Investing in Individuals

Sometimes all it takes to bring a dream to life is a bit of investment. And whether you dream of running a coffee shop, starting an organic farm, or maybe creating a new phone app, chances are you’ll need an investment. A small business loan, crowdsourced funds, or an angel investor, someone has to invest in you before you can seize your entrepreneurial ambitions and improve your community.

Should it surprise us then, that entrepreneurs in Malawi also need an investment to start and grow their businesses?

Tereza (Malawi) keeps a cell phone around her neck while she runs her market shop.

Tereza (Malawi) and her husband were able to build a brick storefront after receiving a SBF grant.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been working with some of these entrepreneurs, these “mom and pop” small business owners, in Manyamula Village, in rural Malawi. And I’ve seen how people like Hastings and Ruth Fuvu are leveraging the $150 Small Business Fund grant from Spirit in Action to improve their local economy, reduce poverty, and pay for more education for their children.

Hastings and Ruth were using their good marketing skills to buy and sell tomatoes at the local market. They would travel to farms outside of town, buy a small basket of tomatoes, and then turn around and sell them in the market. They had larger plans and the $150 grant helped them help themselves and grow their business. Now they can buy 5-6 baskets of tomatoes each trip, making the travel worthwhile and becoming known as tomato importers in their community.

Part of the strength of our program is that our grant recipients make their own decisions about what business to start based on the needs and opportunities in their area and they control the daily finances and investments.

Hastings and Ruth’s shop started off small – with long hours and great personal investment. After 3-months, though, they had made $133 in profit. They reinvested to make their operations larger and then they began making investments in their community.

Hastings selling tomatoes in the Manyamula market place.

Hastings selling tomatoes in the Manyamula market place

They bought more food and vegetables from their local market; Ruth bought school uniforms from the tailor so that Miness (age 12) and Pokani (age 10) could attend school; and they give back, training others in record-keeping skills and giving business advice to new business owners.

Spirit in Action is just a small nonprofit, making small investments in Malawi – but we know that this is enough to make an impact.

On a much larger scale, U.S. foreign aid, which is currently less than 1% of the federal budget, has the potential to reach many more communities and more families who are ready to seize their entrepreneurial dreams. And Hastings and Ruth, with additional investment, could employ another person, diversify their products, and generate more profit to stimulate their local economy.

Let’s keep funding U.S. foreign aid – especially aid that invests in individuals – it’s working, reaching that untapped entrepreneurial spirit around the world.

Read Oxfam America’s blog for more about how U.S. foreign aid is working.

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3 Responses to “Investing in Individuals”

  1. marsha johnson January 15, 2013 10:35 pm
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    I think many of us could think back to folks who “invested” in us and got us started in something important. For me, it was a couple in our church who saw musical talent in me and gave me the gift of voice lessons during a summer when I was in high school. This gave me confidence and skills to moved forward in ways that have enriched my life so wonderfully. I’m thankful to be able to extend this investment gift to others in developing countries through Spirit in Action.

  2. Jen January 17, 2013 12:06 am
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    Fascinating, and a quite different way of approaching aid (broadly defined). I know almost nothing about all this! (Kiva.org exists, I know.) But my gut tells me to approve.

  3. admin January 17, 2013 9:11 am
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    Dear Jen,
    Thanks for your comment. We (SIA and Kiva and many others) are trying to approach aid differently. Centrally, we want to empower and encourage individuals, rather than dictate programs that we (from our western perspective) think are best. I’m glad you approve and all be happy to share more about our philosophy and how we’re different from Kiva when I see you next!
    Tanya

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