November 20, 2014

The West Foundation Invests in East Africa

The West Foundation was one of Village Enterprise’s earliest institutional funders at a moment when the organization was poised for growth. We were drawn to Village Enterprise because of its unique grassroots approach to alleviating poverty in Eastern Africa. This organization provides the resources and support necessary to help the poorest people living in rural areas. Its leadership used the West Foundation’s well-timed support to pilot and develop innovative programming, scale high-impact solutions, and attract additional funders to Village Enterprise’s proven micro-grant model.

Over 12 years of support, the West Foundation’s grants to Village Enterprise totaled $245,000.  The focus of these awards ranged from building training curriculum, to piloting new microenterprise models, and expanding successful efforts such as Village Enterprise’s Smarter Market Analysis Risk Tool (S.M.A.R.T.).

Village Enterprise has evolved in scope since this partnership first began. In 2002, it had a budget of just $300,000 and now the budget has reached over $1,600,000. This year, approximately 48,000 individuals now experience a significantly higher standard of living thanks to the 2,400 businesses seeded through the training and micro grant program and those numbers are increasing year after year.

In 2013, in partnership with BRAC research and evaluation unit, Village Enterprise launched a 3-year randomized control trial (RCT) to rigorously evaluate its impact and inform programmatic decision making for maximum results moving forward. The study will also contribute to the ongoing policy debate in the field of international development on the optimal mechanisms for poverty alleviation.

We at the West Foundation are incredibly excited to see how the passionate and talented staff of Village Enterprise works to move thousands more individuals out of extreme poverty in the future.

 

Samantha Alarie-Leca

Samantha Alarie-Leca
Program Officer

As the West Foundation’s inaugural Program Officer, Samantha is responsible for developing and supporting partnerships with its constituent organizations, as well as establishing communications with potential new partners for the gifting program. Currently based in Indianapolis, Indiana, but originally from Johnston, Rhode Island, Ms. Alarie-Leca’s first sojourn in the Hoosier State occurred when she attended the University of Notre Dame for her college experience, eventually graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in French and Francophone Studies in 2007. Samantha also holds an M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership from the school of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, which she earned in 2013. While at Penn, she served as a Fellow for the prestigious Lipman Family Prize with the Leadership Office at the Wharton School of Business.

    November 4, 2014

    Chasing the Reflection, Finding the Inspiration

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    I work for and with people who live below the extreme poverty line. Because my day-to-day is a half a world away, it is easy and convenient to forget the “who” behind our tagline: “Creating sustainable businesses. Transforming lives.” Because I use marketing as a tool, I continually define, stereotype, and categorize these diverse “lives” for our packaged nonprofit storytelling and branding. These stories I’ve continually heard, wrote about, and ultimately “sold” for our cause, are just a part of the moon’s reflection in the water. Every night I can see and know it is there, but it’s just a duplicate image.

    Coming on this trip, it is always great to get reconnected with the grassroots work we are doing and I’m again so purely happy and privileged to have gotten to know, if very briefly, some of these individuals and their unique stories. This is Ruth Chelimo. She lives in a rural Kenyan village called Kipsomba and is a part of the “Umoja” Business Savings Group. In spite of her dotage, this old dog was ready to learn some new tricks. She listened very intently during our training and was focused sharply on her Business Mentor. She didn’t have a notebook and took no notes, but I could tell the pen in her head was constantly scribbling. After the training session, Ruth took it upon herself to get some extra photos with me, and this one was captured after I found out that she had dubbed me her boyfriend and our marriage was to be soon arranged in the village. She was bold and boisterous among a complete stranger, and I admire her for that.

    And from this wonderful moment, I’ve again learned a little more about myself and reaffirmed why I care for those who I’ve never met. When all my labels, judgments, and even hopes for a person disappear, I was truly in the moment and connected with someone. Human to human. This is what I continually yearn for, and I think many of us are in pursuit of as well.

    In the end, we aren’t looking to admire the reflection of the moon in the water. We are looking to gaze up at the beauty and find the inspiration to touch it.

     

    Kyson

    Kyson Bunthuwong
    Associate Director of Development

      October 10, 2014

      Here’s to the Crazy Ones

      I love Silicon Valley. It’s not just about being at the epicenter of new technology. Or the fact that every time you go out to lunch, you have a very real chance of sitting within earshot of someone designing the next Google, Facebook or Twitter on the back of a napkin.

      What I love most is its amazing culture. It is the shared spirit of innovation and endless possibility that celebrates curiosity, collaboration and the courage to dream big. This spirit is perhaps best embodied by the iconic Apple campaign that hailed “the crazy ones, misfits and square pegs”; it’s everyday people who changed the world because they had the courage to “think different”.

