Elina’s Backroom Bakery

MicroLoan enjoys acknowledging the amazing success stories of our clients who as a result of our loans and training, have gone on to set up their own businesses to support their families. Furthermore, we feel it is great to share the success stories and experiences of our many volunteers, supporters and staff across the world who have seen for themselves the impact their work has in Africa. Read on to learn more about how we really offer “a hand up, not a hand out.”

Twice a week the small hut at the back of Elina Soko’s one bedroom mud brick house is transformed into a bakery. With no oven and only a pile of hot coals on the floor to work with, this poses more than a few technical challenges.

Having mixed the dough, she makes batches of 80 scones at a time, first cooking them in a large pan balanced on two bricks over an open fire. When this is done she puts a metal tray over the pot and heaps the hot charcoal on top, thereby creating an impromptu oven which will cook the dough right through.

This cottage industry has rescued Elina, a youthful 51, and her family of six from a life of poverty as subsistence farmers in a small village settlement near Nkhamenya in Malawi. She has now had three loans – 10,000 kwacha (about $64), 15,000 kwacha (about $96) and 17,000 kwacha (about $112). Once her business model was proven and she graduated to larger loans, she was able to buy the flour in larger quantities and benefit from bulk discounts. She now buys bags of 10kg for 1,300 kwacha (about $8) which will make her a clear profit of around 3,000 kwacha ($19) on the finished scones.

Since she only bakes twice a week, she has also used her loan capital to start trading in dried fish. A bicycle bought with the profits of her business makes transporting things to and from market much easier, and her profit margins on this activity are very encouraging. She can sell a 1,600 kwacha (about $6.50) consignment of fish for around 4,600 kwacha (about $18.50) giving her a clear profit of around 3,000 kwacha (about $12).

Elina’s commercial acumen and demonstrable business success has resulted in her being elected Chair of her local MicroLoan group, which has chosen the name "Chitemwa," meaning Love. It is a role she relishes, despite the fact that it means she has to devote one day a week taking the group’s repayment money and savings to the bank in Kasungu. Group Chairs have many responsibilities besides banking, and must oversee the smooth running of the bi-weekly repayment meetings, encourage disciplined proceedings, and ensure that their group honours its repayment commitments. If a fellow group member is struggling to make a repayment, Elina will generously cover the debt herself in the first instance, allowing extra time for her peer to get back on track. She also has limited patience with members of the group who repeatedly turn up late for their meetings, resulting in exceptionally good time keeping from her fellow beneficiaries.

And as one of the most successful of MicroLoan’s budding entrepreneurs, Elina also takes time to help any members of her group who are struggling with their own commercial endeavours. She has a well developed sense of the available market opportunities and has a good understanding of the principles of profitability so she is ideally placed to mentor her colleagues.

Elina’s house bears witness to her success. Unusually for a village home, it has a poster and a few framed photographs on the wall. She also has a waterproof roof and a concrete floor paid for with the profits of her businesses, and her two younger children attend school while she hopes the older ones will get office jobs when their exam results are known.

Next year she plans to re-plaster the walls and buy a cow. She has already checked out the costs so she knows she will need 30,000 – 40,000 kwacha ($120-$160).

If you would like to support a different approach to charity, and give more women like Elina a hand up, not a hand out, please donate today. Thank you for your support.