Read more »
Below, you'll find an interactive image highlighting several of our recent blog posts about our work in Kenya. Just move your mouse over the image and a pop-up window will provide more information, as well as a link to the original post. We've also included a link (top right) to an interview with Lillian, Deputy Director of Five Talents' partner organization Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT).
Read more »
Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a story about the growing attention being given to microsavings. Here at Five Talents, we were delighted to see the story because it affirms the work we've been doing for years. It also communicates a powerful truth: that learning to save can transform one's life – even in communities where women and men do not have access to traditional banks.
"There's a common, misguided, knee-jerk reaction that if you're poor, you have no assets to save," Dean Karlan, a Yale economist, told the Post. "People who are poor obviously save less, but they still save."
We've seen this for years in our Burundi program, which by June 30 will have helped more than 10,000 women and men join savings groups and build wealth where, previously, they had none. Other Five Talents programs – including ones in South Sudan, Myanmar and Bolivia – also feature the group-led savings model.
In the case of Five Talents, however, these savings "circles," as the Post calls them, are far more than glorified piggy banks. They are microcosms of self-government and hubs for compassionate community outreach.
I saw this first-hand during my recent trip to Burundi.
Each group has a constitution (a list of rules) that is created and agreed upon by the members themselves. The rules cover everything from the number of women and men who may participate in a single group, to conditions regarding savings deposits and loan disbursement. Group members also determine their own interest rates and penalty fees.
This self-determination does wonders for members' self-esteem, and it encourages discipline and order that members can then model in their individual homes.
Even more amazing, though, is what these groups are able to accomplish for others in their community. Most savings groups in Burundi create an emergency fund, which they will only tap when the group collectively identifies a needy individual in their community – often someone who is not even a part of their circle.
Read more »
Hop on a bus heading out of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and you'll soon learn one reason why formal savings and lending opportunities are often hard to come by for women and men living in poor, rural villages. The further out you go, the fewer banks there are – until you get to a village like Thungururu, where there's no bank at all.
According to Martin Givachu (R), a local teacher who is chairman of the Thungururu Savings Trust Group established by Five Talents in partnership with Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), the village was the last settlement within the region to receive a proper electricity supply.
The lack of infrastructure and development in Thungururu is due, in part, to the fact that the most profitable cash crops – like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and flowers – are not grown here. Martin said the villagers mostly rely on subsistence farming, growing fruit and grain and rearing poultry on a small scale.
Without the savings trust group that Five Talents has helped to establish, villagers would have to travel by two matatu (minibuses) in order to make use of banking facilities.
What's more, once at the bank, the villagers would have to pay fees both to set up an account and to make a withdrawal.
''This is a big problem here," said Martin, "because in addition to the time spent traveling to Thika or Matu, it would cost 600 KES (US $7) [to set up an account] – money which villagers do not have available."
Tiny Accounts Unprofitable for Traditional Banks
Banks in Kenya – and in many countries throughout the developing world – do not like to handle small accounts, largely because of the expense of running them, write MIT Professors Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo in their book, Poor Economics.
"Deposit-taking institutions are heavily regulated, for good reason – the government is worried about fly-by-night operators running away with people's savings – but this means that managing each account requires bank employees to fill out some amount of paperwork, which can quickly become too burdensome, relative to any money that the bank can hope to make from these tiny accounts."
In the future, Five Talents hopes to upgrade the savings trust in Thungururu to a full community bank, which would offer a wider range of banking services within this marginalised rural community.
''Not only would this benefit our current 105 active members, but we could also expand our operation and serve the whole community," said Martin.
Below, you'll find a selection of photographs taken by Adam Dickens that show the beauty and the poverty of this village in rural Kenya:
The rural village of Thungururu, Kenya was the last place in its region to receive proper access to electricity.
Read more »
Like most of the community banks Five Talents has helped to found, the one in this photo by Adam Dickens started as a local trust (or savings) group in the Kenyan village of Kairi. Five Talents partners in Kenya with the Anglican Diocese of Thika and the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT).
For almost seven years, a high school teacher named Susan Kamani has served as the chairperson of the trust group-turned-community bank. The bank is open to everyone in the community and now has 753 members.
According to Kamani, the village and the surrounding area has in recent years suffered from a drop in world coffee prices. As a result, many small farmers are abandoning coffee planting and turning instead to small-scale dairy or poultry farming as a means of generating income for their family.
Five Talents' program in Kenya has achieved a maturity and a sustainability that we desire for every one of our programs.
Read more »
This photo, taken by Adam Dickens for Five Talents, features the dress-making shop of Beatrice in the village of Kibugu, Kenya.
Beatrice once made ladies' garments on a sewing machine at her home. But after joining a Five Talents savings and loan group, she set her sights on expanding her business. Today, she has her own shop, a second sewing machine, and an employee.
In the coming weeks, Beatrice hopes to invest in an embroidery machine with the help of a $160 loan.
Read more »
Perhaps you already have 5 books on your must-read list for 2013. Or maybe you have more like 50. Either way, we hope you'll read at least a couple of the following picks over the next 12 months. We're recommending titles that approach poverty from a variety of perspectives. Whether you are a development specialist or someone who simply loves a good story, we have you covered.
