VSL

Village Savings and Loans are something like the original conception of the Grameen Bank, but perhaps even simpler. A small number of people get together and agree to save a regular monthly amount each. In rural Malawian villages this might be as little as 30c/month. As soon as there is some money, it is lent out to the members, with interest of sometimes as much as 25%/month. With this sort of interest rate, the ‘bank’ quickly increases its capital base. After an agreed period, the total earnings are distributed amongst its members.

In 2014 Concern Universal Malawi supported the formation of 1008 VSL groups with a total of 21,779 members. The funds in circulation are currently MK212,650,138, which is approximately $28/member.

We provided the school exercise book which is used for keeping the record. Austin is the Day group keeper and Robert the Night group keeper.

We provided the school exercise book which is used for keeping the record. Austin is the Day group keeper and Robert the Night group keeper.

After distributing the donations received to assist the guards in recovery after the wild weather of January (as per previous blogs), some late contributions came in. Rather than distribute these funds as per the first round, we were keen to try and build something more with the money. We thus suggested that they establish a VSL group. In fact, they decided to establish two, One for the day guards, the other for the night guards. In this instance we got Tiaone – a CU staff member known as the VSL Queen – to come and explain the concept and help them establish the ‘ledger’.  From there each group elected a book keeper and immediately distributed the funds. In fact my understanding is that most VSL groups in the villages don’t actually hold any money at all, it is all constantly out on loan. Security at payout time though is becoming an issue, together with stand over tactics by local power holders.

All eyes on the money. A great kickstarter for some small business enterprise.

All eyes on the money. A great kickstarter for some small business enterprises.

Whilst not the record keeper, I have become a member of each group to have a legitimate way of monitoring how it is all going.

Thank you!

We held a report back and next steps session with all eight guards providing reports. They all gave heartfelt thanks to all those that had contributed towards their recovery following the damage caused by the wild weather.  The all provided at least one other to vouch that they had spent the money on what they claimed.

Austin giving his report back with our Japanese and Cameroonian neighbours in the background.

Austin giving his report back with our Japanese and Cameroonian neighbours in the background.

Joseph Purchased buckets, plates and plastic sheet and also sent money back home to his wife in the village.

Austin, whose rental accommodation was not damaged sent all the money to his parents in the village who had lost everything.

Willard explaining how he'd spent the money

Willard explaining how he’d spent the money

Willard : Purchased bricks and rebuilt half of what was knocked down and plastic sheet to cover the remainder. He also sent money to his widowed Mother.

Leveson: Bought bricks and a bag of cement. Rebuilt half the damaged wall. Also purchased plastic sheet to cover the remainder and household items, e.g.: plates and bucket.

Francis: Spent part of the money on child in hospital and the rest on plastic sheet to cover damage and some household items.

Robert C.: Took child for check up to hospital. Also bought plastic sheet and roof poles. Purchased household items e.g.; plates, dishes and buckets.

Ali: Bought 2000 bricks and two bags of cement and a sheet of plastic

Robert: Bought 3000 bricks and 2 bags of cement

Grace translating the report  back sessions

Grace translating the report back sessions

 

As we have received some additional donations (thank you!) after the first workshop, we are trying a more community development focus with these funds. To start this we asked them for income generation ideas. (Grace was emphatic that they worked in pairs, otherwise she said they’d just say the same thing as each other) The ideas were:

  • Buy a goat and breed it
  • Buy flour and oil to make mandasi. Wife will sell by the road side
  • Buy second hand clothes or fish and re-sell
  • Pig farming
  • Set up a mini-shop to sell groceries
  • Find a job as auto-electrician (Joseph) or driver (Austin)

We asked them to come up with plans by the next meeting.

On a completely different and sad note, we attended Tigwirizane Nkhoma’s funeral yesterday. He was only 32 and apparently died of TB.

Bonding capital* rules – OK!

Grace 1

Grace clarifying the question in the first small group discussion

small group 1

Small group discussion Question 2

At change over time on Saturday, we ran a (rough) participatory budgeting workshop with the eight permanent guards for them to decide how to distribute the $550 donated by our generous neighbours and  Australian friends. We designed a process for the barely literate, that is with simple instructions, little written out. Through Grace our interpreter we first asked them to discuss with each other three questions, asked sequentially: How had the big storm effected them? What would they do if they had a little bit of money to aid recovery? How would they demonstrate to each other that they had spent the money in that way?

allocation

Allocating funds with sugar sachets

After this process, we provided each with twenty sugar sachets, each worth roughly MK1200. They were to allocate these funds to each other. They were not allowed to allocate funds to themselves. However, after each distributing their 20 sachets they came to a collective realisation that this process had resulted in an uneven distribution of the funds. They demanded an opportunity to do it again. However then they realised it would always result in an uneven distribution, and as they did not want any body to be jealous, they wanted to split the funds equally. We went to great lengths to impress on them that this was their decision, not ours.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

On Reflection: The designed process was OK in that they made the decision for equal allocation themselves. However I’m sure we could have designed something different that would have made them come to that decision without it being a revolution. Also even just having the names written was almost certainly too much writing for the (at least) one who was completely illiterate. (e.g.: We should have had photos).

