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One Million Reached, One Business at a Time

By Katie Boland, Village Enterprise Board Chair

In June, Village Enterprise celebrated reaching the one-millionth life influenced by our work in poverty alleviation. One million lives is hard for me to get my head around. It’s easier for me to think of the individual. But that’s the point, isn’t it? It is all about individuals. Going from one village to the next, training one group after another, and starting one business at a time.

Years ago, I had a cup of coffee with Debbie Hall to learn more about why she was involved in Village Enterprise. She enthusiastically told me how exciting her work was and how encouraging it was. Her passion was contagious, and I had to learn more. The nonprofit work I was doing at the time was heart-warming and felt important, but I didn’t leap at the chance like she did to tell others about the progress we were making and share my passion about why they too should get involved. Over time, I became a donor, then helped with development and social media, and then joined the board. This month, I was asked to take over for Debbie as the board chair for Village Enterprise. I could not be more honored or humbled to be board chair of this amazing organization. What an exciting ride it has been! 

This is an especially exciting (and a bit overwhelming) time to get more deeply involved in Village Enterprise. Today, 767 million people live in extreme poverty and over half of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2030, 88% of people living in extreme poverty will reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. The time is now to scale the most cost-effective and impactful solutions. Graduation programs like ours are proving to be an extremely effective method for lifting people out of extreme poverty. Village Enterprise has a graduation program that is both unique and flexible. It is unique because it is the only graduation program focused on group-based entrepreneurship. We train three individuals to start a business, which enables three families to be helped, costs to be less, and risks to be shared. Village Enterprise is flexible because it is easily adaptable to various contexts with a focus on vulnerable populations, such as women, refugees, and youth to name a few.

This takes me back to the individual. By helping a refugee to start a business, Village Enterprise doesn’t just start a business. We are enabling a family to send their children to school. We are enabling a family to not have to marry their daughter at a young age to provide for her needs. We are enabling individuals to think bigger and have hope for the future and resilience for the challenges ahead.

How do we know it works? Village Enterprise participated in a large scale, independent third-party randomized control trial. This trial proved the program to be both high impact and cost-effective. Our program led to increases in all the poverty alleviation indicators evaluated: consumption, assets, savings, and income. Significant improvements were also found in food security, nutrition, and subjective well-being, as well as enhanced standing of the women in the community.

We are also proud to say that Impact Matters completed a thorough evidence-gathering audit that we are the most cost-effective poverty alleviation program in Africa. By receiving training and resources in small groups, business owners are able to confidently share their knowledge and share the risks associated with starting a small business.

We have countless (well, I guess we counted and reached one million…) stories about lives touched by going through our program. As with many of our entrepreneurs, once we have trained them in how to start a business and participate in a savings group, the business owners begin to see opportunities all around them. Many of the people I met in Africa now run multiple businesses. Catherine, for example, still works closely with her business partners rearing sheep and has a small poultry business on her own. She and her partners have also begun selling silverfish at the market. Another woman I met in Uganda realized once she had her first business up and running that she had a mango tree in her yard. After going through the Village Enterprise program, she began to gather the mangos that she and her family used to eat, and she started to sell them at the market to pay to send her children to school.

My husband and I have been so excited about the successes that we have seen again and again with Village Enterprise that we decided to invest in the very first Development Impact Bond (DIB) for poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa because Village Enterprise was chosen out of a field of organizations to implement their program. This DIB shows that Village Enterprise can scale with impact.

Village Enterprise is the only nonprofit to get the top ratings and recommendations from all of these organizations: Charity NavigatorGreat NonprofitsGuidestarThe Life You Can SaveImpact Matters, and Founder’s Pledge. While it is great to have these endorsements, I am most proud of our highly talented local African staff. Over 95% of our staff are local Africans who care deeply about innovating our program to have the highest impact with sustainable results. 

I may not be counted as one of the million lives influenced by the Village Enterprise program, but my life has certainly changed by being a part of its story. My kids think about the privileges that they have in a new way. My son talks about the man he met in Uganda who makes soap to sell at the market, how hard it was to stir the vat of soap, and how grateful he was that the man encouraged him to try. My daughter remembers the kids that enthusiastically took her to the hand washing station in their village to proudly show her that they had learned the importance of hand washing and hygiene as part of a Village Enterprise partnership.

If you want to hear more stories of individual lives changed as a result of Village Enterprise, I encourage you to go watch a few short videos or read some stories here.

You can read more about Village Enterprise here and support their work here.

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