      If you build your career in Silicon Valley as I did, that spirit of innovation and possibility forever colors the way you look at the world. Capturing the best aspects of that formula to help people in need was very much on our minds when we started Elevate Africa, a non-profit that seeks to break the cycle of poverty in some of the poorest regions of the world by helping people start vibrant local businesses. These are businesses that raise the standard of living for entire families and communities by helping them pay for “luxuries”like clean water, medicine and school fees.

      Inspired by the “startup accelerator”model that launched so many great tech companies, we designed Elevate Africa to provide our entrepreneurs with an innovative blend of microfinance, mentoring, networking and technology.

      But we also knew we were missing a key part of the formula. Much of the success of Silicon Valley can be traced back to world-class universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley that create an environment of higher education and produce a steady flow of aspiring entrepreneurs ready to take on the world.

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      When we looked for a partner who could help us deliver that same kind of world-class business training for our entrepreneurs, one name stood above the rest: Village Enterprise. While there are many great organizations delivering entrepreneur training for the developing world, no one else we talked to came close to the level of proven impact and shared vision we saw from Village Enterprise. So we signed a licensing agreement, shook hands, and packed our bags for Uganda to learn everything we could from their field team up close and in person.

      Seeing the Village Enterprise model in action was a fabulous experience. Their program, team and entrepreneurs were inspiring in every sense of the word. As we said our goodbyes and ventured on to train our own team in Mali and Burkina Faso, it was with a renewed passion that our dreams for the people of West Africa were indeed achievable, for we had seen them displayed before us in living color in the villages and mud huts of Uganda.

      Sophie Training in BamakoLess than one month later, Elevate Africa has more than 200 entrepreneurs in five cities across West Africa actively engaged in our new business training program, with hundreds more on waiting lists, anxious to get started. Watching our business coaches come alive as they poured themselves into the examples, case studies and role playing exercises embedded in the Village Enterprise curriculum was trumped only by seeing the response from our entrepreneurs.

      In every city we kicked off on our trip, our entrepreneurs were fully engaged —listening, laughing, debating and asking amazingly insightful questions every step of the way. As exciting as Silicon Valley can be, nothing can prepare you for the magic of seeing people in some of the poorest countries of the world light up as they realize their dreams of a better life may not be so far out of reach after all. And that maybe, just maybe, they’re not the only ones out there crazy enough to believe they have what it takes to achieve something great.

      So here’s to the crazy ones. To the teams at Village Enterprise and Elevate Africa who pour their time and energy into helping others. And most of all, to the courageous, talented, innovative entrepreneurs across Africa who have the vision, optimism and tireless energy to elevate their world every day. And who are just crazy enough to share our dream of a world where hope and self-reliance really do triumph over poverty.

       

      Wes Wasson

      Wes Wasson
      Chairman, Elevate Africa

        September 18, 2014

        3rd Creek Foundation and Village Enterprise

        3CF3rd Creek Foundation (3CF) has partnered with Village Enterprise for the past 3 years through supporting programming in western Kenya. We initially chose to work with Village Enterprise because its approach to poverty alleviation aligned so closely with our own organization’s mission, vision, and principles. We have also been thoroughly impressed with Village Enterprise’s commitment to robust monitoring and evaluation. This commitment means we feel reasonably assured that our funds indeed contribute to meaningful impact. Furthermore, we value the systems that Village Enterprise employs to identify when poverty alleviation models are not working, and adjust accordingly. The outstanding reporting that we receive from Village Enterprise is something that we deeply appreciate.

        Poverty alleviation is key to 3rd Creek Foundation’s reason for being, and our mission is to help individuals achieve economic independence. I’ve further explained our mission below to give a better sense of what it is we do, and how it is that we do it. For more information on 3CF, please check out our website and blog.

        What do we mean by economic independence?

        In its most elementary form, we refer to economic independence as the ability of an individual to access and mobilize enough economic resources (land, labor, and capital) to meet his or her basic needs and those of his or her dependents. But what we strive for through our mission is to support individuals to access economic mobility. In other words, 3CF aims to support economically disadvantaged individuals to become capable of generating and earning enough disposable income to reshape their lives and the opportunities available to themselves and future generations. We also believe that economic independence generated across households translates to increasingly vibrant communities and society at large.

         How do we promote economic independence?

        3CF Blog PhotoWe know that increased access to economic resources is key to alleviating poverty, but how to achieve that can be a contentious issue in the development sector.

