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The Heroes in the Middle | by Jonathan A. Moody

Winglow Clothes and Textiles Limited

PovertyCure has historically encouraged individuals to move from asking, “what ends poverty?” to, “what creates wealth?”  So, as a matter of course, our mission begs the question, “what does wealth look like?”

Last month I traveled to the beautiful country of Ghana, where I saw the answer to that question with my own eyes.  I witnessed men and women put in hard work to build their own businesses.  Those businesses, in turn, created jobs that release individuals to use their gifts and talents.  The money that is earned is spread through the community as the employers and employed use their income for that most human of activities – taking care of their families’ needs and desires.  Value is created, God is honored and wealth is understood.

My host on this economic tour was Fanny Atta-Peters, founder of The Hopeline Institute.  Hopeline fosters more than 10,000 entrepreneurs and business leaders throughout the nation of Ghana.  They receive training, mentorship and/or access to capital.  It’s a fantastic program that is bearing fantastic fruit.

Small to Medium Enterprise – Demystified

In today’s global economic landscape the word, “business” conjures multiple, often contradictory mental images.  One person imagines a lone entrepreneur building their humble native-crafts business through microfinance loans.  Another envisions a large multinational conglomeration with their corporate fingers in everything from natural gas extraction to the sale of custom ordered socks.

Developing countries, like Ghana, often exhibit both extremes.  The local people are incredibly driven, entrepreneurial and hard working.  High numbers of individuals engage in commerce through very small businesses.  This phenomenon is most visible in large cities where one can readily see thousands of entrepreneurs hustle to sell trinkets to tourist and small household goods to each other.

In those same environments it’s easy to spot the second extreme: a much smaller number of very large, dominant corporations.  It may be the near ubiquitous presence of brands such Coca-Cola, the abundance of Western hotel chains and even financial institutions.

However, what you are unlikely to see is the middle ground – healthy “mom & pop shops” that act to boost locals into the middle class and serve as a means of handing down wealth from one generation to the next.

But, the reality is that successful economies thrive on what are known as small to medium enterprises (SMEs).  These are businesses that grow and employ others, create value and spur broader economic growth. The PovertyCure Documentary Series broadly defines SMEs as businesses with 5-500 employees.  In fact, the majority of developed economies are comprised of businesses in the middle.  Many developing economies suffer from a lack of these economic powerhouses.  Economist and development experts refer to this lack as “the missing middle.”

Increasing numbers of people accept that traditional forms or charity and/or aid do not solve the complex problems surround poverty.  There is also growing buy-in of the notion that local economies need businesses to truly thrive.  Still, the question remains, “how do we grow the missing middle?”

Fanny Atta-Peters, Executive Director, Hopeline Institute  with Beatrice, her training manager and  Betty, the business development coordinator.

Fanny Atta-Peters (middle), Executive Director of Hopeline Institute with Beatrice, her training manager and Betty, the business development coordinator.

The Hopeline Institute is truly important because they provide a working answer to this great dilemma.  And it’s not mere academics.  They give an ongoing example.

As I mentioned above, Hopeline has partnered with more than 10,000 entrepreneurs and business leaders across Ghana.  They are registered as a Financial Non Governmental Organization (FNGO).  As such they offer both microfinance solutions for budding entrepreneurs and larger loans for functioning SMEs.

Mrs. Atta-Peters conceived of Hopeline during her graduate work.   She officially formed Hopeline in 2007 with $4,900 as seed capital for loans.  Hopeline’s goals were simple – to empower women and connect women entrepreneurs with the training and tools they needed in order to professionalize and grow their businesses.  They wanted to share basic business principles in order to enhance the day-to-day work of these entrepreneurs.  They provided training in areas such as bookkeeping, customer service, value of personal health, and the wellbeing of the family.  However, they also added a Christian component, letting the Bible speak on business and our well-being.   They started with 60+ women and graduated 43 women from their first four-week training program.

As if that isn’t impressive enough, Mrs. Atta-Peters gave birth to twins that same year!

The training required two hours each week for four weeks – valuable time to give up.  However, there was an enticing incentive… access to capital.  After successfully completing the four-week training program, graduates were then eligible to apply for financing to start or grow their businesses.  This element is a key to their success in creating the missing middle.  It’s easy to take for granted that training and relationships are as vital to long-term growth as access to capital.  But, Hopeline prioritizes this truth in their four pillars:

Four Pillars of the Hopeline Institute:

  1. Mentoring
  2. Training
  3. Access to capital
  4. Advocacy

In 2012, they received a loan from Partners Worldwide, (also a PovertyCure partner), to help offer affordable loans to micro, small and medium businesses.  And they’ve put those funds to tremendous use.  After all, Hopeline knows there is no simple fix or “silver-bullet” to solve poverty or grow an economy.  In the end, it takes relationships, constancy and integrity – qualities Hopeline possess in spades.

