The following article appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog
Posted: October 21, 2011
Author: Regina Ridley
The on-the-ground leaders of nonprofit organizations in the world’s poorest regions do little traveling outside their country. Their jobs are too demanding, and the cost of travel is too high. So it’s been a treat this week to talk to social enterprise leaders from around the world. Thanks to the Cordes Fellowships, 63 social entrepreneurs were able to attend the Opportunity Collaboration, a four-day convening in Mexico focused on global poverty alleviation. I had the chance to spend time with Charles Erongot, country director for Village Enterprise Uganda, and ‘Gbenga Sesan, executive director for Paradigm Initiatives Nigeria. They are two of the Cordes Fellows whose work focuses on job creation. Their organizations are quite different but the end goal is the same: helping create new sustainable businesses and raise the income of families in extreme poverty.
Charles was initially reserved, but within moments, his passion for social change took over, and he spoke eloquently and urgently about improving the lives of extremely poor Ugandans living in remote rural regions.
Charles has been with Village Enterprise for seven years and manages a staff of about 20, including 12 business mentors. These mentors must have “the ability to inspire,” noted Charles, as the villagers they will work with have to “overcome their fears to try something new.” Mentors work closely with a group of villagers in planning a business, operations, marketing, profit analysis, and record keeping. Many of the new businesses are growing high-value crops, including rice, sunflowers, and sesame or raising livestock such as goats, chickens, and pigs. The crops and livestock are sold at a local market or crops can become part of a value chain. Village Enterprise also provides financial training and small grants. The rural areas are so remote that they are rarely served by microlenders.
Charles, who has a BS in Forestry from the University of Makerere, came to his current role via his passion for conservation. After graduating, he worked in conservation but “it was difficult to implement conservancy in areas of extreme poverty,” he said. Preserving nature was secondary to doing what was necessary to survive, such as chopping down trees for charcoal. “The poor need alternative sources of income,” he said, adding that the top three challenges of his job are “building the self-esteem of women—telling them they can be just as enterprising as men—building the capacity of business mentors, and funding.”
Village Enterprise, launched in 1987, works in Uganda and Kenya with a three, three-pronged economic development model (grants, training, and mentoring). The organization has helped launch 23,000 new businesses, and 75 percent of the businesses are still continuing after four years. Dianne Calvi is the president and CEO.
Country Director, Village Enterprise Uganda