        At 3CF, we apply the following principles:

        • Disposable income is key to promote and protect basic needs such as health, education, and shelter.
        • Entrepreneurship and employment are the primary drivers of disposable income.
        • Small enterprise is a key driver of employment.
        • Education prepares people with the skills and capacity to advocate for themselves and navigate their access to economic resources, as well as to secure their property and protect themselves from violence.
        • Everything we do should consider the sustainability of our natural environment.

        Based on the above understanding, we chose to promote economic independence through funding programs that support social entrepreneurship, micro-small enterprise development, and access to education in regions suffering from high rates of poverty.  Within the scope of each program area, we look for opportunities to integrate environmental sustainability, to promote better health outcomes, and to improve living standards.

        We have been impressed with Village Enterprise’s programs, results, and impact at promoting economic independence among the rural poor in East Africa and hope to continue working together for many years to come!

         

        Gwen Straley
        Executive Director
        3rd Creek Foundation

          September 15, 2014

          Reflections on My Time in Uganda

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          For about five and a half weeks I had the privilege of living and working in Uganda with the Village Enterprise team—this was a truly life-changing experience. Each and every day at the office I was greeted by smiling faces as the Ugandan staff streamed through the door. I was fortunate to arrive during a grant cycle. This meant that almost every day the Village Enterprise staff and I would drive over two hours on dirt roads to deliver seed capital grants to rural businesses. The business consists of three people. In the first round of disbursements, these entrepreneurs receive $100. At a later disbursement, they will receive $50.

          Riley Disbursement

          My immediate worry was that they would spend the money on unnecessary luxuries, but the Village Enterprise business mentors were careful to stress that the money represented their businesses’ success. This was of course was all communicated in the entrepreneur’s local language. I thought this advice would go in one ear and out the other. However after having the opportunity to talk with some entrepreneurs who went through the program a year earlier, not only were they doing much better in terms of livelihood, but they also said the most important lesson they learned was savings. For them, savings would often start in the form of cash but evolve into a more appreciative asset–goats or cows, which was previously a completely unattainable dream.

          Group Hello

          One of the projects that I worked on, Community Connector, was in partnership with USAID. Community Connector is an addition to our current program that focuses on “improving the nutrition of women and children and the livelihoods of vulnerable populations by implementing interventions that integrate nutrition and agriculture at the community and household levels.” Village Enterprise working on microenterprise development, or business formation, in parallel. This, along with various impact studies, is what I focused on during the final half of my time in the field, and it showed me how Village Enterprise is evolving to meet the needs of the community. I found these new projects and impact studies particularly interesting because they compare different methods of having a lasting effect on the individuals who we interact with.

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          I also found some time to do some non-work activities. The staff and I did everything from play in the local soccer league to going to a concert. Living and working in Uganda for a month, I was briefly exposed to the lives of those living in extreme poverty and was welcomed into my coworkers’ lives as well. I cannot thank Village Enterprise enough for creating such a complete and welcoming experience in Uganda and will never forget the incredible time I had.

           

          Riley Tight Headshot

          Riley Tight
          Summer Field Intern

            August 28, 2014

            Non-Profit Social Media Engagement: Explained

            While the digital media world is growing rapidly, it is not always clear what the many different platforms are capable of. Even now, in an age of a few social media powerhouses, these platforms often love to change their layout and structure. This makes it difficult to keep up with the protocol and function of these sites, which are supposed to be intuitive and user friendly. Even as a student studying digital media, I often find myself confused when one platform or another updates to a new style. These changes keep technology from getting stale, but make it difficult for an individual to keep up with how he or she can engage with different organizations through digital media.

            Though the best way for an individual to actually donate online is through an organization’s website, this is not the best way to engage. Organization websites offer information and facts about staff and general programs, but social media sites offer an insight into how an organization works and the people who work there. Currently the three main social media platforms that organizations use to engage with potential donors are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While Twitter and Facebook are technically competitors they have quite different purposes. While working for Village Enterprise, as a Social Media Intern this summer, I learned how we as an organization use these platforms and how use varies throughout other non-profits.  I have outlined below the most useful aspects of all three platforms for both organizations and the individual.

            1. Facebook
            Facebook is a great way for organizations to tell a story. An organization’s Facebook page is where it can post links and longer stories that help portray the company. Facebook is also a platform that lets the individual learn about an organization and show that he or she is interested in learning more. An organization can also announce news through its page.

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            2. Instagram
            Instagram is a subset of Facebook, but focuses on photos. Instagram allows organizations to showcase photos and smaller stories. This platform however can also be used to show company culture. If an office chooses to post pictures of employees and pictures from the office this can help potential donors feel more connected to the organization. Someone might be more likely to donate or engage with an organization if he or she feels connected to both the mission and the people behind it.

