AfricaRural Africa is one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the world. Half of the global poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 389 million in this region live on less than $1.90. While other regions in the world have seen drastic reductions in poverty, progress in Sub-Saharan Africa has been slow. Even though the persistence of rural poverty in Africa is a multi-faceted problem, certain primary factors can be addressed. The extreme poor lack access to resources to achieve economic empowerment. Thankfully, organizations like Village Enterprise have stepped up to the plate to introduce new opportunities.

Village Enterprise provides a graduation program on entrepreneurship and innovation for those living in extreme poverty in Uganda and Kenya. The organization hopes that its simple and cost-effective model can help bring an end to extreme rural poverty in Africa. Village Enterprise stands out from other organizations by using a group-based approach. Each business is started by a group of three people and usually provides support for 20 people in the community. When individuals join the program, they can’t pay for their family’s needs and have no business experience. The program includes training, a $150 grant and mentorship for the aspiring entrepreneurs.

81 percent of the businesses started through Village Enterprise were founded by female entrepreneurs. This is especially important, since women reinvest 90 percent of their income on average to their families and communities, while men only reinvest 30 to 40 percent.

Lucy Wurtz, Development and Communications Director for Village Enterprise, told The Borgen Project that the employees on the ground have tools, including Grameen’s Progress Out of Poverty Index, to determine the level of poverty in a community and who could use their services. Then, every household in the community is invited to join the program. While only 30 entrepreneurs can be working and training in a group at a time, Village Enterprise can reach 90 to 100 households in a community a year.

“The idea is everyone who wants to has a chance to participate,” says Wurtz, “so you are lifting up the whole area.”

When the program is finished, Village Enterprise is able to move on. Once the entrepreneurs learn the skills, they are empowered and able to continue improving their economic standing. The business owners are also able to work together as a group, as each member can pick up different skills. Some become especially adept at finance and can help their fellow entrepreneurs with book-keeping. Others may specialize in marketing or leadership.

“Once you give a number of skills to a group of people,” says Wurtz, “that group starts acting as a support body to disperse the skills within the group members and take on the attributes of what you’re teaching.”

Village Enterprise measures the impact of the program by the increase in the standard of living. The organization recently conducted a randomized trial involving 6,000 households and 138 villages in Uganda. Researchers returned to the communities a year after the program was finished to see if there were still significant improvements. The study will soon be available to view on the Village Enterprise website.

The organization is expanding in several ways. It continues to grow in the countries in which it already works, Kenya and Uganda, and is also looking into expanding into other African countries, with the Democratic Republic of Congo being one potential target. One of the factors driving expansion is a new opportunity for donors. Village Enterprise is now participating in an innovative way to finance development: development impact bonds. These bonds get investors to pay up front for the costs of an intervention that can be measured by predetermined metrics. If the goals are met, then an outcome payor, usually a donor agency or foundation, will pay back the investor based on this performance.

Village Enterprise has started over 39,000 businesses and trained over 156,000 entrepreneurs. With hope, this approach can go on to empower and lift up the over 40 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans living in extreme poverty.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr