Micro Ventures

A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

In Africa we employ over 160 local staff who deliver our services to almost 30,000 women per annum. (110,000 + women since inception). The skills, financial services and ongoing mentoring support we deliver empower them to work their way of out poverty. Our model gives them access to social enterprise and value-added business programs (such as those in renewable energy, farming/irrigation, and tailoring). This further facilitates their development and experience so that they can establish long term and more sustainable enterprises beyond those of simple market trading.

Soflet demonstrating how the solar panel powers a radio. (Just in case you were wondering…the camera in the picture belongs to a Microloan Foundation USA staff member who was visiting the village.)

The vision of our social enterprise plans

The MicroLoan Foundation’s purpose is to assist women in poor rural communities to support their families by setting up self-sustainable businesses. We recognize that the microloans we provide are a powerful first step, but we have identified a number of key challenges:

  • The women are, in general terms, unlikely to develop beyond the basic buying and selling businesses (fish, tomatoes, rice, second hand clothes, etc.) without having the opportunity to build towards a more sustainable and established option as they gain experience.
  • The products our clients sell have benefits to the household but are not going to provide the collective social change, which is so urgently required in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • There are very few organizations providing the training and business opportunities to address these issues, especially on the scale required or in the countries in which we operate.

The purpose of our social enterprise development is to identify tangible products and services that can be marketed by the micro entrepreneurs, create sustainable models and business plans and to set up dedicated management teams to grow them both through our own microfinance network and others.

What we hope it will look like on the ground.

We have piloted a number of ideas already and have identified areas in which we wish to build and refine existing models:

  • The marketing of small-scale solar panels, which are sufficient to power one light bulb and are cheaper and safer to run than a kerosene lamp. The panels can also recharge a mobile phone. The entrepreneurs can make money from selling the panels and/or recharging mobile phones or batteries. In Africa, mobile phones are crucial communication and information tools for rural households. The panels are sourced from local partners, and sold by our microfinance group members. Our training officers, with the use of simple visual aids provide training and education.
  • The sale of small, solar powered lights sufficient to read or sew by are another cheaper, safe and reliable source of illumination. These lights have a battery that will last for a year, and the cost is less than 2 months supply of kerosene.
  • Irrigation and Farming – To market a closed loop farming approach that includes agricultural education to develop the optimum ‘hectare model’, the sale of irrigation equipment, seeds, fertiliser, and insurance included. A method to provide a route back to market has been developed by agricultural experts, and our existing loan staff. Partnerships will be established with existing organizations such as Pump Aid, who have the expertise to drill for and provide free wells.
  • Knitting and Sewing – To develop the outputs from our knitting and sewing school we have established in Malawi, we have partnered with Dsenyo, a company based in Denver, Colorado. With Dsenyo, we have established a production hub that can provide products such as school uniforms and baby shawls to the local market, whilst also delivering higher quality products to Europe and the USA. The schools’ students and graduates have already begun selling products in Malawi as well as exporting decorated cloth bags to Europe and the USA on a small scale.

We also wish to evaluate other concepts with local partners, which would include:

  • IT Training Centres– To provide basic PC skills training and internet access to local communities.
  • MicroInsurance – To provide cover for health care, death, and crop loss.
  • Health – To provide training on key areas to reduce the chance of falling ill and to deliver basic services.

Alongside these models, MicroLoan’s loan service would enable entrepreneurs to start and expand their businesses as required.