What does it look like to develop micro-businesses among displaced communities in South Sudan? Consider Mary's story.
The farming village of Mtambula sits in the highland region of Iringa, Tanzania. There is a population of roughly 4,000 people, and like many places in East Africa, this is set to expand rapidly. At the time of writing, more than half of the community is school-aged.
In 2015, Five Talents partner in Tanzania, Mama Bahati Foundation, identified Mtambula as an area for expansion. After a period of sensitization, they started a Trust Group with just five members. The program quickly attracted interest, and membership has spiked as the women begin to recommend the group to their friends and families. At the moment, average savings per person range from as little as Tsh 40,000 (about $18) to Tsh 100,000 ($45), which demonstrates the level of poverty in the area.
Elizabeth Sanga joined the group after being persuaded by her neighbor. When asked why she joined, Elizabeth simply says that she was easily converted "due to the transformation I observed in my neighbors."
"Before I joined MBF group I suffered from a shortage of capital, [I was] out of stock and was about to close the business. Our village is so far from town that financial institutions feel reluctant to provide financial services. We used to borrow money from money lenders with higher interest rates. But now we thank God for MBF because now we can get a loan with a very affordable interest rate."
Elizabeth is a 26 year-old mother of three and a savvy businesswomen. Her children Josephine, Boniface, and Godfrey range from nine months to three years old, and when a member of the MBF team interviewed her, Elizabeth was also looking after her sister's two children.
Elizabeth's eldest child, Josephine, has just started primary school. Twenty-odd years ago, Elizabeth was doing the same, but unlike her mother, Josephine will progress well past primary school. Elizabeth said that she doesn't "have plans for further education" but would rather "make sure" that her children receive higher education levels than she did.
After getting two weeks of pre-loan training I received my first loan in March 2015, It was Tsh 200,000 ($90) The loan was used to purchase stocks for my shop. I even remember what it was, 5 cartons of bar soap, 1bag of sugar, 1 bag of wheat flour, and other small retails stocks."
After a few years of saving small amounts and taking business loans, the Trust Group has had a tangible impact on Elizabeth's life. After one meeting, she ticks off on her hand the improvements, which range from the quality of her family's diet - which now consists of more than two meals a day - to her abilities to pay for all school costs, like uniforms, books, and other school requirements. The improvements are not limited to her domestic situation, business is going well, and Elizabeth is looking to expand her operations:
"My plan in future is to be the wholesaler in our village, I want to be a supplier to all of the retail shops within Mtambula and the nearby villages."
Special thanks to the MBF team and Five Talents UK for this interview and the accompanying photos.
When she was younger, Anne showed promise in school and finished high school earlier than the average American teenager. Despite this, as an adult Anne's options were limited. She and her husband supported their family of five on a single income stream from his small tailoring business. Every shilling was spent on necessities without room for saving or investments to grow their income. Their credit history with the local commercial bank was poor so accessing business loans was impossible.
Anne joined her local Five Talents Trust Group in August 2013 on the recommendation of a close family friend. At first, Anne's savings ranged between ksh 300-ksh 350 (about $3) a month. This was the few small coins she could spare after her daily visit to the market.
After a number of months of saving and business training, Anne was invited to take a loan of ksh 5,000 ($50) from the group's pooled savings which she used to buy in a small flock of free-range chicks. By repaying this loan, Anne unlocked a much larger loan of 60,000 ksh ($600) which went towards renting a small plot of land and purchasing a larger flock of chicks consisting of both layers and broilers for eating. When we visited her in late 2015, business was going well. Anne and her husband had completed construction of their new house, and all of her three children were attending school.
Anne proudly told us 'Being in the group made me more assertive to grow from a housewife and help generate an income to support my husband. I have learned that savings regardless of how little can boost you a lot in the future and that coming together as a community can help you go far. I am proud of my growth and bringing change to my life.'
Reporting by Five Talents Kenya and Five Talents UK with Adam Dickens Photography.
In our Burundi program, many women and men are learning how to read and write for the first time.
Once the literacy and business training is completed, these folks use their new skills to begin saving and lending money as a group. Each savings group creates its own constitution and sets its own interest rates and penalty fees.
Francois in Makamba was so impressed by his wife's transformation that he decided to join a savings group himself.
"My wife joined this association, and when she had saved enough, she leased a plot of land and asked me to cultivate rice with her. She encouraged me to join this association. I thought, 'What is she doing?' But I came along and saw what it was about and joined. Before, I didn't have 1,000 Burundian Francs ($0.64) to spare, but I managed to save and now I have a loan. I didn't have land, but I have been able to get some."