Hopeline’s approach demystifies the process of building the missing middle.  As a result of Fanny Atta-Peters and her army of principled entrepreneurs and business leaders, communities in Ghana are beginning to thrive.

Winglow1

Jonathan A. Moody, Managing Director of PovertyCure with Awurabena Okrah, CEO of  Winglow Clothes and Textiles Limited, and her team in Ghana.

 

Leading with a Servant Heart and God-Given Call to Business | by Bob Vryhof

Elizabeth_InPostCorruption and violence continue as major obstacles for local job creators in Honduras, and yes, this can often make “success” a lofty goal. However, in the midst of this, the nation—from the bottom to the top—is going through a unique time that inspires much hope.

Two institutions have woven themselves into the fabric of the Honduran communities they serve – MCM and Diaconia Nacional (DN). They serve their communities in various ways, ranging from education, health, church growth and business development. Over the last decade, Partners Worldwide’s partnerships with these two institutions have impacted thousands of small businesses. Supported by their North American partner team – the Honduran Pella Affiliate – they provide access to capital and business skills training in some of the most marginalized urban communities in the country.

Each of these partnerships is essential to fostering prosperous economic environments for all. On their own, they are powerful, but together—as a network – they are life giving. When small business owners can access tools and networks that are normally out of reach, they are able to thrive and bring economic prosperity to their own communities.

Elizabeth is an inspirational example of how access to these tools opens the doors to thriving businesses in unexpected places.

Elizabeth was raised in an orphanage, but her God-given call to business, service, and leadership was evident from an early age. It was during her time as an intern for DN in 2006 that she first developed a heart for serving and helping small businesses grow. Soon after, DN helped Elizabeth open her own business – a souvenir shop in an abandoned building in a touristic site in Honduras – with a US $50 loan!

She bought a small inventory of hammocks, clay decorations, and other souvenirs targeted at tourists. Under her careful management, the business prospered and a few years later, she opened a mini market in a rented building, serving a small neighborhood in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

Over the years, Elizabeth accessed various loans as well as business training and mentoring through DN. Partners Worldwide has also provided constant encouragement, mentoring, training, and prayer. All-the-while, Elizabeth has mentored and trained countless emerging entrepreneurs in her community. Her life has inspired people far and wide, and she has even received multiple awards as a member of our global network.

Driven by her entrepreneurial spirit and her vision for prosperous communities all over Honduras, Elizabeth continues to innovate. Her newest business ventures include apartments for rent and a tortilla business right next to her mini market. However, even with multiple ventures in hand, she has learned to be a wise steward of the resources God has given her.  Her first business – the souvenir shop – continues to thrive. She has come a long way since her initial $50 loan nine years ago. Following her dream, her mini market now operates on a piece of land just across the street from the original location that she purchased three years ago.

Elizabeth’s use of the entrepreneurial tools at her disposal also shows the maturity of her leadership as a businesswoman – not only has she maintained a stellar repayment rate on all her loans, but today she uses debt largely to finance infrastructure and capital improvements as opposed to the inventory she purchased with that first loan.

So now, Tegucigalpa has one more dynamic business leader that recognizes her role in God’s kingdom as called to business. A businesswoman who employs numerous people in multiple businesses with a servant heart deeply committed to blessing the community and people around her.

 

This article is from the Partners Worldwide blog and written by Bob Vryhof, the Latin America Regional Facilitator.

 

 

Things I’ve Learned from the Poor | By Doug Seebeck

When I was 22 years old, I went off to Bangladesh as an Agri-missionary. On fire in my call to Christ, I was going to teach the farmers how to farm. They would be the grateful recipients of the God-given wisdom I had acquired at that ripe age and in short order they would feed their nation.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I ZambiaFarmer.DS.PovertyCureBlog(body2)understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 

1 Corinthians 13:10

I quickly learned that the Bengali farmers were excellent farmers. They were able to survive even though they had no access to things we take for granted: the systems, resources, and models that bring about markets and flourishing economies.

