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

                  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

                     

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