The Dragon's Gift
If you're interested in Africa and would like to learn more about the aid and investments that are flowing into the continent, then Deborah Brautigam's The Dragon's Gift is a must-read. The author has spent decades studying China's investment and aid packages to African governments. Besides offering a timely and ground-breaking analysis of China's activity on the continent, Brautigam also provides context so that we can understand how China's approach to aid and investment differs from that of the United States and other Western nations. For a great review of the book, click here.
Where China Meets India
If you'd like to learn more about one of the countries where Five Talents works, we recommend this book about Myanmar (Burma). Last year, the Burmese government made news by launching a series of reforms, including a loosening of media controls and an embrace of democratic elections. What was once one of the most closed societies in the world was suddenly opening its doors to the West and inviting investment to help spur development. Where China Meets India, by Thant Myint-U, is an engrossing travelogue that shows just how fast Myanmar is changing.
A Free Man
If you want to read a profile of an individual who is struggling to escape a world of poverty, look no further than Aman Sethi's A Free Man. The author, a correspondent for The Hindu, focuses his non-fiction narrative on the life of a homeless day-laborer in Delhi, India. The fast-paced story takes the reader into a world that few of us in the West have ever seen. Esther Duflo, co-author of Poor Economics (another great book that we have written about), calls Sethi's book "a beautiful work of journalism," adding: "What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend."
Through the Eye of a Needle
If you enjoy history and would like to learn more about the early church and Christians' view of wealth and poverty, read Peter Brown's acclaimed Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, a respected historian, excels at evoking the life of the ancients through colorful prose and through profound readings of saints like Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome. As Christianity Today puts it, Brown lets us "hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization."
When Helping Hurts
If you'd like to learn about how the Christian church has helped – and hurt – the cause of the impoverished around the world, then pick up Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. The book was re-released in 2012 with a new foreword and two new chapters. Readers interested in learning more about the philosophy that informs Five Talents' approach to micro-enterprise development will find this book particularly helpful.
Read more »
We're excited to share with you our 2011-2012 Annual Report for the fiscal year running from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. Click here to download the PDF.
In the report, you'll find all of the latest financial figures and program statistics, as well as stories, photos and highlights from every one of Five Talents' programs.
The report also features beautiful illustrations from one of our volunteers, Laura Bauder. So a great big thank-you to Laura, who also took on the task of designing the report.
Read more »
Five Talents board member Jim Oakes recently traveled to Kenya to lead a series of business training seminars for micro-entrepreneurs. The meetings were held in the village of Thungururu, which is about 30 km out of Thika, a town which is itself an hour's drive north of Nairobi.
In this photo, a person rides a bicycle on a paved road just outside of Thika.
"I was particularly struck by how hard some people had to work to get there," Jim wrote in a recent blog post. "I noticed that ours was the only car in sight – one person had come by motorcycle, about a dozen had ridden bicycles, and the rest had walked or gotten rides from someone. I learned that some people had walked over an hour to get to the training site, and that one group of women had hired a Matatu (a kind of a shared taxi service) at a cost of almost a day's wages to get there.
"As you might guess," he added, "we felt a heavy responsibility to make sure the training was worth their time."
Read more »
Editor's note: Five Talents recently sent a team of trainers to Kenya to hold business seminars for a group of micro-entrepreneurs about 30km outside of Thika. Here, one of the trainers, Five Talents board member Jim Oakes, shares stories about some of the micro-entrepreneurs he met, including a woman who gave him the most delicious tangerine he has ever eaten.
I'm writing this from the lobby of the Fairview Hotel in Nairobi, waiting to head to the airport and return to the US after a week in Kenya. I have once again led a small team (there were two of us this time, Brad Frink, on the far left in the photo, and myself, next to him) to teach basic business principles to Five Talents clients. This trip, we worked in Thungururu, Kenya, which is a small village about 30 km out of Thika, an hour's drive north of Nairobi.
Five Talents partners with the Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT), which operates under the umbrella of the Anglican Church in Kenya. TCDT has grown rapidly, and now has over 3,800 members in savings groups. One area where they hope to increase their activity is in the village of Thungururu. Although it is only 30 km out of Thika, it is a world away. The last 16 km or so are on a dirt road that was barely passable. I learned that very few services are available to residents of this area, and poverty is rampant. The congregation there cannot afford a full time pastor, so they share their vicar with three other congregations. The litany of things not available was familiar – no electricity, no running water, no banking services, (I was told that three quarters of Kenya's population does not have access to banking services) and on and on. But there was no shortage of enthusiastic people eager to learn.
For various reasons, we arrived at the teaching location about an hour behind schedule on our first day. But apparently, not a single person had left. Within moments of our arrival, the church was packed, with over 100 people waiting for us. No surprises so far, but I was particularly struck by how hard some people had to work to get there. I noticed that ours was the only car in sight – one person had come by motorcycle, about a dozen had ridden bicycles, and the rest had walked or gotten rides from someone. I learned that some people had walked over an hour to get to the training site, and that one group of women had hired a Matatu (a kind of a shared taxi service) at a cost of almost a day's wages to get there. As you might guess, we felt a heavy responsibility to make sure the training was worth their time.