Protecting the Environment
Village Enterprise began a partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute in 2007 to bring our Graduation model to the Budungo Forest, a critical chimpanzee habitat in western Uganda. Providing local families with the tools and resources to start sustainable businesses keeps them from hunting and exploiting forest resources.
Since then, Village Enterprise has adopted this strategy regionally to extend to a wide band of protected areas and corridors including southwest Budongo Forest villages and the Hoima District community forests in Uganda. In 2012, Village Enterprise introduced the model in Kenyan villages surrounding the Kakamega Forest, in partnership with Kenya Wildlife Services.
Due to the success of these programs, Village Enterprise now includes a sustainability curriculum in all our areas of operations. By supplementing business training with conservation training, we are helping local people make a living without exploiting natural resources. Through our integrated training, we are achieving the dual benefits of tackling poverty and protecting animals and forests.
Uplifting Ultra-Poor Rural Youth
Providing economic opportunities to young enterprising leaders in rural communities is one of our top priorities and ensures a brighter future for Africa’s youth. Over 75% of East Africa’s population is younger than 35. Youth are particularly affected by unemployment, with rates reaching up to 70% in rural areas. Village Enterprise created a youth-focused program that harnesses this potential by adapting to the needs and desires of striving rural youth entrepreneurs.
This program is carried out by our local business mentors, who are themselves young educated leaders in their communities and who motivate and mentor our youth entrepreneurs to reach their full potential. This program was inspired by the results of a Youth Study conducted in partnership with FHI 360 and USAID to identify retention, training and business selection strategies for our program.
Over 80% of our business owners are women. According to the UN World Food Program findings, women and girls are most affected by neglect in rural, poverty-stricken areas. Seven out of ten of the world’s hungry are women and girls. In East Africa, women are more likely to be illiterate, perform unpaid work and eat less in lean times than men. Studies show that women will invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared to the 35% men invest. Furthermore, women prioritize things like health care, nutritious food and education. Increasing the bargaining power of women has the potential to create a virtuous cycle, as female spending supports the development of human capital, which in turn fuels current and future economic growth. In addition, our newly successful women entrepreneurs strengthen social justice in the communities where they live.
Village Enterprise participated in a Boston Consulting Group study on empowering women entrepreneurs in 2014. The report looked specifically at the importance of social capital and networks for the success of these women entrepreneurs.
Fostering Financial Inclusion
Often the poor remain or slide back into poverty due to financial setbacks, such as from a medical illness or the funeral of a loved one. Savings Groups are increasingly recognized as a valuable vehicle for helping the “unbanked” transcend extreme poverty; they are highlighted in Jeffrey Ashe’s book In Their Own Hands as a “catalytic innovation that bypasses subsidies, dependency, and high costs while effectively increasing food security, building assets, and empowering the community.” Our Business Savings Groups (BSGs) provide a safe place to save, take out business loans and access interest-free financing for family emergencies, thus acting as both insurance against catastrophes and as banks with a source of capital for business expansion.
Village Enterprise became an early adopter in the “savings revolution” by adding this component to our model in 2012. Across Kenya and Uganda, each BSG saved an average of $455 last year! In 2014, we participated in a MasterCard Foundation research study of practices and possibilities in savings groups and provided extensive data on the needs and preferences of 139 of our savings group members in Uganda.
Creating Value Chain Linkages
People living in extreme poverty face unique circumstances that can make it difficult for them to connect to trade opportunities. Since many of our business owners live in rural areas, inadequate roads, limited information and scarce power sources pose daily challenges that affect access to local markets. Village Enterprise’s Innovation Incubator is running studies and pilots to determine the most sustainable and viable means of linking rural entrepreneurs to stronger markets through rigorous market analysis and mapping.
In 2013, Village Enterprise launched its Smarter Market Analysis and Risk Assessment Tool (SMART), which determines the profitability, risk, sustainability, demand and price fluctuation of different crops at the local market level. The tool has been recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Next Century Innovators (among 1,000+ applicants) and featured on NextBillion.net.