance from us, coupled with their own innate dignity and drive. It is a humbling experience to be a small part of this ministry!
Jim Oakes serves as a Board Chair of Five Talents USA.
Photos by Joe Paulini for Five Talents.
Sampson grew up in an agricultural community amidst fields of maize, coffee, pineapples, and beans.
While there are a few larger plantations in the region, most residents of Sampson's community are small-scale farmers. They struggle to eke out a living and meet basic financial needs. Many keep poultry or livestock to feed their families. A few sell in the local markets, but many business opportunities are yet to be explored. Development and escaping poverty are on everyone's minds.
With few formal jobs, lack of capital, and limited financial services, many young men in the region don't think small businesses can work. They turn to crime. Unemployment and alcohol abuse are rampant.
Sampson's story took a different turn. At the encouragement of friends and his local church, Sampson joined a Five Talents savings group. Here he learned financial management and business skills. He also gained access to savings and loans.
With advice from his group leader, Sampson took a loan of 50,000 Kenya Shillings ($500) from the community savings and used it to buy a small business for animal feeds.
He began sourcing and selling products to small farmers, quickly paying back his loan and using profit to further develop his business. Many of his neighbors were losing animals to disease or malnutrition. Sampson hopes to help these farmers protect their assets and strengthen their community.
Last year, Sampson took a larger loan of 120,000 Kenya Shillings ($1,200). He has been faithfully paying back and continuing to grow his business. Sampson has also been using his profits to construct and develop at home.
"I hope to do big things through our bank", he says.
The Thurunguru Community Bank is the third community bank opened in partnership with Five Talents and the Diocese of Thika. Its members now have access to a variety of financial services including savings accounts and educational, business, and emergency loans. The community bank is a source of pride and signals new opportunities for the residents of Thurunguru.
Learn more about Five Talents programs in Kenya and help more entrepreneurs like Sampson.
Photos (from top) by Joseph Paulini: Sampson welcomes bank and community leaders to his shop, Sampson serves customers, A collection of animal feeds ready for sale inside the shop, Members of the Thurunguru Community Bank Make a Transaction.
Established in 2007, the Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF) now serves over 5,000 women across Iringa and Kilolo regions in the southern highlands of central Tanzania.
MBF was founded by the former Archbishop of Tanzania, Donald Mtetemela, after he met a lady called Mama Bahati who was struggling to make a living selling bananas in Iringa. The high interest rates she was forced to pay to buy the bananas wholesale on credit meant that making ends meet was nearly impossible. The Archbishop lent her a small sum at a much fairer rate of interest so that she was able to increase her profits, feed her family and repay the loan. Soon after this encounter, the Archbishop appealed to Five Talents, asking for support in establishing a microfinance project in Iringa, and MBF was born.
The Mama Bahati Foundation focuses its services on women who are typically even more marginalised in rural society than the men. Since the women typically bear responsibility for feeding, educating and caring for children, supporting women through microfinance means supporting the whole family. Enabling women to become financially literate income-earners can also empower them within the family and community.
Hop on a bus heading out of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and you'll soon learn one reason why formal savings and lending opportunities are often hard to come by for women and men living in poor, rural villages. The further out you go, the fewer banks there are – until you get to a village like Thungururu, where there's no bank at all.
According to Martin Givachu (R), a local teacher who is chairman of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group established by Five Talents in partnership with Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), the village was the last settlement within the region to receive a proper electricity supply.
The lack of infrastructure and development in Thungururu is due, in part, to the fact that the most profitable cash crops – like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and flowers – are not grown here. Martin said the villagers mostly rely on subsistence farming, growing fruit and grain and rearing poultry on a small scale.
Without the savings trust group that Five Talents has helped to establish, villagers would have to travel by two matatu (minibuses) in order to make use of banking facilities.
What's more, once at the bank, the villagers would have to pay fees both to set up an account and to make a withdrawal.
''This is a big problem here," said Martin, "because in addition to the time spent traveling to Thika or Matu, it would cost 600 KES (US $7) [to set up an account] – money which villagers do not have available."
Tiny Accounts Unprofitable for Traditional Banks
Banks in Kenya – and in many countries throughout the developing world – do not like to handle small accounts, largely because of the expense of running them, write MIT Professors Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo in their book, Poor Economics.
"Deposit-taking institutions are heavily regulated, for good reason – the government is worried about fly-by-night operators running away with people's savings – but this means that managing each account requires bank employees to fill out some amount of paperwork, which can quickly become too burdensome, relative to any money that the bank can hope to make from these tiny accounts."
In the future, Five Talents hopes to upgrade the savings trust in Thungururu to a full community bank, which would offer a wider range of banking services within this marginalised rural community.
''Not only would this benefit our current 105 active members, but we could also expand our operation and serve the whole community," said Martin.
Below, you'll find a selection of photographs taken by Adam Dickens that show the beauty and the poverty of this village in rural Kenya:
The rural village of Thungururu, Kenya was the last place in its region to receive proper access to electricity.
Rose, a member of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group, sells garments and shoes at a market stall. To purchase much of the stock in her stall, she took out a loan of 20,000 KES (US $234). She estimates it will take her about 10 months to repay the loan. Without it, she said she would not have been able to open the market stall and provide a livelihood for herself and her young son.
This is one of the garments that Rose has on display in her stall.
A boy without shoes runs through a field in Thungururu.
UPDATE: New Community Bank Opened in Thurunguru
Five Talents is pleased to announce that the Village of Thurunguru has now successfully opened the first Community-Owned Bank in the region:
Special thanks to Five Talents UK Program Manager Rachel Lindley. Photography by Adam Dickens.
Like most of the community banks Five Talents has helped to found, the one in this photo by Adam Dickens started as a local trust (or savings) group in the Kenyan village of Kairi. Five Talents partners in Kenya with the Anglican Diocese of Thika and the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT).
For almost seven years, a high school teacher named Susan Kamani has served as the chairperson of the trust group-turned-community bank. The bank is open to everyone in the community and now has 753 members.
According to Kamani, the village and the surrounding area has in recent years suffered from a drop in world coffee prices. As a result, many small farmers are abandoning coffee planting and turning instead to small-scale dairy or poultry farming as a means of generating income for their family.
Five Talents' program in Kenya has achieved a maturity and a sustainability that we desire for every one of our programs.
Photo by Adam Dickens for Five Talents.