I then did something I never expected to do: I asked those Bengali farmers what they needed to move from subsistence farming to the business of farming. And then I listened. My “know how” from a more developed farm environment partnered with their deep knowledge of their own land and culture fostered a deep and multi-generational transformation in their communities.

That was 37 years ago and Partners Worldwide now asks and listens to small-scale farmers and emerging businesspeople in 25 countries.  Here are a few things they’ve taught me along the way:

  1. They know how to fish! The oft-quoted Chinese proverb tells us that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but if you teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. People at the margins know how to fish … but they don’t have access to the pond. They aren’t able to engage and participate in the economic systems, markets, relationships, networks of support and collaboration and cooperation, tools, and models many of us take for granted.
  2. They are more resourceful money managers than most people I know. You try living on $2 a day! Yet they pay multiples more for food, water, shelter, electricity, energy and transportation.
  3. They are smart business people. When we take time to understand the decisions they make, they are always the best, given their circumstances, and our partnership with them only magnifies a talent they had to begin with.
  4. They are innovators. Their capacity to “work-around” the obstacles they face reminds me that God created us in Genesis 1 as trusted stewards of the Garden, imbuing in us the knowledge and creative power to tend to Earth and bring forth its bounty.
  5. They are entrepreneurs, intuitively demonstrating the traits associated with successful start-ups: keen observers of behavior, slow to speak and long on listening.
  6. They are servant leaders, they humble themselves to serve, they truly served me, and I realize there is still so much for me to learn about how to best serve them.

 

Doug Seebeck serves as the President of Partners Worldwide

Patient Builds Community Through Store | by Rudy Carrasco, et al.

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As a former Christian bookstore chain executive, Craig Klamer was used to trading in books, CDs, and spiritually-themed home décor, so he had never considered the best way to locally source a goat—until now. But that’s one of his intriguing challenges as a PW Business Affiliate mentor for Patient Baraka, an African market owner in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Klamer has been working alongside Baraka, owner of Grand Rapids African Market and Store, since Baraka opened in November of 2014.

The store employs three, Baraka, his wife, and daughter, and sells goat meat, including whole heads for use in African soups, lamb, cow skin, banana plantains, sweet potato leaves, and cassava, a starchy tuber and major staple food in the developing world.

“Being able to take knowledge and experiences from a 36-year career in retailing, and to see small ideas turn into big steps forward is thrilling,” Klamer said.

Baraka, whose mother named him “Patient” because she was two weeks overdue with him, took a 10-week entrepreneurship class through PW’s local partner Restorers. Baraka passionate two-minute business pitch won “best pitch” on the last night of classes.

“The purpose of my store is one-stop shopping,” he said. “People can come and speak their own language, and celebrate our culture, our diversity. When we meet, we talk about the issues facing Africa: genocide, war in Congo, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ebola in Liberia. You need to be able to find your own people to give you that space.”

Besides ethnic foods and African apparel and accessories, the market has become a hub for the African community to gather and solve problems. Baraka’s background is in social work, and his vision for the market is to expand its services to offer legal and social guidance for refugees and immigrants.

patient_customer_story“It’s clear, as customers come in to shop, that Patient is also providing a sense of community,” Klamer said. “The average length of time spent by a customer in the store might be up to 30 minutes, which is amazing for this very small store with limited inventory. Customers stand and talk with Patient in their own language, and their baskets end up being full. This is a place for advice, encouragement, and friendship.”

Klamer picked up where the entrepreneurship class left off, boosting Baraka’s spirits with encouragement for what he’s doing well.

“Patient, himself a refugee from the Congo, has great love for the people from African who are resettling here in West Michigan,” said Klamer. “He knows Swahili, he knows their need for the foods and goods they are accustomed to, and as a social worker he also understands the pressures and challenges they have in re-settling in the U.S.”

Klamer has also helped Baraka hone in on areas for improvement. One of his tasks is to differentiate his business from the well-stocked, six-year-old African market down the street. Improved lighting and store experience is also a hurdle, as is finding economical ways of marketing to his target customers in the local African community.

And then there’s the matter of the goats. Baraka had been driving to Chicago for goat meat, a time and money expenditure for him. Klamer explored local meat sources with him, including a nearby goat farmer. He plans to now source his goats locally.

Armed with knowledge gained in business training classes, and supported by Klamer’s mentorship, Baraka hopes to overcome his challenges and become a role model in the community. He dreams of his market being a place that shows newcomers from around the world that they too can take root and thrive, building a sustainable business in America.

“I have excitement about my business,” Baraka said. “I believe in it.”

By a team of collaborators lead by Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide