May 5, 2015

Village Enterprise at the Global Philanthropy Summit in D.C.

[Washington, D.C.] April 26th, 2015

Board Chair, Debbie Hall, attended the Global Philanthropy Summit in Washington, D.C. It is rewarding to hear how the work and impact of Village Enterprise is meeting the needs and creating the changes called for by conference speakers like World Bank President Jim Kim and leaders in corporate philanthropy like Shamina Singh of MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth.


World Bank President, Jim Kim, challenged the audience to reach the remaining 1 billion people living in extreme poverty; while great progress has been made, this next billion will be harder to reach because they are in fragile states or remote, difficult-to-reach areas. He criticized the bank’s past focus on GDP growth and stated that they are are moving toward “conditional cash transfer programs” that create motivation to work. Village Enterprise is a prime example of this type of program.


Kim Jim GPF

Jim Yong Kim Speaks at the Global Philanthropy Summit

Nick Khazal


Working groups with leaders from MasterCard, Visa, and Women’s World Banking emphasized the need to increase “financial inclusion” and “social inclusion” — development buzzwords to extend the reach of financial services and social networks that can build hope and encouragement for the poor. While 600 million more people are using banks in 2015 (vs. 2011), the number of those who are women has not budged.




Village Enterprise meets the need for financial and social inclusion.  We create savings circles for people to save money and borrow from the accumulated savings pool. Most importantly, our business mentors, training groups, and savings circles provide those we serve with an opportunity to give voice to their needs and accomplishments, to find support for personal and family challenges, and to confidently become decision makers in their families and communities.


A sense of urgency to meet the desperate needs of the poorest, and to stay focused on the efforts that deliver results, was expressed by Olara Otunnu with this Uganda proverb: “The hunter in pursuit of an elephant doesn’t stop to throw stones at birds”.


For more information on the Global Philanthropy Forum please visit:

    March 24, 2015

    A Day in the Life of: Program Associate Melvin Shisanya

       It is dawn again and I can hear a distant crow signaling a new day. I wake up, take a quick shower, prepare breakfast, and head out. The sun is rising in the distant horizon sending its bright rays to the day.

    The aroma emanating from the ground is intoxicating. Children are rushing to school clutching their plastic bags as mothers run helter skelter to make sure their children and husbands are ready to tackle their daily chores.

    I take the 10 minute walk to the office a walk I have taken for almost a year since relocating to Kitale in Trans Nzoia County where we currently operate. Slowly my mind drifts away from the walk to a reverie.

    The Village Enterprise logo appears in the distance a woman gazing into the horizon with a child clutching on her dress. There is a tree in the background which typifies the African savannah grassland. It is a sign of hope, a dream of a better future captioned by our vision, world free of extreme poverty and chronic hunger. This is what we stand for and fight for because we believe.

    Working with Village Enterprise for me has been mind-boggling if not an out of earth experience. I walk into the office; it all looks very informal with no official signs and plagues hanging on the door or desks, ubuntu. It is simply hard to tell who is who in the office. We work as a team but there are laid down structures with functional team leads and a country director in each office.

    I sit at my desk, which is kind of Sheldon’s seat in the Big Bang theory a comical television series. The spot is ideal as it allows me to talk to everyone without any distractions and is a window, which allows a cool breeze all day with ambient temperatures and sunlight.

    I settle down and power on my computer and check my mail and respond to the urgent ones and add to my to-do list those that have added tasks. I open my projects and pilots, templates and presentations and reports. I also sign in into Skype, which allows us to talk with our peers and heads on anything and even have calls across countries.

    There is coffee brewing and a waft of doughnuts smell as the rest of colleagues settle at their desks check their mails and start their daily activities.

    We argue about local politics, chat about field experiences, nag about the economic conditions and talk to each other with the occasional laughter to break the silence as the day progresses. They are the stunning colleagues, workmates, friends, partners and business associates; they are the people who give me a reason to go to work another day.

    Soon it is lunch time and we take a break to eat sometimes our packed lunch or the chapati and beans stew from the local restaurant.

