Sudan & South Sudan

In the Shade of a Tree, a Micro-Business Is Born in South Sudan

Akoi_small"When I came to Wau, I had not a single coin in my hand."

Akoi, 32 years old and a mother of two children, was sent away by her husband because he could not afford her medical care. With her kids in tow, she caught a ride to the town of Wau, in South Sudan, and appeared in the doorway of her mother's hut.

"My mother could not assist me with the children, since she gets only her little salary," she said. "I felt hopeless, and I did not know what do with my children."

Akoi tells her story now with a smile, because her life has since changed. But in the days following her move to Wau, providing even a slice of bread to her children seemed an impossible feat.

Initially, she began working with some farmers on the outskirts of the town so that she could buy food for her children.

One day, a woman invited Akoi to join her savings group. She explained how the Five Talents program works: The group comes together, agrees on a "constitution" defining procedures and interest rates, and then begins contributing to a collective savings pool. Out of this pool, group members lend to one another.

These small loans, the woman continued, would give Akoi an opportunity to begin her own micro-enterprise. Akoi would also receive training in basic business skills and guidance from the group facilitator.

Akoi liked what she heard and joined the group in January of 2013. With her first loan of about $35 she bought some cloth to make bed sheets, as well as tea leaves, powdered milk and sugar in order to set up a tea business outside the campus of the University of Bahr el Ghazal.

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March Matchness: Team Up with Five Talents in March to Equip and Empower Micro-Entrepreneurs

Every March, we fall in love again with the story of a Cinderella. A ragtag team from a humble home arena catch a ride on a bullet train to national prominence.

This year, there's another story of transformation, another team of destiny. And you can be on it.

You can help to write the story – not of a Cinderella team, but of micro-entrepreneurs like Mary in Burundi, and Melia in Indonesia.

Donate in March to Five Talents and your gift will be matched. Turn your $10 into $20, your $50 into $100, and turn a woman's life towards hope, dignity and opportunity.

Please give what you can.

We also hope you will share this video on Facebook, Twitter or via e-mail, using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post. Let your friends, colleagues and family know about the micro-enterprise development work that Five Talents is doing in some of the world's most under-served communities.

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Why Five Talents?


Five Talents goes where others don't.

We target high-risk, under-served communities where most people are unable to get traditional loans or other banking services. We work in post-conflict communities in Sudan, South Sudan and Burundi. We work in rural Myanmar, in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, and in the mountains of Peru, among other countries.

Five Talents helps the whole person.

We give micro-business loans to our participants. They get training in core business skills. Their local group facilitators and trainers serve as mentors. And they learn to save for when crisis hits, such a drought or an illness.

Five Talents works primarily among women, who are often catalysts for change in the home.

Women gain influence in the household when they return home with savings they've accrued or profit from a micro-business. For example, Florence in South Sudan began making more financial decisions in her family after joining a savings and loan group. Her husband told us, "I want to sell a goat to buy some nails for building, but she [my wife] has to agree first." He added, "Now you have to ask your wife even if you want to sell a chicken!" Often, the women pass this knowledge on to others in the home.

Five Talents partners with local organizations.

Our partner organizations and their staff members are better-equipped to carry on their work thanks to Five Talents. Local staff members help us tailor each program to the needs of each individual community. We also partner in each country with the local church.

Five Talents measures impact.

We track the number of loans distributed and repaid, as well as collective savings. We also look at how family life and communities are being transformed.

pdf Download the "Why Five Talents?" infosheet

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Have a Heart: Send Friends and Family a Five Talents E-Valentine

This Valentine's Day, show your friends and family some love with an e-card that will benefit Five Talents' microsavings, microcredit and business skills training programs in Burundi, South Sudan and Indonesia.

Each e-card costs just $10 to send. These "valentines" will help others in your network -- friends, family, colleagues -- learn about the transformative impact you are having in partnership with Five Talents.

They will also make a direct impact in the lives of the women and men in our programs. For example, by sending just five Burundi-themed e-cards you will help one woman or man in Burundi gain access to a savings group, lending capital, and training.

Click here to select an e-card and support financial inclusion in the developing world.

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Five Books on Poverty and International Development to Read in 2014

The year ahead promises to be a good one for books covering international development-related topics like poverty, financial inclusion and microfinance. Here are a few of the titles we're looking forward to reading in 2014:

Easterly_bookThe Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, by William Easterly (March 2014)
The best-selling author of The White Man's Burden returns with a much-anticipated book about how the historic "fight" against global poverty has "trampled" on the rights of the very people it aims to help. Easterly argues for a new model of development "predicated on respect for the individual rights of people in developing countries" – one that "understands that unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution."

