July 29, 2014

Women of Uganda [Infographic]

In this infographic, we break down some statistics of what women in Uganda face as challenges to overcoming poverty. While the numbers aren’t good, we are encouraged by the day-to-day progress of our rural women entrepreneurs and their microenterprises.

Women Of Uganda Infographic

July 22, 2014

Business Owner Profile: Agnes Mulanda

Before Village Enterprise, Agnes was running a small business but was barely supporting her family of five kids. Her family’s needs came first and this left her little time to run a successful business that would support them all.

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In the beginning, Agnes and her two other business owners started raising chickens but went out of business when disease wiped out all their chickens. It was a fatal blow to their business and they were left with nothing. However, this did not discourage them. They joined Village Enterprise’s microenterprise development program and today they are successfully running a retail grocery business that is now helping Agnes fulfill all of her family’s needs. She believes that her business became successful because “she worked hard and chose to place her business in a strategic location”, the market center. Today, Agnes can feed herself, her husband and all five of their kids 3 meals a day, every day.

Agnes’s says her favorite part of the Village Enterprise program is training. Through the program Agnes has learned how to plant new crops via S.M.A.R.T. and has been trained on basic business principles that leads to profits. Moreover, she has learned conservation practices and now helps by planting trees in her local area. Agnes says, Village Enterprise is hope.”

Join our #WomenStrong campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We are excited that for this week only for every new “Like” to our social media page we will donate 1 year of business training for 1 woman entrepreneur!

https://www.facebook.com/VillageEnterprise.org

@village_ent / https://twitter.com/village_ent

@village_enterprise / http://instagram.com/village_enterprise

July 3, 2014

6 Tips For A Fulfilling (Global Studies Major) College Experience

 

College is the perfect time to both pursue your established academic interests and test the waters of unfamiliar but intriguing subjects. As a rising senior in college, these are my 6 main pieces of advice for those of you who are enthusiastic about international development and global studies.

1. Study Abroad

Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to travel around the world, immerse yourself in another culture, and enhance your knowledge about whichever subject you choose. I studied abroad last summer in Rwanda and Uganda and this was without a doubt the highlight of my college experience. I studied the histories of both states and humanitarian crises that occurred there, lived with local families, and solidified my interest in global development. Although the financial requirements of studying abroad may appear steep, there are many scholarship opportunities available through the study abroad program as well as private funds. Explore your study abroad options, and do not hesitate to set up a meeting with your school’s office!

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2. Find an internship or volunteer position

If you are passionate about a certain field you should highly consider getting an internship or volunteer position with an organization or company in that area. Getting hands-on experience at an organization is the best way to learn about what a career in this field would look like and if you could see yourself enjoying it. While your position will most likely be entry-level, you will have opportunities to listen in on important meetings, conduct at least a few research assignments, and spend time with coworkers who share similar interests and interesting experiences.  At Village Enterprise, I have been able to apply concepts from my political economy classes and learn more about how a microenterprise nonprofit functions. I have been working in the social media and marketing department and learned a lot about this area, and have also I have had exposure to field operations.

3. Join clubs

While it sounds cliché, joining clubs and organizations on campus will open up so many doors for you. You will meet people with similar interests, learn more about your interests outside of the classroom, and gain leadership experience that can be valuable for your personal growth as well as life after university. Clubs range from the practical and academically engaging, such as Amnesty International or honors societies, to the quirky and fun, like Harry Potter or knitting clubs. I have had some of my most rewarding experiences through clubs on campus. It is a great way to learn about other peoples’ interests, and their experiences, and make some friends.

