My first day of interning at Village Enterprise in San Carlos I was introduced to the US team, the different projects and the organization’s vision for combating poverty in East Africa. As a microfinance group, Village Enterprise provides extremely poor people in Uganda and Kenya an “opportunity to transform a small grant ($150) into a new business, a better standard of living, and hope for the future.” So what does this mean? How does it work? What’s different about Village Enterprise compared to other microfinance non-profit organizations? These are some of the questions that arose during the first couple of days of my internship.
First, here is some background information on microfinance in order to understand where Village Enterprise fits in this sector. According to the World Bank, microfinance is generally defined as “the provision of financial services to the entrepreneurial poor.” This umbrella term encompasses microcredit and microenterprise programs alike. When we use the term microfinance we generally think of micro-loans that reduce unemployment, which is a common misconception.
While other organizations such as the Grameen Foundation and Kiva focus primarily on microcredit, Village Enterprise focuses on additional types of entrepreneurial services (e.g. business mentoring) for the poor to create sustainable change. This is a primary feature that distinguishes Village Enterprise from its counterparts.
Although microcredit is a very effective tool for poverty alleviation and important for creating change in many poor people’s lives, as the World Bank points out, it is not “appropriate for all populations.” This brings us to the second feature: Village Enterprise targets the extreme poor, who require much more assistance in creating a sustainable financial platform. Therefore traditional microcredit does not fit our approach for alleviating extreme poverty.
Village Enterprise has a multi-lateral approach to economic development that goes beyond providing money to individuals. With efforts concentrated in Uganda and Kenya at the grassroots level, Village Enterprise fully engages in community upliftment. Village Enterprise’s unique approach targets rural underserved communities living in extreme poverty, identifies and trains local leaders to become “Business Mentors”, engages exceptional staff and fellows in Kenya and Uganda, and commits to rigorous monitoring and evaluation.
Business owners in Eldoret Kenya proudly display their livestock.
With a small startup grant of $150, entrepreneurs start small businesses with the support of local on-site Field Workers. In addition, Business Training, On-going Business Mentoring, and Business Savings Program are key elements of Village Enterprise’s successful model. This ensures cost-effective and sustainable grassroots program delivery.
Village Enterprise conducts regular and rigorous impact evaluations, through the use of on-going monitoring tools including Google’s ODK (Open Data Kit) which allows Field Workers to collect data via smartphones. Our holistic approach to data collection includes documenting food security, education, health, housing and savings at the start and end of the program. Notably, this allows our field staff to assess the overall impact of their programs on poverty alleviation.
Finally, Village Enterprise goes beyond poverty alleviation by contributing to conservation, peace, technology, and value chain development efforts – truly setting ourselves as innovators in sustainable international development efforts. For instance, we added a conservation-training curriculum to add significant social and economic well-being for ultra poor living around the Kisere forest in Uganda.
Because Village Enterprise is constantly seeking to innovate, has such a high-paced environment and is an ever-growing organization, employees at the headquarters tend to joke about Village Enterprise’s being a “start-up”, even though we are a 26 year-old organization. Although I have only been interning at Village Enterprise for a short time, I can attest that their programs and results truly reflect the whole-heartedness, passion and personal approach with which Village Enterprises tackles poverty alleviation in East Africa.
Social Media and Development Intern