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            3. Twitter
            Twitter offers a great way to make quick updates and calls to action. With posts confined to 140 characters they have to be concise and precise. This allows for no frivolous information and keeps the message confined to just what is necessary.

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            These platforms will continue to change, but I hope that this guide to social media platforms for non-profits and the individual, helps clear up the confusion for anyone who wasn’t quite sure what each of these sites was used for.

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            Audrey Grimes

            Social Media and Development Intern

              August 20, 2014

              Interning for Village Enterprise

              Being an intern is hard. Whether one is working for a small nonprofit or a huge multi-national corporation, interns never have it easy. Unless they have had a plethora of former internships under their belt, they usually come to the office on the first day with pretty much no idea what they are doing. And if they are lucky enough to be part of the 47% of all internships for college students, they are also not getting paid. This being said, with the combination of an over-stimulating new work environment, emotional turmoil, and lack of flowing funds, it is crucial to find an internship that you believe in.

              That’s what I did.

              I am a summer intern for Village Enterprise, with tasks that range from grant proposal drafting and researching foundations, to working on marketing and corporate sponsorship targeting, to analyzing cycles of field data condensed into several very lengthy spreadsheets. Needless to say, I had no prior experience with any of these responsibilities, let alone with how a nonprofit is supposed to function effectively. Jumping into the deep end, the one constant that makes the entire internship worthwhile, is knowing that I am a part, albeit a quite small part, of an organization that I have faith in. Working at Village Enterprise, I have seen behind the curtain of website, logo, and mission statement that their first impression consists of. Behind that curtain, I have found an organization that is a continuously morphing organism. It implements programs, but instead of watching them unfold from the couch with a bowl of popcorn, Village Enterprise is constantly targeting, monitoring, evaluating, and if need be, changing. There is no ego that needs nurturing, for that time and energy is reallocated to those who really need it: the ultra-poor.

              The way that Village Enterprise operates, the physical, emotional, and mental energy that is pumped into each of their programs to make them the most sustainable and impactful they can be, is what drives me to work just as hard. It is what makes me a believer.

              Too late in life people are coming to regret the job or career they are in. Their paths most likely started with an internship, with people picking one that has the most visibility, the most hype, have the best perks, or are the resume thickeners. They don’t hold a deeper level of faith in the company or organization they work for.

              That is a mistake.

              It might take a bit of extra work and an additional level of research and self-reflection, but finding an internship that you believe in is the most important advice that I can offer. Life is complicated, messy, and always changing. Faith isn’t. I believe in the work that Village Enterprise does, and that has made my work as an intern there not just valuable job experience, but life experience too.

              Heather Kerr

              Heather Kerr
              Development & Institutional Giving Intern

                August 7, 2014

                The Front Lines of Our Cause

                I have been in Uganda for about a month now and my head is still spinning with all of the information I am learning and digesting. I was able to spend a week in Hoima and the rest of my time has been in Soroti. I was able to dive right into visiting villages for grant disbursements, and I am looking forward to going to my first spot check in the field. I, however, want to write to you today about the members of Village Enterprise who spend their days in the field and in the villages.

                PWRThe Business Mentors and Field Coordinators fascinate me and I believe that they are the quintessential pieces to Village Enterprise’s mission of equipping the extremely poor with the resources to create sustainable businesses.  I will spend a lot of my time analyzing data, keeping projects running and more behind-the-scenes work. Our Business Mentors conduct weekly trainings and mentoring to business groups and business savings group.  These hard-working men and women are on the front lines witnessing not only the growth of businesses, but also the struggles and hardships that entrepreneurs face. There are also Field Coordinators who have five Business Mentors who they support. These Field Coordinators travel to the Business Mentors and their villages to answer questions, provide support and help scout new potential areas where Village Enterprise can work.

                Training

                Anytime someone needs to design a new form for data collection, wants to research a new BIAB, or find new villages, it is vital to enlist the support of the Field Coordinator and Business Mentors who know these areas and households at a personal level. Our Business Mentors and Field Coordinators don’t just want to see the success of the small businesses, but rather the men and women who are the entrepreneurs behind the businesses. At the end of the day Village Enterprise is about people. I admire the Business Mentors and Field Coordinators trying to meet the households in these villages where they are. We have young and old alike joining the Village Enterprise Program, and it is only possible through the efforts of our team on the ground. I look forward to working more with both the Field Coordinators and Business Mentors in the coming year to hear more about our successful budding entrepreneurs.

                Justin_Grider

                Justin Grider
                Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow

                  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

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