4. Keep up with the news

If you have a desire to study a subject in the social sciences, forming a habit of keeping up with the news will put you at an advantage throughout your studies. As a college student it can be very difficult to spend time reading the newspaper or magazines. I have found that setting the home page of your internet browser to your preferred news network is a gentle reminder to check the news, and a simple way to at least see the top headlines at that moment. If you commute, listening to NPR or another news station is another great way to catch up on world news. Follow Nonprofits, International Organizations, News Organizations, companies, and other interesting groups on Social Media. While you are aimlessly scrolling through your news feed hoping to put off your essay for another hour, you could be receiving updates from organizations like Village Enterprise or the UN with updates from the field. Getting into this habit now will give you a headstart in your social science courses!

5. Talk to your professors

While professors can be a bit intimidating at first, they really are great resources. They likely have a lot of valuable experience in their field of study, and would be happy to impart their wisdom upon you. Don’t be afraid to pick their brain about their experiences in their field and what made them choose to study it. If you are still unsure of what you want to study and want to know more about their field, ask them about it. They can give advice about which classes to take based on your interests and which ones to avoid. If you really like a professor and mesh well with their teaching style, look at which other classes they are teaching. If these classes are in an interesting subject area for you, you will probably get a lot out of them.

6. Your happiness is key

While it is wonderful to challenge yourself with difficult and exciting courses and new subjects, do not overload yourself. If you think you are in over your head, go talk to your professor. He or she is there to help you, and it is better to communicate your concerns sooner rather than later. If you find yourself constantly stressed, try to incorporate yoga, an hour at the gym, a free therapy session at the university health center, or a skype session with a friend from home into your weekly routine. Study hard but make sure you have fun along the way.

Each piece of advice I mentioned above has helped me discover and strengthen my passion my for international development and human rights, while enhancing my overall college experience. My interest in these areas as well as East Africa led me to pursue an internship with an international development nonprofit organization and I was thrilled to find this position with Village Enterprise. Village Enterprise alleviates poverty and empowers women through its innovative microenterprise approach. I fully support the mission of Village Enterprise and the work it does, and I am very glad to have this learning opportunity.

Julia

Julia Pascoe
Development Intern

June 30, 2014

Homeward Bound

This is our final blog post and it is being written from the airport in Nairobi. We finished up with a couple more disbursements yesterday, went in to town, and visited a school before we left for the airport. We got the celebrity treatment at the school. We arrived at 11am and we planned to pass out a couple soccer balls, take a picture or two, and play soccer for about 5 minutes. This turned into shaking at least two hundred hands, answering twice as many “How are you?” questions, and playing close to an hour of soccer. Wherever we went on campus, we were mobbed by kids. It was pretty funny when Ryan cut his foot playing soccer and 3/4 of the school came up to him to apologize as if it was their fault that he was hurt. We plan on visiting this school again when we return to Kitale!

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Waiting to get on the plane to Heathrow, we reflect on our adventures. As excited as we are to go home to family and friends, we are going to miss Kitale dearly. If we could sum up what we have learned about Village Enterprise in one word, it would probably be “action.” So often, you hear about organizations that are not as efficient or successful as they claim to be; however with Village Enterprise,  this is not the case. We were probably with close to 500 business owners throughout the disbursements, and to say that each individual was grateful would be a drastic understatement. We cannot even recall the number of people who wanted us to relay their gratitude to Village Enterprise’s supporters back in the States. During spot-checks, every group that we visited told me about their success. All we can say is that Village Enterprise really does live up to its mission statement.

Finally, we cannot express how much we are going to miss the Village Enterprise staff. We want to thank everybody for making us feel at home, especially the members we spent the most time with (Marcela, Frankie, Mango, Tadeo, Melvin, Nathaniel, Fabian and Habakuk). They were always looking out for us, making sure that we were both safe and having the best time possible. Each of these individuals and every other staff member that we met believed so passionately in what Village Enterprise does, and I can honestly say that I think this is one of the main reasons the organization has such a remarkable track record. It is safe to say that our trip was about as perfect as we could have wished for and we would come back and visit in a heartbeat.

