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To all of us here at Five Talents, November is an important month. It is around this time that we get to release our latest annual report and share stories, statistics and testimonies about the transformation that is happening across Asia, Africa and Latin America -- because of you.
Your prayers, advocacy and donations helped Five Talents serve 72,725 women and men in 2012-2013. As Dr. April Young, Chair of Five Talents USA's Board of Directors, puts it in her letter on Page 2 of the annual report, that is "72,725 stories" that each of you have played a role in over the last 12 months.
We are so grateful for the support of our friends and donors, and we trust that you will find our 2012-2013 Annual Report as inspiring as we do.
When you hear a woman like Matilda, in Bolivia, explaining how she challenged her family to save for their children's education; when you hear Consolate, in Burundi, attesting to her husband's transformation as a father and as an image-bearer of God; when you hear Nena, in the Philippines, explaining how she uses some of the profit from her micro-enterprises to help her neighbors, we hope you will also hear the voice of the Master saying to his faithful, trustworthy servant, "Well done."
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This lovely photo was taken by Mahoo Lyimo, Development Officer with Five Talents UK, during her recent program visit to Kenya. She was on the road outside of Thungururu Village, the latest community to celebrate the arrival of a new community-owned bank, when she and those with her came upon this group of school children.
In a recent blog post, she wrote about the folks she met in Thungururu:
Formerly some people were travelling up to 60km to visit their local bank. These village banks have improved financial access considerably. The village banks are also flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of their communities and can adapt their products accordingly. For the savvier minded member they can even own shares in the village bank and get a healthy return at the end of the year.
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NAIROBI, Kenya -- I saw a miracle yesterday.
I've been in Nairobi attending the second GAFCON Conference with a number of fellow Five Talents Board Members and leaders, meeting many of our clients and partners and making new friends. We took a day away from the conference yesterday to drive up to Thika to visit the Thika Community Development Trust, a savings group sponsored by Five Talents.
Under the guidance and leadership of Bishop Gideon Githiga, and the direction of Peterson Karanja, Program Director, the Trust has grown dramatically from its modest beginnings in 2005. The program now has almost 5,000 members, 41 savings groups, and over $1 million in accumulated savings. The program is being acknowledged a great success, and is already being replicated in one adjacent diocese, with two more dioceses planning to launch similar programs. I spoke briefly this morning with Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya, who spoke highly of the Thika program and said that he hopes that they will eventually have similar programs in every diocese in Kenya!
Exciting as this is, Five Talents has always been about more than numbers. Indeed, there are numerous microfinance programs in existence that can boast growing membership and good financial performance. However, Five Talents has always had a commitment to reach the "riskier, poorer, and smaller" areas that have been underserved by commercial programs, and has maintained a focus on the whole person, rather than just financial performance. And by that standard, this program is even more impressive.
I had visited Thika twice before, and had heard Bishop Gideon state previously his commitment to microfinance as a key part of ministry in his diocese. But yesterday I heard firsthand the testimony of a parish priest, who stated that families in his community had grown stronger as a result of their participation in their savings group, and that their prosperity and well-being had increased to the point that they were able to meet their own needs, and were able to contribute more to the life of the church as a result.
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The road out of poverty, needless to say, is not an autobahn. The going is tough, and usually slow. But there is a way out, and this blog – with its weekly posts – aims to show what that road looks like for some folks.
We share photographs, post Q&As and highlight successes of women and men who are learning to turn their income-generating activities into sustainable micro-enterprises.
We blog about the opening of a community bank. We share stories of women learning to balance their books and market their business. We post reports of parents earning enough to send their kids back to school.
Occasionally, we share stories from outside our programs – from magazine articles and books. Below, you'll find three recommended reads – one novel and two works of nonfiction – that depict individuals making their way along the road out of poverty.
Before summer winds down, we hope you'll pick up at least one of these books and perhaps share this list with a friend:
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (Fiction, 2013)
This novel depicts the life story of a young boy whom we find, in the opening pages, "huddled, shivering, on the packed earth" under his mother's cot. Each chapter jumps to another point in the boy's life, until we find him a grown man living out his last days as a member of the upper class. What makes this novel particularly riveting is its point-of-view: Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, puts us, the readers, in the shoes of the main character by composing the book in the second person. In other words, "you" are the one who is "huddled, shivering, on the packed earth" under the cot. "You" are the one who will benefit from your mom's hard work and receive an education. "You" are the one who will start a small enterprise and eventually grow it into a small empire. "You" will have trudged along the road out of poverty, and "you" will have the scars to prove it.
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Pick up this month's issue of Foreign Policy and you might not want to open it. After all, it's the magazine's annual "failed states" issue, and the list is, according to the editors, "depressingly familiar."
But go ahead and dig in, or click here for the online version, because in the stories and statistics you will get a glimpse of some of the communities where Five Talents and our partners are organizing savings groups, providing literacy training, teaching basic accounting and marketing skills, and providing access to microloans.
For example, a stunning two-page photo spread in the print edition shows a malaria-stricken soldier resting in a hut in Juba, South Sudan.
Turn the page and you'll find that Five Talents is working in six countries near the top of the "failed states" list, including Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya and Myanmar.
Dig deeper still and you'll find a table of statistics highlighting these countries' poverty, adult literacy, and child mortality rates. In South Sudan, for example, 51 percent of the country's 10 million people live below the national poverty line.
Five Talents works in under-served, at-risk, post-conflict communities because in them are the folks that can most benefit from participating in a savings group, accessing loan capital, and learning how to start or grow an income-generating activity, or micro-enterprise.
Take some time to explore the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine and learn more about the people that Five Talents – and you, through your advocacy, prayers and donations – are serving. Here's some recommended reading from the issue:
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In March, we blogged about a community in Kenya – the village of Thungururu – that was gaining access to savings and lending services for the very first time.
Five Talents and local partner Thika Community Development Trust (TCDT) organized Thungururu's first savings group in 2009. Women and men living there needed to travel by two minibuses to access a banking facility 60 kilometers away in Thika.
The savings group was the first step to bringing financial services and business training to the people of Thungururu.
We're delighted to report that the village now has it's very own community bank.
Five Talents UK Program Manager Rachel Lindley spent the last week in Thungururu to help celebrate the bank's opening. She filmed this video beside the new bank:
We'd love it if you would share this video on Facebook and Twitter, as it's a great example of the community transformation we are seeing across all of our programs.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.