Rural Women Building Financial Assets

How do we build financial resilience for people crippled by chronic economic immobility? WEM Integrated Health Services (WEMIHS), a Kenyan community-based organization, is taking a community-led approach to explore how best rural communities can best navigate financial mechanisms.

For decades, WEMIHS has worked in Thika and Kitui districts of Kenya, servicing very rural communities that are largely marginalized and overlooked by government resources. Within this context, there are varying levels of poverty, and WEMIHS uses a three-tier system of evaluating household income: “ultra-poor,” “poor,” and “coping.” WEMIHS focuses its work on households classified as “ultra-poor” that make less than 6000-5000 KSH a month. Over 80% of the households that WEMIHS works with are headed by women.

Theorganization recognizes that building the financial resilience and capacity of those living in poverty takes more than just direct services. Real confidence must be built on behalf of the participants in question. It started informal savings groups that gave individuals who qualified as “ultra-poor” community structures to save and lend in the early 2000s. But ongoing assessment underlined that participants they weren't saving enough to get them to the next level of financial security. “They were saving well, but too little-- they needed an insertion of capital to increase the slope of their own capital building.” said executive director Wairimu Muigai.

In 2012, WEMIHS piloted The Village Development Fund (VDF) with support from Africans in the Diaspora organization (AiD). Community members wanted to establish, own, and manage their own financial credit and savings structure. The VDF aimed to create access to capital to grow small businesses, generate enough savings to cover health and schooling expenses, and create a pathway to participation in formal financial institutions if desired.

Identifying the low-income households in its targetdistricts, VDF formed 77 savings groups, each with two community-appointed leaders. WEMIHS introduced intensive training and curricula that its staff implemented alongside community leaders; and each group received a bank account with a rural-friendly bank (transfers occur through mobile banking). In order to receive a loan of 500,000 KSH (approximately $550), the group had to make a deposit into their account; after this, group members could then apply for micro-loans.

AiD provided WEMIHS with a small grant of $10,000 USD: $6,000 for starting loan capital, and the rest for training and curriculum costs. Over the course of the year, VDF groups invested $4,000 into the fund. 520 people from 23 savings groups applied and were approved for loans to bolster their small businesses.

The results were overwhelmingly positive. After months, $2,000 was repaid-- meaning members generated enough income to surpass their basic needs, save, and repay their loans. That capital was reinvested into the Fund, and then redistributed to other borrowers. WEMIHS reported a 100% loan repayment rate. By the end of the grant cycle, $12,100 worth of loans were distributed: a combination of AiD’s starting capital, which continues to revolve, the community shares from prerequisite deposits, and repaid loans. Now, two years later, 70 percent of the participants continue to contribute their savings through the VDF while 80 percent of the women have reported increase in their assets.The VDF network also created a communal welfare fund for emergencies and healthneeds. Eighty percent of the participants have received some form of support from this welfare fund.

An integral strength of the program is ongoing mentorship and household visits to help members decide how to use the funds effectively. Traditional micro-finance models tend to assume a certain entrepreneurial savvy, and a grasp of local markets. While WEMHIS knows know its members are motivated, capable, and aware of local market activities, they acknowledge the limits in their comfort with managing money.  

It’s too soon to gauge what the long-term impact of the VDF will be, but we are reminded that those living in low-income households are resourceful and capable of managing and engaging in financial markets. Meeting them at their level-- both capacity and comfort-- allows them to learn about money management at a practical pace.

WEMIHS is not a financial institution and does not aim to be one. Yet, its model is critical in
Helping us understand the foundation of facilitating self-determination for the
economically marginalized. At the base of this model is a solid relationship between the
loan-taker, a trusted resource and guide (WEHMIS) and a community of support in which
everyone else is a learner. With this grounding community members can be agents in defining what a successful business means for them.

2015 #DiasporansGive Campaign

WHAT? 

A fundraising campaign to support 4 women-led organizations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Zimbabwe creating opportunities for girls and women to gain economic freedom. 

WHY ?

Why AiD? Diaspora Africans have amassed skills and resources that they can translate into investments back home. As people still connected to their countries of origin, and in may cases with a strong pan-African identity, diaspora Africans are in a strong position to leverage their talents for Africa. AiD provides an easy and effective platform for the diaspora to do so by connecting them directly with african social innovators. 