    The afternoon heat is intense and almost lulls you into a siesta but the constant jokes and soft music playing in the background keeps you awake and focused hurrying to finish the due deliverables, attend Skype meetings, analyze data from the field to help you generate a report and fix the computers or phones to ensure that there is seamless running of events in both the field and office.

    It’s 5 o’clock the end of another long day at the office and as I take the walk back home, I meditate on my day activities, decisions and innovations and hope that I have made a difference in someone’s life the difference I want to see in the world.

    As I retire to bed I think about the woman and the child gazing into the hopeful future and hope to see the logo again.

    Coming all the way from Kitale, Kenya, Melvin gives a glimpse into day to day life as he knows it.


    Melvin standing in front of the Village Enterprise Office in Hoima, Uganda

    BOSs after SB disbursement in  Kaplebyong

    Entrepreneurs after a SB disbursement!

    Melvin Shisanya grew up in Kakamega County, Kenya and graduated with a degree in Technology: Telecommunications & Information Engineering from Technical University of Mombasa. Before joining Village Enterprise, Melvin worked as a technician with Solutions Generale in Kigali, Rwanda and was an intern with Chandaria Industries Limited in Nairobi, Kenya. Melvin spends his free time developing websites and programs, reading novels, listening to music and watching movies.

      January 27, 2015

      A Hare-Raising Success Story

      Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 1.43.39 PMLife in rural Trans Nzoia county–the “green basket” of Kenya and home to our new Kitale office—is peaceful; it boasts an ideal climate and excellent soil. Despite these advantages, many of its residents live in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day.

      Agnes Kwamboka and her family used to be included in this number. Agnes and her husband worked as day-laborers during the planting and harvesting seasons in an effort to make ends meet. At home, they barely grew enough maize on their half acre of land to feed their family.

      As if life wasn’t already hard, Agnes’s sister passed away suddenly and left her two young sons in Agnes’ care. “You have to take care of family, and that is what I did.” Now raising four young boys, she struggled to keep the children fed and also keep up hope. Agnes first heard about Village Enterprise after visiting a relative in nearby Kakamega who had started a successful business after participating on our program, and prayed for a similar opportunity.

      In 2014, Agnes enrolled in our program and started receiving training and mentoring from Business Mentor Imelda Midzukani. Agnes loves having someone to encourage her. “I respond really well to Imelda’s training and enjoy learning all these new business concepts. She is always positive. She laughs a lot and is a great mentor and teacher.”


      Agnes and her two partners decided to start a rabbit business. Why rabbits? “Limited competition, good demand and short reproduction cycles.” The three entrepreneurs sourced local materials and built a rabbit hut at Agnes’s home. They started their business with a male and female rabbit, which quickly produced six offspring that will be ready for sale in December.

      “December is the best time to sell the rabbits. . . it’s the ‘festive season’ when people will pay a premium.”

      In addition to her rabbit business, Agnes has used the Village Enterprise SMART (Smarter Market Analysis Risk Tool) process to identify new crops to farm on her home plot. She has reduced her maize plantings (a low-risk/very-low-profit crop) and is now harvesting kale. “I’m excited about our future. With the new skills and knowledge I’ve acquired through training, I’m able to reinvest and expand my business.”

      Before Village Enterprise, Agnes faced a life of hardship without the tools and knowledge to improve her life. With her new-found income, Agnes is able to better feed her family, pay school fees, and afford medical care.


        January 13, 2015

        Grants vs. Loans

        A frequently asked question is, “Why does Village Enterprise give grants and not loans?”

        Our mission is to end extreme poverty through the creation of sustainable businesses. We serve people living on $1.25 per day or less in rural Kenya and Uganda. We believe that by generating income, people are able to address the deficits in nutrition, health, education, housing and so on that constitute the roots of poverty.

        After 27 years in the poverty alleviation sector—including forays in both microfinance and unconditional cash transfers— we have honed a multi-faceted, integrated and highly cost-effective method that works best in rural East Africa where few, if any, banks exist.