 

Over and Out,

Ryan and Evan

 

June 27, 2014

Giving (and Receiving) – Disbursement Days

Hey everybody, we’ve spent our last three days doing disbursements. At disbursements, Village Enterprise gives its first grant out to each business group. Each group is given a set amount of money after they have proven their identity. These meetings generally tend to be up-beat, and they definitely lived up to our expectations.

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Out of the last eleven disbursements we went to, each one was either started and/or finished with singing and dancing. The joy is almost overwhelming. Here we all are, packed into a tiny, worn down church, in the middle of an extremely poor and rural village, yet everybody is having a great time. Another cool part about the singing and dancing is that everybody gets involved. You can tell that it is an instrumental part of their culture because each and every person is fully invested in each song. Whether you are young, old, male, or female, you are still expected to sing at the top of your lungs and move around as much as possible.

The singing and dancing is pretty cool, but the most amazing thing that we experienced was the gift-giving culture. In Kenya, it is considered an honor to have guests. It is expected that you treat your guests like royalty, and that happens at disbursements. It’s crazy because these people have almost nothing (the first disbursement is held before the business is actually started), yet they still find a way to give. Some of these people can’t even afford shoes yet they still honor their culture. We were greeted not only with music, but various gifts, receiving everything from chickens to fruits and vegetables to cultural art.

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Finally, in our last disbursement of the day, we talked with an older man who is a soon-to-be business owner. He was beyond grateful for everything that Village Enterprise has done for not only him and his family, but his whole community. The things he said to us were flat out moving. As we sign off today, we’d like to add on that he was adamant that we relay his deepest and most sincere gratitude to everybody back home, especially the Village Enterprise staff and all of VE’s donors.

June 26, 2014

Detour through Mt. Elgon Wildlife Park

These past two days were a great an opportunity to take a break and see some wildlife. On Saturday, we visited Mt. Elgon Wildlife Park, to which the 45-minute drive would have been simple if it had not rained the day before. One 100-meter section of the road was especially muddy, and took 45 minutes of drifting, slipping, sliding, getting stuck, getting unstuck, and then getting stuck again, to cross. It’s safe to say that we can check off-roading off the bucket list.

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In Mt. Elgon, we hiked up to one of three caves in order to see the salt licks that attract elephants at night. After staying on the trail for the first cave, we elected, instead of sticking to this trail, to explore in the bush in hopes of finding the second cave. We wandered with no apparent sense of direction for over half an hour, but eventually stumbled upon the second cave. It probably wasn’t smart to wander into the wilderness in a wildlife park that stretches all the way from Kenya into Uganda, but it sure was an awesome adventure!

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All in all, we saw a variety of animals between Mt. Elgon and Saiwa National Park, including zebras, baboons, gazelle, monkeys, and some big-game animals (we never figured out their name). It was pretty cool seeing everything in the wild, especially the monkeys. Watching the monkeys make leaps of faith was pretty special. These things would jump from close to 50m up and free fall for 10m before landing on a lower branch.

Although it was awesome to see the part of Kenya that is advertised through tourism, we are ready to get back to work during the week, and will be heading back to the field nearly every day until when we leave.

Thanks for listening!

Ryan and Evan

June 23, 2014

Business Savings Group and Selfies

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Today we went back into the field, to visit Mukhunyu Village. We had the opportunity to sit in on a Business Savings Group (BSG) meeting. At BSGs, the Village Enterprise mentor checks in with the group, monitoring their profits and savings. The fascinating part about BSGs is that they are almost completely self-run; each group has its own Chairman, treasurer, emergency funds treasurer, etc.

During the first meeting, we got to experience a success story that was almost too cool to believe. The house that we were meeting in had just been built from funds that the group had saved. Instead of a mud and straw-thatched house, this group was able to build its own concrete house, which was amazing because we got to see a concrete (no pun intended) example of how successful Village Enterprise’s program is.

At the second meeting, we saw another massive success story. Nearing the end of its one-year program, this business group has saved nearly 100,000 Kenyan schillings after starting with only 8,000. It was amazing to see such a positive impact that had been made through both the Village Enterprise program and the constant work ethic and motivation of the women; it was truly humbling.

