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: http://villageenterprise.org/our-work/business-mentor-map

      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 http://bit.ly/1tM486I, and check them out at http://www.improvonia.com. 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.

           

            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

              Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 11.56.10 AM

              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 16, 2014

                Q&A with Kim Munn

                 

                KimKim Munn joined the Village Enterprise staff in September of 2014 as the Manager of Accounting. She has a Bachelors Degree in International Affairs and a Masters Degree in Global Finance and Economic Integration. Prior to Village Enterprise, she did an internship with Kiva, a fellowship with Vittana, a Seattle-based non-profit that specializes in person-to-person lending for aspiring college students all over the world, and was with the Accounting Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Although Kim enjoys traveling and spent three years traveling the world, she now is back based in San Francisco.

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

                Why did you choose to accept the position? 

                With my experience in accounting and my passion for international development and income generation programs, it was a no-brainer!

                Why Village Enterprise? 

                Aside from the reasons stated above, I like that Village Enterprise attempts to reach the ‘poorest-of-the-poor’ by offering grants rather than microloans. I like that it is a small organization, because everything is collaborative and you get to go outside of your ‘department’ from time to time. I also like the people that work here, which I think is very important.

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

                Poverty cripples societies and creates a number of problems, not only within the community, but for the country, region, and even the world. Creating businesses rather than giving people handouts provides a sustainable solution to poverty and allows for more people to be helped because you don’t have to keep providing for the same people over and over again. From a psychological standpoint, it gives people a sense of ownership and pride in being able to provide for themselves, their loved ones, and/or their community.

                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 have a long history in international development. I have a Bachelors Degree in International Affairs and a Masters Degree in Global Finance and Economic Integration. I was first introduced to income generation as a means for development during a year-long journey around Southeast Asia. After working for two years in the Accounting Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, I decided that I wanted to shift my career to a more international development focus, but I wasn’t sure exactly what this entailed. I made a decision to leave the Federal Reserve and I bought a one way ticket to Thailand with the intent to discover the world and find out what it needed to grow. While observing different cultures and meeting many amazing locals, I decided that what these people needed was opportunity, and my interest in microfinance spawned from there. After a year of traveling, I took a fellowship with Vittana, a Seattle-based non-profit that specilaizes in person-to-person lending for aspiring college students all over the world. I spent 8 months working in the Philippines with two different microfinance institutions, which solidified my belief in income generation as a means of sustainable poverty alleviation. When I returned to the United States, I interned at Kiva and performed accounting duties for a Buddhist center before accepting this position at Village Enterprise, which blends my passions and experience together into one perfect job! 

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

                 I hope to streamline the accounting processes at Village Enterprise to make it easier for everyone. I also hope to make lasting connections with the people who work here, and I hope to go to the field to see our work in action.

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

                I think the major challenge is working across countries and timezones. Especially with the time difference in Africa, there is a small window of the day when everyone is awake at the same time. This makes it difficult to handle urgent situations, especially when you are dealing with money. 

                How has your experience been so far? 

                So far everything has been great. The people I work with are personable and helpful and the field finance staff is very receptive to my attempts to make things more process-oriented and efficient. I think I will be very happy here!

                  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.

                  dsc_0306

                  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

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