Why economic empowerment? While there may be economic growth in some parts of Africa, there is also growing inequality. It is important that we support efforts to reduce this inequality and to lift people out of poverty. The organizations in this campaign are working to do just that by tapping into the skills, resources, and knowledge that exist within the communities where they work and creating new roads to economic independence for women. 

Why women? Because when you invest in a woman, you invest in a household. Studies and research have shown when women are empowered economically, they are able to meet their needs, care for their children and families, and use the resources to lift their households out of poverty. 

HOW?

People can donate online to support these organizations. As an ambassador, you can choose to fundraise specifically for one organization, for all four, or for AiD. Whatever you decide, we will build a fundraising page for you on our Classy fundraising website that you can use to manage your fundraising. 

WHO?

Strengthening Nigeria’s Health Services: A Grassroots Example

By Chukwumuanya Igboekwu

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, is a country of contradictions; opulence exists alongside extreme poverty; towering new buildings stand next to tin-roofed single homes; and democracy competes with widespread corruption. As a medical professional, nowhere is this contradiction as vivid as it is in our healthcare system, where people in rural regions have been virtually excluded from health services that are readily available to those in urban centers.  

As a young medical student, I believed access to health to be a fundamental right.  When I graduated in 2002, I was sent to Mashegu district in Niger State, Northern Nigeria to complete my National Youth Service at a government-run rural hospital. I wondered what need they would have for an easterner there. It didn’t take long for me to find out the answer.

Northern Nigeria lags far behind its southern and eastern counterparts by all development indicators, particularly health. The poverty rate in rural Mashegu, where I was based, is over 70 percent, making it impossible for most families to afford health expenses. With a maternal mortality ratio of 774 per 100,000 births and infant mortality rate that is worse than the already poor national average of 191 per 1000, women and children are the most vulnerable groups in this region.

Our health system was failing the most vulnerable people.  For most of my tenure as a National Youth Service volunteer, I was the only doctor serving a population of 290,000 at the time. Everyday, I would see patients who traveled miles to get to the clinic. Each day, I would diagnose illnesses and prescribe medicine that they couldn’t afford. I would finish my day knowing there were even more people who couldn’t come to the health center because they lived too far. We desperately needed to figure out how to 1) reach people that cannot access health services and 2) make sure they can secure the medicines they need. A group of doctors and I founded Physicians for Social Justice (PSJ) in 2004 to tackle these challenges.

PSJ’s programs are focused entirely on supporting poor rural communities in northern Nigeria to address the full spectrum of health and social obstacles that impede their access to healthcare, and lead to death of women and children; from weak health systems to poor community awareness about health issues. We strive to help communities realize health related Millennium Development Goals by providing essential health services, making childbirth safer, increasing children’s access to immunization, and providing care and support to PLWHAs, AIDS orphans, and other vulnerable children. We promote health-seeking behaviors and develop the capacity of communities to improve the well-being of their women and children through advocacy. We are the only health service provider in the region we work.

To reach remote communities that can’t access the government hospital, we created a mobile health clinic that travels thousands of miles each year to provide basic health care. To help people pay for essential medicine, we developed an insurance scheme that engaged the state government, the local government, a German funding agency, and the community. Each party contributed to this insurance pool with community members paying one dollar a month to receive health care for five years; an additional dollar was paid for each child over the age of 5.  This arrangement enabled thousands of people to benefit from reliable and ongoing health care, making medicine affordable for them. With preventive care and treatment, we were able to save lives.

Ultimately, health care is the government’s responsibility, but in its failure, no one is better suited to fill the gap than local organizations that have the technical, cultural, and personal knowledge and investments needed for effectiveness. Over the years, we have built deep relationships with the villages we serve; they know we are here to stay.  We have been nimble, flexible, and responsive to their needs. Our work as an organization, is however, only as successful as their engagement. They must ultimately demand their right to health and hold their leaders accountable. To that end, PSJ spends a significant part of its work on community organizing, teaching villagers about their rights, the health budgets of their districts, and effective advocacy strategies. They’ve used these skills to push for improved sanitation facilities and qualified personnel in health centers.