Pisani_bookIndonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, by Elizabeth Pisani (June 2014)
Indonesia -- with its 13,500 islands – ranks among the world's most fascinating and complex nations. Jakarta, for example, is the Twitter capital of the world. And yet, in Indonesia, 80 million people do not have electricity in their homes. Pisani, who has been a foreign correspondent for Reuters, the Economist and the Asia Times, traveled 26,000 miles "in search of the links that bind this impossibly disparate nation." We suspect the book will be a must-read for anyone desiring to learn more about Indonesia.

Copnall_bookA Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan's Bitter and Incomplete Divorce, by James Copnall (May 2014)
As the former BBC Sudan correspondent James Copnall argues in his new book, there's a bitter core to the shiny new country -- South Sudan -- whose formation many in the West have been celebrating. Of particular interest here will be Copnall's interviews with ordinary citizens who make up the fabric of this young, troubled nation struggling to establish itself in the shadow of its influential neighbor.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Words on Poverty Still Ring True

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following in 1967"The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil. ... The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."

So much time has passed since Dr. King wrote these words, but they're still just as true today.

We can all do better at serving folks here in the US and overseas who don't know where their next meal will come from, or how they will buy clothes for their kids, or where they will sleep tonight.

A meal, a smile, a kind, encouraging word, some blankets, a warm shelter, a heartfelt prayer, a few dollars -- we'd probably be surprised to learn how much such small things like these can accomplish.

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A Call for Support in South Sudan Despite the Ongoing Political Crisis

Rose_ssWhen I was in South Sudan, I met a young woman named Rose (R). She had learned how to read and write, and, through a savings group, she had started a micro-enterprise selling vegetables at the local market. She had grown her business, weathered difficult times and improved the quality of her life -- a story that we heard again and again from others we met.

Such stories of transformation are what Five Talents is all about.

We are committed to continuing our work in South Sudan with thousands of people like Rose despite the ongoing political crisis.

These recent developments are quite disheartening, to say the least.

It has only been two-and-a-half years since the nation celebrated its formal independence. In mid-December, a political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, turned violent. An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced, and over 10,000 lives have been lost, according to the United Nations.

These recent events make us even more certain of our mission.

When we launched this program, we were aware of the challenges that awaited us. We knew political and tribal conflicts, rooted in the social fabric of the communities, could emerge and slow or temporarily impair our programs.

Were it not for the savings groups our partners have established, many women and men in the affected areas would have nothing with which to buy food and water during this difficult time.

Furthermore, the savings groups themselves are led by facilitators who are part of the local community.

As long as the members are still together in one place, the groups live on. The women and men will continue to support each other, save funds and lend to each other.

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What We're Reading: Notes on the South Sudan Crisis

Daily developments in the ongoing crisis in South Sudan continue to keep the story in the news. But what is the story, precisely?

In mid-December, a political rivalry between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, turned violent. An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced, and over 1,000 lives have been lost, according to the United Nations. All this just two-and-a-half years after South Sudan celebrated independence as a nation.

It's important to note that the fighting does not pit the national military against a mere "ragtag" group of rebels. Writes Global Post's Tristan McConnell:

The army is splitting. Some generals defect taking their soldiers with them and others remain loyal, for the time being, meaning that the conflict spreading across South Sudan is between armies, and not bands of ragtag fighters. Both sides have tanks, artillery and heavy weapons and both sides are using them. But even outside of the uniformed ranks South Sudan's long history of violence comes into play. Generations have grown up immersed in war. Even in times and places of peace there is violence: cattle raids and battles over scarce resources. Life is for many a fight and there is no shortage of young men who know how to use the guns that are plentiful after decades of civil war.


What is at the root of the rivalry and violence? A set of competing narratives have surfaced -- one putting the blame squarely on "tribalism" and the other on "politics." In fact, it's probably both.

"The international media has been all too ready to frame the violence that erupted after Dec. 15 entirely in terms of ethnic violence and state collapse — a familiar narrative for conflicts in African countries that glosses over the political roots of the conflict," Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese journalist, wrote in The New York Times.

She goes on:

Reducing conflict to tribalism is particularly hazardous when applied to South Sudan. It is a country where foreign stakeholders have significant influence, and any push toward a tribally defined solution to the conflict — like a Bosnia-style ethnic power sharing deal — would be disastrous, for it would entrench and validate ethnic fissures, rather than give political power sharing a chance to smooth them over.

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