They were all very grateful and wished to thank everyone that had helped them. They collectively decided that within the next two weeks they would each get two friends to visit them to see how they had spent the money  and report back.

*Bonding capital : Everyone with similar values – see each other through good and bad times, but don’t dare be different. Linking capital: Essentially all having the same values, but able to accept some individual differences. Bridging capital: Able to acknowledge and accept those with completely different value systems to oneself.

 

Malawi Floods

Last week torrential rains hit Southern Malawi. To date it is estimated 175 are dead and 250,000 have been displaced by flood waters. There are dramatic pictures and an official appeal. Concern Universal is becoming increasingly involved in the official response and recovery work.

Nearing the front of the queue

Nearing the front of the queue for water. Fortunately we went at lunch time on Sunday, when many Malawians are at church AND after three days the water came on that night.

For us the major subsequent inconvenience has been highly erratic water and electricity supply. Most days one, other or both are off for a number of hours. We have been fortunate with only having to go for 3 days without water before the taps worked again. For many in the city it is weeks. Whilst the strong winds and rain did not affect conventional buildings, for those that work in our compound the story is very different.

Also: Ali: He lost a wall to his bathroom and most of his kitchen. Martha: She lost her house. Alfred & Gerard, both lost walls to their houses.

Also: Ali: He lost a wall to his bathroom and most of his kitchen. Martha: She lost her house. Alfred & Gerard, both lost walls to their houses.

We visited Ali at his house and viewed some of the damage in his neighbourhood. This is (informal) suburban Blantyre. lost roofhill side

MB viewing the damage.

MB viewing the damage.

Ali's wife Mazie and son Emanual preparing food in their wrecked kitchen.

Ali’s wife Mazie and son Emanual preparing food in their wrecked kitchen.

 

 

Whilst we encourage donations to the official appeal, we have decided to run a collection from those that live in the compound for these ten and their families. Our intention is that on Sun 8th we will run a ‘participatory budgeting’ process where these ten would decide on who to allocate whatever money was raised. Should you feel so inclined you also could send some money to my PayPal account martinbutcher@mac.com. Contributions can be small e.g. $2. These guys monthly wage is $70 p.c.m and anything makes a difference.

 

 

 

Definition

A friend recently asked ‘what exactly is an impact report’. Good question, but with many answers. if you live in Australia (or probably any other Western democracy), google the name of your local council and search the site for the latest annual report. Near the front will be a statement called ‘Our Vision’. It will probably say something like “….a flourishing community living in harmony with the natural environment and achieving a sustainable and dynamic economic base”. The annual report itself will say how much the new library cost and the number of meals on wheels delivered, but the impact report happens at the next election when the council is either voted back or a new one given a go.

It's a statistic that surely needs to be considered. That the International Labour Organisation

It’s a statistic that surely needs to be considered. When the International Labour Organisation states that more lives are lost in the workplace annually than in war, and that doesn’t even count the number of lives made miserable at work. When will we acknowledge that ‘impact’?

At the National level, there is probably some document that talks about ‘honouring our international obligations’ which gets translated into having an overseas aid budget. A proportion of this aid budget then might be given to a Non Government Organisation (NGO), who has a vision saying something like “We will help the local community flourish, protect and enhance their environment and achieve improved economic livelihoods”. A problem is that it is not the “beneficiaries” of this gesture who vote, but the folks back home. And the Government wants to tell them that their taxes have been spent efficiently, effectively and made a difference. This is where a different form of impact report comes in, and which generally means trying to describe, define and measure something as ephemeral as a ‘flourishing community’.

The standard way to do this is through logframes (sometimes known as ‘theory of change’) and associated indicators. Indicators of achieving a ‘flourishing community’ could be fewer people getting sick, or increased life expectancy. This is fine as long as the situation is relatively simple. Collect the records from the local clinic, construct a borehole, check the clinic records again. Where it gets tricky is working within a complex environment. In other words, how do you claim attribution (or responsibility) that it has been your bore hole that has reduced diarrhoea when there are three other NGO’s doing the same thing and there is nobody in the clinic actually reporting why people are being admitted other than being ‘sick’, and/or another NGO has been training local people to treat simple ailments at home and the weather has been seriously wet?

I think I've heard this mantra too many times to take it seriously. Unless it means helping people have an enquiring mind, supporting them to try new things, celebrating failure.

I think I’ve heard this mantra too many times to take it seriously. Unless it means helping people have an enquiring mind, supporting them to try new things, celebrating failure?

A question for today regarding both situations is whether the ‘impact report’ provided then results in any real learning and change. Or do we just keep trying to do the same thing (albeit with computers and smart phones) whilst hoping for a different result? That different result being not just about bore holes and libraries, but genuinely achieving a ‘flourishing community with a stable economy living in a sustainable natural environment’? And if this is the case, then what do we need to change for us to make a real difference in how we live, work and play? My own tentative suggestion is to enable more people in on both the decision making and the subsequent assessment process of the impact of that decision. “WE made this decision and on reflection it’s sort of worked here, but could have been better there”.