In fact, Mashegu’s government-run health centers today have 24 staff, including midwives and outreach workers, a far improvement from when I was the only medical professional, but long ways from what is needed to truly move the needle on national health indicators.  Transforming a country’s health care system will take time. It starts with the small steps of dedicated people who demand more from their communities and leaders. Organizations like Physicians for social justice are here to facilitate that process. This, after all, is our problem, our country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Dos and Don’ts of Humanitarian Responses in Africa

Over a year after the height of the Ebola outbreak, we are drawing upon the lessons learned to carve out the dos and don’ts of helping affected communities in times of emergency. The urge to act immediately is strong, especially when the damage is too close to home. Yet, doing it right matters even more than simply doing anything. Here are some of our tips on how you can actually be of help:

1) Don’t rush to go
Resist the urge to give by going to the place of emergency and volunteering your services. If you’re not an expert on the issue, country, or trade; don’t speak the local language(s); or aren’t employed by a local or international aid organization, your presence is most likely not needed. In fact, it will become a distraction and can crowd out the space for the people with requisite skills and experiences. There is usually enough human power on the ground to meet the needs of labor. Better to save those airfare costs and send them to an organization of your choice.

2) Give money, not stuff
People know their needs and can procure products and services locally. Access to cash also makes it easier to acquire materials quickly, and to support and strengthen local economies. In-kind donations take up space, require additional logistical support that takes away from the emergency response, and can get in the way of more essential supplies and services. After most disasters, about 60% of donations are non-priority and non-essential items. Sifting through and processing these donations takes time and resources away from more essential and relevant help. This is not the time to get rid of unwanted items in the pantry or the closet –give what is needed and wanted—which is often cash. If you’re going to donate, make sure the donations are essential, directly linked to the materials needed. Also consider finding an easy way of getting the essential items to the location without burdening and straining your local contacts and networks.

3) Do your research
Whether it is international or local, make sure you give to an organization that has history and existing programs in an affected country. It is difficult for organizations or individuals to start working in a new place during an emergency- they won’t have the local knowledge and relationships necessary to move their work forward. When considering a donation, do your due diligence to understand the organization’s emergency response, including what services it provides, how these services are provided, and where they are offered. Ask about the organization’s prior work in emergencies and the effectiveness of its previous responses. There are charity guides like GuideStar and Charity Navigator for US-based organizations that offer basic information on organizations. However, these official public records are often not enough to understand the depth of an organization’s work and impact.

If you can, assess the organization’s programs in an affected community, leadership structure and composition, and values. Review the organization’s finances and see how much of its resources go to programs and how much to overhead. Don’t be afraid of overhead; organizations need capable people to run well. In fact, provide general (unrestricted) support so the organization can cover its needed expenses without having restrictions towards specific activities or projects that often limit an effective, adaptable response. However, make sure not all the money goes to overhead, and also assess institutional equity if you are giving to international organizations. For example, look at how much international staff get paid compared to local staff; consultants and overseas expenses vs local spending.

4) Give always to local organizations
During the Ebola crisis, frontline responders received less than 2% of the over $3 billion allocated in international aid. Local organizations often get only a fraction of emergency funds, while the evidence shows they are the most effective and responsive. They know the affected community and have pre-established trust and credibility. They have experience working in the particular community and can navigate social, political, and cultural spaces easily. They have needed relationships to facilitate a quick and culturally appropriate response. For example, in Haiti, one of the Red Cross’ mistakes was hiring foreigners with no local language capacity or work experience in Haiti. Local organizations are also invested in their communities and stay long after the emergency, an important component to ensuring that resources are well spent and communities recover and rebuild. Upon further reflection of the Ebola response, the international community agreed the turning point in stopping the outbreak was the role of local communities. However, resources and support to strengthen these local structures and efforts were initiated long after the infiltration of the outbreak. In the future, as you think about what organizations to give to, consider supporting local efforts directly. If you can’t reach them directly, you can support them through foundations that have local relationships like IDEXGlobal Fund for Women or Global Fund for Children.

5) Invest in long-term recovery
An emergency may take a few hours, days, or months. The aftermath lasts much longer and it is during that period the resilience and recovery of affected communities is tested. Be sure to support efforts that not only provide immediate needs like food, shelter, and clothing, but also longer-term needs like livelihoods, counseling, family reintegration, or health care.

While these tips are not an exhaustive list of what works in responding to a humanitarian crisis, they do disrupt inactive conventions. In most cases, good intentions are helpful in driving action, but are not enough to produce sustainable outcomes. Time is sensitive during humanitarian emergencies; but, calculation is not a compromise if we are serious about creating meaningful, local driven solutions.

Why African Philanthropy?