Even though we were in a different village than yesterday, we received the same warm welcome. Upon arriving, we were greeted with smiles, handshakes, clapping, and even cheers. The kids in Mukhunyu were especially cute and were far from camera-shy. We don’t know what they loved more— getting their pictures taken, or getting to look at the picture after. Each picture was paired with smiles, screaming, and running around with joy. The kids we spent the most time with were most intrigued by “selfies” because they were amazed that they could see themselves as the picture was being taken. It’s pretty safe to say that these are some of the cutest kids we’ve ever seen. By the end of our experience in Mukhunyu Village, we were sent on our way with more smiles and waving. It was incredible to see how much happiness these people had, despite all the hardships that they had faced. Well, we have to go out to dinner now, but we’ll keep you posted as we continue through the rest of the week!

Over and out,

Evan & Ryan

June 20, 2014

Spot Checks in Chukura Village

Today we spent our first day out in the field. We visited a remote Chukura Village, on the outskirts of the Matunde Location. Chukura Village was so rural that there were straw-thatched roofs on a decent amount of the houses. We went on eight spot checks with Village Enterprise staff. Each spot check consisted of a lengthy check-up and interview, as well as reviewing each businesses progresses and setbacks. Out of the eight businesses we visited, not one was struggling financially, which is a truly incredible success rate. We were touched to see how truly appreciative and grateful each business owner was. Some of the things they said to us in our interviews were amazing. Tomorrow, we head back to Chukura again!

Over and out,

Evan & Ryan

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June 19, 2014

Evan & Ryan’s Visit to the Field – Day 1

Hi Everyone,

This is Evan Blasband and Ryan Walsh and we are currently high school students at St. Francis High School interning for Village Enterprise. We are fortunate to be visiting Village Enterprise’s field programs and briefly visiting Kenya. While we visit we will keep short blog posts on our activities as we follow the Kenyan team through their daily routine and experience adventures of our own.

So far Kenya has exceeded our expectations. The lack of mosquitos in Kitale is a pleasant surprise and the widespread feelings of welcomeness and acceptance truly reinforce the culture of Kenyan hospitality. Although we’ve gotten a few prolonged stares while in town, we feel perfectly at home here. The Village Enterprise staff is quite amazing: Tadeo and Fabian are always looking out for us, Marcela truly embodies a mother, and Frankie and Mango are a blast. The food has been a bit of a culture shock, and it definitely has its ups and downs. But we’ve come to find that Beatrice (who cooks for us at home) makes much better food than what we’ve had in restaurants! She really does a fantastic job.

Today, a number of the higher-order government officials from the region came to the office for a presentation. It was incredible for us to see how everyone views a single problem and is more than willing to work together to solve it as extensively as possible. We are also amazed at how enthusiastic the officials are about Village Enterprise. Pretty much everyone is fully supportive of the programs and we cannot recall any criticism at all. We are very impressed.

Government meeting

Besides the meeting this morning, we have had some down time to relax and get used to our surroundings. We played some soccer, milked a few local cows, explored the town, and watched world cup games in our spare time. Between different activities and working, we’ve had a lot on our plates–everything has been a blast so far. We will be sure to keep everybody up to date!

We hope you continue to follow our journey, and we look forward to updating you on our next adventure when we head out to the field to talk to Village Enterprise entrepreneurs!

Over and out,

Evan Blasband & Ryan Walsh

June 18, 2014

Meet our new Monitoring & Evaluation Fellow – Q&A with Justin Grider

 

Justin Grider is a Bay Area native from Concord, CA. He received his BS in Economics from Saint Mary’s College of California and MS in International Development Economics from University of San Francisco. Most recently, Justin worked as a Field Researcher in Ethiopia leading a rigorous impact evaluation to quantify the impact of wheelchair allocation. He used to play soccer for Saint Mary’s and loves to play whenever he has time. He also enjoys any outdoor activity, from hiking to fishing to everything in between.