        Here are three reasons Village Enterprise provides grants rather than loans:

        • We work with people who don’t already have a business. A $150 micro-grant serves as a spark to light the fire of entrepreneurship and awaken the capacities of potential entrepreneurs who are willing to invest time and energy into improving their lives. Loan repayments must typically start immediately and don’t provide the critical “breathing space” to nurture a new business to success.

        • The rural ultra-poor seldom have the knowledge to use a loan effectively. The heart of the Village Enterprise model is our nine-month training program that imparts business and financial information and provides mentoring to often illiterate but hardworking participants. We believe in the proverbial “teaching to fish” method rather than just providing money to buy fish.

        • A small seed grant gives business owners an immediate kick-start in improving their family’s standard of living. Profits generated from their new enterprise can be used to address critical family needs (food, medicine and school fees) and build capital and savings for their fledgling business rather than to repay high-interest loans.

        Completing the picture, Business Savings Groups (BSGs) act as a safety net and provide access to growth capital (and serve as our exit strategy). Borrowing and lending to and from one another through self-governed and self-funded BSGs protects our new business owners from the shocks of illness or natural disaster that can otherwise lead to debt and despair. BSGs give participants a way to pay for unanticipated essentials like medicine or funeral expenses without using (or putting at risk) productive business assets such as seeds, tools, and livestock. The BSG also provides access to capital when a business opportunity presents itself.

        Our results speak for themselves. On average, people begin the program living on the equivalent of $1.18 a day and graduate one year later with resources equal to $2.07 a day, an increase of 75%. This impact is long-lasting: 75% of our businesses are still operating four years later and over 30% of our recipients start a second or third business. Eunice and BOVillage Enterprise give the rural ultra-poor an opportunity to secure a rung on the economic ladder in their communities. Later on, a loan from their BSG (or from a micro-finance institution) can make good business sense, once an individual has a reliable income stream and business experience.

          January 6, 2015

          Developing Local Leaders: Winnie Auma

          Winnie Newsletter Headshot Village Enterprise’s commitment to empowering our in-country staff and promoting from within is recognized throughout the East African NGO community and was highlighted in the spring 2013 Stanford Social Innovation Review. Ugandan country director Winnie Auma could be the poster child for the effectiveness of this model.

          Since joining Village Enterprise as a business mentor in 2011, Winnie has been promoted four times. A passionate young woman with a dazzling smile and charismatic personality, Winnie grew up in the Ugandan community where she first mentored our entrepreneurs. Her knowledge of local ways, her intelligence and her commitment to give back make her an exceptionally effective leader and eloquent speaker on behalf of her VE team.

          Winnie’s success was far from assured. The last born of 15 children, she was sent to live in a mission when she was just seven years old. When Winnie was ten, her older brother took custody of her and made sure that she was able to attend school. Tragically, Winnie’s brother passed way when she was still a teenager. Her brother’s close friend (“Auntie”) saw greatness in Winnie and helped her stay focused on her studies.

          Upon completion of secondary school, Winnie earned a full scholarship from the prestigious Female Scholarship Initiative of the Carnegie Foundation. After she received her BA in Education from Makerere University in Kampala in 2008, she worked at Alliance High School as a teacher and then at Erimu College as an administrator.

          Reflecting on her work with Village Enterprise, Winnie comments: “We are writing a new chapter in the lives of those we serve. You can see and feel the improvements we make… there is nothing more exciting than helping make change happen.”

            December 18, 2014

            Akina Mama – Muslimah Baldwin

            Muslimah Baldwin

            What do hotdogs and extreme poverty in East Africa have to do with each other? Through the Akina Mama initiative, women entrepreneurs in the US are able to connect and contribute to empowering women entrepreneurs in our program in Uganda and Kenya. Muslimah Baldwin, Atlanta’s upcoming foodie entrepreneur, shares her story of how she got connected with Village Enterprise and why supporting women entrepreneurs is a cause she cares about.

