This July we will again bring the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators together for a conference. This will be an opportunity to discuss what about our program is working and what can be improved. Our time together, hosted by the Ugandan Coordinators, will be valuable for team-building and evaluation. Here is some of what came out of the last conference, which was held in 2011 in Kenya:
“My Joy is to see the SIA family grow and work as a team. We finished [the retreat] with a theme A healthy team grows and that’s all I see with SIA every day,” shared an inspired Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya. His enthusiasm for growing, changing, and learning perfectly captures the mood at our Coordinators Conference in Kenya last summer, where we gathered eight of our local micro-grant coordinators from six different countries to discuss our grant-making process.
Spirit in Action local Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators are the leaders who guide new grant groups through the steps of starting a business, including initial training sessions and on-going support throughout the yearlong grant process. This conference – funded by our donors! – was an extremely valuable gathering of those who intimately know and understand the context of the work of Spirit in Action in their community.
And they all had so much to share and learn from each other.
One experience that resonated with all the leaders was the difficulty of choosing groups to receive grants. Our SBF guidelines, based on training materials created by Trickle Up, call for the Coordinators to serve the poorest families in the community as determined through a Poverty Assessment tool and poverty indicators specific to their communities.
But targeting the very poorest has challenges too. Canaan Gondwe, SBF Coordinator in Malawi, targeted the poorest of the poor in his community for the first SBF Malawi grants in 2004 and ended up disappointed with the progress made by those groups. “I noticed that there were people who were indeed poor and needed encouragement but weren’t the absolute poorest in the community.” Several other Coordinators nodded their heads in agreement.
Since this fruitful discussion last summer, Kiprop, Gondwe, Board Member Boyd Cothran, and I have been working together to create an Opportunity Assessment, which will be used in conjunction with the Poverty Assessment to identify and exploit the unique opportunities held by grantee groups.
Family members with skills that are not being used, access to local resources, and Sharing the Gift grant recipients ready to expand their project are just some of the opportunity indicators we hope to have all Coordinators evaluate when deciding where to award SIA SBF grants.
In addition, we believe that Coordinators can help groups recognize and unlock their unique opportunities; encouraging people to embrace an opportunity mindset. To that end, Gondwe put together these suggestions:
- Help the group see the skills they already possess
- Encourage them to use their time and energy productively
- Train group in decision-making and prioritizing
- Form groups of several households to encourage social sharing and peer support
- Share spiritual nourishment to help them see the good God has in store for them
We’re not at the end of this process yet and the Opportunity Assessment is still a work in progress. Coming back to Kiprop’s theme, a healthy team grows, we celebrate that the Coordinators and I are still building on our discussions from last summer. We push each other to grow as leaders and collaborate to continually evaluate and improve our Small Business Fund program.
[Update: We have created and implemented the Opportunity Assessment and at least a few of the coordinators have reported that it has really helped them select groups. I'll look forward to getting a more complete update from all the coordinators this July!]
You can donate to this years SIA Conference in Uganda here.