Land ownership has opened a whole new realm of opportunities for Francois. He is able to plant, grow, and harvest food for his family as well as sale in the market. Increased income means a better education for his children and improved health care.
This week, a small group of Five Talents advocates and supporters are in Burundi to visit with some of the women and men who have joined savings groups and are receiving training in basic business skills, thanks to Five Talents' local partner in the country, Mothers' Union Burundi.
Here, photographer Ross Oscar Knight captures a few moments before, after and during a savings group meeting that he and others on the trip were able to observe.
Many of Five Talents and Mothers' Union's savings groups in Burundi hold their meetings in community churches like this one.
At every meeting, group members add to their savings. It is from this collective savings that group members may, in turn, access micro-business loans to support and expand their income-generating activities, such as buying salt in bulk and selling it to members of their community. The size of the microloans and the interest charged on the loans are agreed upon by the individual groups, which adopt a group "constitution."
One of the benefits of Five Talents' group savings model is that members have peers who can encourage them, advise them and support them both emotionally and spiritually. Every group member also receives training in core business skills, like accounting and marketing. Many of the women and men who are part of these groups, never had the opportunity for an education. Before joining the savings groups, these women and men are taught how to read and write as well as how to do math for small businesses. This training is coordinated by Five Talents' partner Mothers' Union.
For every savings group member served, up to seven people in their household benefit: financial management skills are passed on to children and spouses; living conditions improve when savings group members use their profits to install a new roof; parents are able to send their children to school.
Want to find out more about Five Talents' micro-savings, lending and training program in Burundi? Click here to learn about the difference you can make.
All photography by Ross Oscar Knight for Five Talents
Children across the country are beginning the academic year. There's the requisite trip to the store for school supplies. The nice, new outfits. The big, yellow buses.
In many of the communities where Five Talents works, the situation is quite different. There's no school bus, because there are often no roads – only dirt paths. Classrooms have no electricity. What's worse, many children never even have a chance to attend school. Their parents simply can't afford the uniforms, pencils and notebooks.
However, because of Five Talents, this is changing.
Our savings, microcredit and business skills training programs help moms and dads establish a sustainable micro-enterprise that can provide for their family and pay for their children's education.
The success of our programs – and these parents' micro-enterprises – trickles down into the family.
We have moms and dads joining our programs not only to improve their finances, but because they want their children to go to school – to learn to read and write, add and subtract.
Outside of Jakarta, Tina (pictured above with her children) is running a business selling snacks and drinks near a school campus. Before Five Talents and our partner in Indonesia, GERHATI, helped her launch this business, the former factory worker was unable to pay her children's school fees. But now she's earning enough to cover the cost of uniforms ($60 a year), books ($10 per semester) and after-school care ($10 a month).
Tina says that she wants her children to get the most out of school, so she does not ask them to do any housework. Her only request beyond studying hard? "Pray every day," she tells them.
In rural Peru, Francisca (on left) wakes her children every morning with a simple breakfast of oats, chuño and corn. "We have to eat very well because we have to go to the city on foot," she said.
With no other transportation options, journeys like this to school and work are the norm for Francisca and her family.
With the help of an initial loan of 500 soles ($167) from Five Talents, Francisca was able to put her children in school and launch a second micro-enterprise selling fruit in bulk.
Virginia in Burundi (pictured below) couldn't afford to send any of her five children to school before joining the local Five Talents literacy, financial education and microsavings program. But after building up savings and taking out a small loan of 20,0000 Burundian francs ($14), she began to sell cassava leaves, bananas and vegetables to two restaurants.
"I have gained much profit," she said. "With that profit, I have improved my family life conditions and sent two children to school."
On their first day of school, they wore shoes and uniform and carried a ruler and some pens in a new book bag. "I am the model in my community. Even my neighbors have joined a saving group after seeing my conditions changed," Virginia said, adding, "Even my children are very smart compared to others."
With that new pair of shoes, Virginia's children will be able to kick around a soccer ball with classmates. With those pens, they'll learn to write their name and balance a simple math equation. With the food that Francisca provides every morning, her kids will have energy to study hard. With the after-school care that Tina pays for, her kids will get assistance with their homework.
With Five Talents, families are being transformed – and their hopes for the future are being fulfilled.
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Microsavings is contributing to the development and strengthening of entire communities in some of the world’s poorest regions. Learn how.