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TechnoServe Smart Duka Program in Nairobi

TechnoServe is one of our favorite international NGOs, and we’ve just started our second special project with them. This project is part of their entrepreneurship program, and concerns “Smart Dukas” in Nairobi, Kenya. Dukas are “Mom and Pop” consumer-goods shops, and in the urban areas of Kenya, they’re responsible for some 80% of consumer-goods sales. Dukas often fail to realize anywhere near their full profit potential, for a variety of reasons. Shopowners often have to close their shops and travel some distance to get new inventory. Dealing individually with suppliers, they fail to achieve economies of scale. They may not know the best ways to present their wares, or to manage a business. These are all areas in which TechnoServe is prepared to provide education, one-on-one consultation, and negotiating power. We’re impressed with the work TechnoServe is planning in this area, and have funded a piece of the work in the latest phase of their “Smart Duka” project. Here’s their proposal: TechnoServe Smart Duka Proposal.

Posted 3 years, 1 month ago at 12:00 pm.

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iDE Farm Business Advisor Zambia Performance Enhancement Project (2012)

One of our favorite charities is iDE. Their mission is to increase the income of the 2 billion small plot farmers in the world, who earn less than $2/day. iDE doesn’t operate by giving handouts, but uses a far more effective and sustainable approach. They regard the smallholder farmer as an entrepreneur who will take advantage of effective technology and information, as well as supply and marketing systems, if they’re designed to be affordable and relevant to use on very small farms (1/4 acre to perhaps 2 acres).

iDE is well known for simple and inexpensive treadle pumps capable of bringing irrigation to such farms, but I’ll cite a different example, to illustrate the idea clearly. iDE has developed a 200,000-litir water storage system that can be purchased by the farmer for $400, and is capable of storing enough water to irrigate 1/4 acre of farmland for a season. The system is filled during the monsoon season, and used during the dry season (when crop prices are highest and most farmers are idle due to lack of water) to add a full growing season. This technology alone can add $500 income in it’s first year of use, paying for itself in less than a year while adding a large long-term income boost to the farm family. This is a very typical example of an iDE technology.

Donald Tembo from Chibombo District in Central Province of Zambia accessed a $380 loan in October 2011, facilitated through an iDE Farm Business Advisor. With this money he invested in a treadle pump which enabled him to irrigate four times as much land, expanding his garden from 1/8 hectare to ½ hectare and sell his tomato, melon, cucumber and green beans at the market. (Reprinted with permission from IDE Wellspring, May 2012.)

These folks do a great deal more, though, providing multiple relevant technologies, and connecting them to microfinance so that farmers can afford to purchase the systems. They set up multiple, competing in-country manufacturers for the devices, so that the systems are an on-going business for local firms, maintenance is locally available, and the sustainability of the approach does not depend on iDE’s continuing presence.

They also help develop supply chains and marketing venues suitable for smallholder farmers, and provide technical knowledge about agricultural techniques, crop selection for more profitability by small-plot farmers, and lots more. Indeed, they’ve developed (in Cambodia) a system for training selected local farmers to serve as Farm Business Advisors (FBAs) to the other smallholder farmers in a local area. The FBAs derive a sustainable income from the sale of techological devices in their area, while providing an ongoing source of information and advice on farming matters. This program has been very successful in Cambodia.

iDE is now expanding this program to other countries in Asia, and also in Zambia as a pilot project for Africa. They’re optimistic that the approach can be adapted to Africa, but recognize that in Africa they will encounter differences in culture, climate, economics, available physical resources, and lots more. So it’s important to be rigorous in designing the program in Zambia, and to include an objective assessment of the effort as it’s carried out.

To this end, iDE is conducting the Farm Business Advisor Zambia Performance Enhancement Project. The goal of this project will be to develop an initial cadre of trained FBAs in Zambia. This will involve assessing the training needs of the FBAs here, developing training materials, training an initial cadre of 200 FBAs, objectively assessing the success of these FBAs over a period of time, and disseminating experience and best-practice information to other candidate countries in Africa. The bulk of the project is being funded by RLG International, but we’re funding the assessment and information-dissemination phase of the project. Here’s iDE’s proposal, describing the project, and here’s the first progress report.

We, too, are quite hopeful that this award-winning model will prove effective in Africa, as there’s a tremendous need there, and a tremendous potential gain. We’re pleased at the opportunity to take part in this work.

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 10:12 pm.

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Habitat for Humanity (Zambia)

In 2009 (and again in 2010 and 2011), we made grants to Habitat for Humanity in the Denver, Colorado area, but we also provided funding for the construction of two houses in Zambia in each of those years.

These six houses are part of a special Habitat project called the Vulnerable Group Housing Project. The families involved typically include orphans or otherwise vulnerable children. Our particular families consist of grandmothers and their grandchildren living together after the deaths of the children’s parents. Often, but not always, this occurs because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In an area in which income is low anyway, families like these can easily find themselves homeless, or at least in unhealthy and unsafe housing. We like the Habitat for Humanity model for helping with this sort of situation, with its use of low-cost, safe housing designed to make effective use of locally-produced construction materials, largely volunteer labor, and a “sweat equity” contribution by the family.

Posted 9 years, 7 months ago at 5:33 am.

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Milagro Water Project, El Salvador (2009)

The first special project we funded was the Project Milagro Water Supply, a project by Engineers Without Borders to provide a clean, reliable water supply to three communities in El Salvador. We provided essentially all the funding for the 2009 portion of this EWB effort, which involved construction of the El Rosario community water storage tank.

Here’s an introduction to the project. And here’s more detail about the project. The work was carried out by a team from the Orange County (CA) Professionals Chapter of EWB, as well as a group of local workers. Here’s a description of training done by the EWB chapter. And here are some photos taken in the community during EWB’s local preparations for the work.

Severe storms impeded the preparatory effort by local workers and EWB’s partner in the larger project, ENLACE. Mudslides killed six in the area, many local bridges were destroyed, and one of the workers on this project was seriously injured and required a helicopter medivac. Folks persevered, though, and things were ready for the EWB crew to come in for the tank construction. Here’s a near-final report from EWB on the effort.

Posted 10 years, 3 months ago at 5:29 pm.

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Basic Needs

Before economic self-sufficiency is possible, basic human needs have to be accessible. These include such things as access to clean water, sanitation, energy, food, and housing. Some of our favorite charities do work in these areas. We’ll discuss them in more detail in a bit.

Posted 11 years, 4 months ago at 7:06 pm.

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