            1. What is “Dogs On Wheels”?
            Dogs on Wheels is Atlanta’s premier boutique mobile hotdog cart.

            2. Why are you passionate about the Village Enterprise’s Akina Mama Initiative?
            This campaign is for women and I am pro women: equal opportunities, equal rights, everything! I am also for supporting the less fortunate, especially in third world countries where resources are scarce. Overall, I’m interested in philanthropy and helping vulnerable people, especially women.

            3. What prompted you to support Village Enterprise?
            I connected to the plight of the Akina Mamas and the struggle of women who are starting and running their own businesses. I am just like them. Here in the United States we don’t have the same challenges, but still find ourselves in stressful situations. But these women in East Africa are overcoming all of their problems which are at a much greater magnitude. They’re so strong, beautiful, and happy despite their circumstances. I’m inspired by that.”

            4. How do you plan on contributing to the initiative?
            I plan on donating a percent of proceeds from the sales. I’m already donating to a local food bank and it’s been very successful so far. Now I want to support the Akina Mamas.

            We welcome Muslimah to the Akina Mamas and thank her for her commitment to ensuring women in Uganda and Kenya get the resources they need to create sustainable businesses.

              December 18, 2014

              Sandy Wait – Why I Volunteer at Village Enterprise

              Sandy Wait (right)

              Our wonderful and dedicated volunteer, Sandy Wait (pictured right), began volunteering with Village Enterprise in 2013. She has been a huge help with our institutional giving efforts and she details in the interview below why she keeps coming back to help Village Enterprise. Thank you for all you do, Sandy!

              When did you first get involved with Village Enterprise?

              I first became acquainted with Village Enterprise about three years ago through a friend who had volunteered with the organization. Initially, I helped out with newsletter mailings. Later, in April 2013 I began to assist the Sr. Director of Institutional Giving.

              What do you do for Village Enterprise?

              I am a corporate partnership volunteer consultant. I research corporate partnership opportunities, developing prospect lists and identifying priorities. I help to identify outreach tactics and develop relationships with potential donor partners.

              Why did you choose to support our cause?

              The more I came to know Village Enterprise, the more I came to appreciate its efforts and the team associated with the organization both in the U.S. and in the field. Everyone genuinely approaches their activities with the integrity, dedication, and responsibility necessary for achieving Village Enterprise’s critical mission to equip people living in extreme poverty with the resources to create sustainable businesses.

              Would you encourage others to volunteer/consult for Village Enterprise? If so, why?

              Yes, I would encourage others to volunteer/consult for Village Enterprise. Village Enterprise is doing important work that is significantly affecting the lives of people who might otherwise not have an option to improve the quality of their lives.

                December 12, 2014

                Business Mentor Map Live!

                Village Enterprise works in rural areas where extreme poverty rates are the highest. Our Business Mentors are at the core of our model. They conduct all trainings and mentoring in the villages we have targeted, and using GPS coordinates captured via smartphones, the map pinpoints exactly where they are working and their impact at the local level.

                The map was created by a team of pro bono Technology For Impact Fellows over the past summer. Working with the Associate Director of Development, Kyson Bunthuwong, the front end and back end development of the map was completed by the Fellows in September, leading up to the full launch of the map online in October. With this new tool, Village Enterprise is better able to showcase our Business Mentors’ important work and their impact on the ground. Check it out here:

                Thank you to Fatima Zahra (Fellow), Jasleen Kaur (Fellow), Drew Plack, Patrick West, Garib Mediyev, and Mike Hill for all your hard work this summer and for your dedication to our mission.

                Screen shot business mentor map

                  November 30, 2014

                  Improvonia Runs to Fight Poverty

                  Improvonia is a tech company with an app that saves restaurants and their suppliers time and money, and several members of their team are running a marathon in support of Village Enterprise. Please give generously to their crowdfunding campaign, and check them out at Thank you to the Improvonia team for running with a purpose!