Representations and discussions of Africa often focus on its socio-economic and political challenges, and paint a single narrative around those. We know there is more to our rich and complex stories. Africans are working tirelessly to bring about change in their communities, creating, innovating, and building a better future.

Africans are mobilizing, organizing, and acting to bring social change to their communities in every facet of their lives. Across Africa, hundreds of thousands of indigenous social change organizations and ventures are working to solve the most pressing challenges in their communities. They are transforming their communities through effective and innovative programs. Limited resources and access to technical support limit their full potential.

On the other hand, the global African Diaspora sends $60 billion in remittances each year. In addition, Diaspora Africans contribute to development efforts by working with international organizations, starting businesses in their home countries, and/or fundraising for or implementing development projects. While the amounts of financial resources Diaspora Africans send to Africa exceed those of aid organizations, they are rarely seen as key partners and stakeholders in aid.

To see change in Africa, we must become leaders and drivers of that change.

What we need is a mechanism to leverage these two phenomena: Africans working to bring about change and African Diaspora committed to Africa. By leveraging our collective skills, knowledge, and resources, we plant the seeds for transformational change. This is why Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) exists. We work to ensure Africans take charge of Africa’s development and that our voices, skills, and experiences become cornerstones and drivers of development and philanthropic work in Africa.

Spotlight: Tom Saater’s Experience with Physicians for Social Justice

Dr. Chukwumuanya  had arranged my ride in advance, and the driver arrived on time, at 10 am to pick me up. I was struck by how humble and friendly the driver was– we took off from Abuja to kotongora in Niger state. I did not expect such a nice hotel in kotongora. I was even more struck by Dr. Chukwu.  He is larger than life, and his kindness is tangible.

Once he was sure I was settled in kotongora ,we retired for the night. The next morning, he came with other members of the organization to pick me up at 7 am. Crossing military checkpoints to get to the program sites, I realized the security risk that the team makes entering these remote areas. While Nigerians worry about living in the remote parts of the country, here is this guy, a Christian, from Eastern Nigeria, venturing into more or less unchartered territory. The road was really bad. Fortunately, concerned villagers would stop to greet us and offer advice on alternative routes.

Early into the journey, I was amazed by the energy PSJ staff gave off. Here’s an organization that is barely managing, but each person I had encountered brimmed over with commitment, passion, and drive. The distance they were willing to to reach these deep rural areas was astounding.  I couldn’t wait to meet the rest of the team. I had to know who these people were who were dedicating their lives fully to this

News: Africans in the Diaspora mobilizes over $36,000 for African organizations

Seven weeks ago, Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) launched a campaign to raise $30,000 for three social change organizations in Africa. The organization is pleased to announced that at the end of the campaign it was able to mobilize 234 people to invest a total of $36,804.

“AiD was created on the premise that Africans and allies were ready for change in how we do “development” in Africa. We believed that if given a platform that makes it easy to give, and a set of  African change agents doing great work, the diaspora communities and their allies would invest in them. This campaign has proven that,” states the organization’s founder Solome Lemma.

AiD was mobilizing resources to support the work of Senegal’s Synapse Center, which provides unemployed youth with entrepreneurship opportunities; Nigeria’s Physicians  for Social Justice, which offers health care to remote, rural communities; and Kenya’s WEM Integrated Health Services, which helps women gain economic self-sufficiency.

AiD’s Funds platform, an innovative online tool that displays a menu of organizations, complete with relevant information about each, was the primary mechanism through which the funds were raised.

“It was amazing to see who gave and how people gave. We had Africans of all nationalities living in places like the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom investing in this campaign. We’re looking forward to studying the data and releasing a report on the investment patterns, reasons, and types,” said Agazit Abate, AiD’s Research Officer, who will produce the campaign report.

In  the  coming months, AiD will provide updates on the progress of its work and on the activities of  Synapse Center, Physicians for Social Justice, and WEM Integrated Health  Services to help supporters keep track of of what their investment has done for the organizations.

You can learn more about AiD and the campaign here: africansinthediaspora.org. Follow AiD on Facebook and Twitter!

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A nonprofit organization, Africans in the Diaspora envisions a self-reliant, socially and economically just Africa. Through its, Funds, Connections, and Voices programs the organization harnesses the skills, resources, and ideas of Africans to advance social and economic change on the continent. The FUNDS program mobilizes financial resources to support African organizations directly. On the Voices blog, AiD showcases the significant contributions of Africans in development and philanthropy.