Q&A

Why did you choose to accept the position?

Justin Grider

I accepted the position for a number of reasons. Village Enterprise is a data driven non-profit dedicated to its mission statement of equipping those living in extreme poverty with the resources to create sustainable businesses. The position provides hands-on experience to help carry out an extensive RCT and be part of the evaluation team. The RCT will help elucidate the impact that Village Enterprise is having as well as provide data on channels of improvement. The position really brings a little bit of everything with it. I will have a chance to work with US and local staff as well as work with other NGOs like BRAC. The fellowship blends data analysis with team coordination and hands on field experience that is invaluable.

Why Village Enterprise?

Speaking with everyone at Village Enterprise it is clear that everybody on board has the same vision of a world free of extreme poverty and chronic hunger where people have the means to sustain their families. Village Enterprise really works with the ultra-poor and often works in areas where other NGOs will not go. I wanted to be part of an organization that holds itself accountable to the people it is serving and Village Enterprise is always looking for ways to improve its model.

Why is tackling extreme poverty through business a cause you care about?

I have volunteered around the world and conducted research on disability in Ethiopia. Each time I am humbled by the faith and hard work of the poor and disabled. I believe in human dignity that everyone possess and often times people just need an opportunity to thrive and not only better themselves but their family. My work has always brought me back to business. For example, what I saw in Ethiopia was that if you provided someone with a wheelchair one of the first things that person did was start selling items off their wheelchair, and in a sense, create a small business. Business is one of the few sustainable ways to increase livelihoods, consumption, and innovation.

Could you talk about the experiences with school or the organizations you previously worked for? Did they influence your decision to take this position?

I received my Master’s degree in International Development Economics from the University of San Francisco. It was a two-year program, and in between the first and second year I went to Ethiopia to collect data for an economic impact evaluation of wheelchair allocation for the physically disabled. It was an extensive project from the ground up and opened my eyes to the importance of M&E for teasing out impact and improving efficiencies to maximize the positive impact that an organization is having. I admire organizations that set a high bar and are continually working toward that goal. I wanted to work in M&E or a similar field and this fellowship provides that opportunity. I heard about Village Enterprise through colleagues as well as professors who are familiar with the work that Village does. With this position I will be part of a much larger study and team than I have been before and I look forward to the challenges that that brings.

What are some of the things you hope to accomplish at Village Enterprise?

I am coming in during the baseline data collection for the RCT and I will be with Village Enterprise up to the midline data collection. I hope to not only help in any capacity I can with the RCT, whether it be logistically, teaching, data analysis, etc., but also helping implement pilot studies. Village Enterprise has a model that incorporates not only a cash grant, but also business training, mentorships and business savings groups. There are sure to be a number of different externalities that come from working with those living in extreme poverty. For example, what impact does goal setting, aspirations or weather have on businesses.

What are some of the challenges you think you’ll face?

One of the biggest challenges I imagine will be the language barrier. I do not speak Swahili or any local dialect and will have to rely heavily on local field staff. The team will have a number of skills that I do not yet have but I also hope to bring certain skills to the team to ultimately achieve our goal together. Other challenges will be on the learning curve. I am coming into Village Enterprise during an exciting time with a lot of studies and work going on at once. I want to contribute as soon as possible and need to make sure I understand the moving parts. I imagine that I will have a lot of studying to do in my first few weeks.

How has your experience been so far?

My experience so far has been nothing but positive. I have enjoyed getting to know the US based staff and am looking forward to getting to the field and begin working there. I have been impressed and humbled with everyone so far at Village Enterprise. There is a certain energy that is contagious at Village Enterprise and everyone is committed to increasing incomes and savings in a sustainable way for the rural poor. I know that I have a lot to learn from my coworkers and I am blessed to have this opportunity.

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