                    November 26, 2014

                    Q&A with Kate Reott

                    Kate ReottKate Reott joined Village Enterprise as a Fellow working on our Smarter Market Analysis Risk Tool (S.M.A.R.T.). Kate hails from Chicago and graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2013, majoring in African Regional Studies with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. During her time at Georgetown, Kate studied in Paris, Rwanda, and most recently Ghana, where she spent a semester at the University of Ghana in Legon. While in school she worked at the Rwandan Embassy, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation. Before joining the Village Enterprise team, Kate worked at the South African Consulate on business and trade development projects. In her free time, Kate enjoys trying new foods, reading, and playing soccer.

                    Kate sat down for a quick Q&A on why she joined Village Enterprise:

                    Why did you choose to accept the position?

                    The hands-on learning that comes from work in the field is invaluable, so finding an opportunity based in sub-Saharan Africa was very important to me.  While interviewing, it was clear that Village Enterprise has the team-oriented work culture I was looking for, and it seemed the organization was growing and changing in exciting ways.  Finally, the chance to manage something as innovative as SMART was impossible to turn down!  Despite being a big decision, it felt so easy to make.

                    Why Village Enterprise?

                    Village Enterprise is focused on what matters: the conversation always comes back to delivering the best outcomes possible for our program participants and it shows at every level of our operations.  The large percentage of local field staff and the emphasis on M&E illustrate VE’s commitment to sustainability and innovation.  But at VE, those aren’t just buzzwords: spend five minutes in the office and it’s clear we rely on our field staff and use data to improve our program on a daily basis.  Every organization faces challenges—that’s an unavoidable reality.  If you’re focused on the big picture and willing to try new things, however, I think challenges can become your greatest learning and improvement opportunities.  This really seems to be the modus operandi at Village Enterprise.

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

                    Addressing extreme poverty in a sustainable way seems like a no-brainer: who wouldn’t want to work towards achieving that goal?  However, in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by stories about poverty—and therefore, desensitized and detached from those people and places.  Helping the rural poor create businesses is something concrete and sustainable we can do.  It’s that simple—rather than focus on all that we can’t do, here’s something we can do that will help families and communities in a big way.

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

                    When I think about the experiences that led me to work with VE in Kenya, three things really stand out.  In 2011, I traveled to Rwanda and worked for the Rwandan Embassy in DC.  I developed a strong interest in all things East Africa and have been itching to return to the region ever since.  In 2012, I studied in Ghana for a semester and learned so much about development that I never could have learned in the US, particularly about the severe consequences of unsustainable development interventions.  Also in 2012, I worked for an amazing non-profit, the Global Environment and Technology Foundation, that manages water and sanitation programs across sub-Saharan Africa.  It was there that I realized my passions for project management and M&E.  Fast forward a year: I’m based in Kenya doing project management and M&E for an organization extremely focused on sustainability.  What more could I ask for!

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

                    I’m very eager to see how we can improve SMART and take it to the next level: streamlined data collection processes, SMART for livestock businesses, and measuring variability across cycles and years.  I think SMART has incredible potential and we’ve only scratched the surface!  Additionally, through different Program Pilots, I’m working to address two critical challenges: increasing the sustainability of our BSGs and increasing support for our program from the families of our business owners.  I am excited to test various strategies and hopefully develop solutions that can work for VE for the long term.

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

                    Being an outsider is an inevitable challenge of a job like this.  There is so much I don’t or can’t understand but luckily I have wonderful colleagues who are willing to discuss their experiences and share their insights.  Working with colleagues across three offices won’t always be easy, especially when Skype isn’t cooperating!  I’m learning new depths of patience because of this.  Finally, I don’t speak Swahili, which is a daily frustration, but I’m trying to learn!

                    How has your experience been so far?

                    I’ve had a very exciting fellowship year thus far.  There are a hundred different things happening at Village Enterprise on any given day, so my first few months were such a blur!  Now that I’m settled in, however, I think I can see the pieces of the puzzle more clearly. I had the opportunity to spend a month visiting our Uganda offices and I came back with a more complete understanding of our program and some great ideas for my projects.  The best part of my experience at Village Enterprise? Every day, I learn something new: some days, a best practice for pig rearing.  Other days, a new word or phrase in Swahili.  But every day, something exciting.


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