For what it’s WORTH

You may have noticed that June was a little thin on the ground in terms of blogs.  Apart from harbouring the world’s worst flu (perhaps a slight exaggeration) and deep breathing my way through excruciating acute abdominal cramps, my absence has also been due to an intense month of work.  So prepare for the onslaught of catch-up blogs.  Now, where do I begin?

You may remember that many months ago I mentioned the success of a huge EU grant that I had been working on with Tegan Mumford, another AVI from Save The Children.  The grant was for E1.5 million (€150,000) which essentially doubled my organisation’s budget.  Finally, we have signed on the dotted line, drafted the MOU, and our Project Officer, Bongiwe, has been busy traipsing around the countryside with Ministry of Agriculture, Microproject staff and Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) making great things happen.

Kutimela (meaning ‘self-reliance’) is one of the most beautifully designed programs I’ve ever seen.  I can say that without bias because it wasn’t designed by me.  In fact, it is based on a model called WORTH developed by Pact International, and has been run in a range of countries across the globe.

Kutimela’s basic premise is that of a village microfinance scheme….with a difference.  Women form themselves into groups of between 15-25 people.  They set the parameters for their saving group: how often to meet, minimum regular deposit, savings conditions, selection of a committee, loan conditions etc., and their first contribution goes toward purchasing the savings box, keys and all the books needed to operate the group.  Members also nominate and vote on someone from the region to act as an Empowerment Worker (EW).  In this way, the entire process is run by the group members themselves.

EWs attend each group’s meeting and are trained by our Project Officer to provide training to the groups around financial management, entrepreneurship, calculating profit and loss, strategic advantage etc.  In this way, the Kutimela group acts as a saving scheme, a lending scheme (which provides a second source of income through dividends), as well as a platform for literacy and business education.

As participants settle into the program, experience tells us that the women capitalise on the power of the group to discuss and identify solutions to local social issues, such as abuse and HIV prevention.  Many groups also agree to contribute a proportion of their savings for charitable purposes, and to cover the costs of the EW and external facilitators to support the group beyond the initial training period.  With the business training under their belt, groups have also gone on to facilitate the formation and training of additional groups in their communities, making it an entirely sustainable system with big potential for growth.

WORTH was first introduced into Swaziland in 2011 through Save The Children and SWAGAA.  Thanks to a small grant from Swazi Kids, Gone Rural boMake began running it in late 2012.  After just 3 months, our participants from 11 groups had managed to save E13,000 ($1,450).  However, this is just the beginning.

Last year, TechnoServe did an evaluation of the WORTH groups operating under Save The Children and SWAGAA.  The study found that 21% of participants started a new microenterprise due to WORTH, and 73% of members took loans to help them build their business further.  In addition, women were able to keep money aside for needs such as school fees, while 55% of groups contributed to a fund to support Orphans and Vulnerable Children with schooling and food.  A number of groups went on to launch new groups in their community.

With this amazing financial support from the EU and Swaziland’s Microprojects, Gone Rural boMake is partnering with Save The Children Swaziland to expand the number of Kutimela groups to 200, allowing 3,000-5,000 women AND youth to regularly save money and receive training in microfinance and business administration.  If 20% of these participants form a new enterprise, that’s somewhere between 750 – 1,250 women or youth earning an income in a country where almost half of the nation’s rural people are unemployed.

If we look at this in a broader sense, we know that Gone Rural artisans take care of an average of six dependants each.  As women provide most of the protective elements of the social structure in Swaziland, taking responsibility for ensuring children are able to attend school and are safe and fed, Kutimela has the potential to improve the lives of up to 30,000 people.  That’s a lot of beneficiaries for one little program.  Now can you understand why I’m so excited?

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