How one organization is making major impact with the smallest of ideas Insurmountable.
This word ties up a general sentiment from people I talk to, posts I see and even the news I watch. The problems of today’s world; political divides, inequality, prejudice and climate change, seem such like such large scale issues with such deep seeded causes, that even small positive steps seem to be met with major backlash. The frustration that so many of us feel is palpable. However, that doesn’t always need to be the case. Sometimes, even large scale issues on the other side of the world can be solved – not with endless research, investment and infrastructure – but with direct, small scale action.
This is the theory for one organization anyways – Kleos Microfinance Group. For the last five years, Kleos has been working to combat generational poverty on the other side of the globe, empowering women in remote villages to become micro-entrepreneurs. This small idea has already led to a better life for thousands of women, their families and villagers.
The idea is simple: all people will work to improve their lives if given the opportunity. The problem for the women in villages of Gulu in northern Uganda, where Kleos first began operations in 2012, is that the opportunity just doesn’t exist. Decades of those insurmountable aspects of life; war, corruption and displacement, did not leave much behind for villagers to build their lives on. As always, that was doubly true for the women. Rather than tackle such large issues, Kleos focused solely on what they could control: opportunity.
By working directly with 30 women in 2012 and providing them with just less than $100 each as a loan, the women were able to quickly build and expand their small businesses. However, the benefits did not end there, as within just a few months, not only were their businesses thriving, but their children were now able to attend schools as their fees were paid and uniforms bought. Their families were able to get the medication they needed and some were even able to start construction on permanent homes, replacing their huts which were in states of disrepair.
Kleos borrower Arach Monica, who is currently in her third cycle of loans, credits Kleos with allowing her the freedom to change the way she thinks about her own future and her business. Monica says “The training I get from Kleos Uganda has given me business management skills which actually gave me the idea to expand my business. My future plan is to work harder and build at least one house for my children so that when I die my children will not suffer.”
In the two years that Monica has been working with Kleos, her business has also expanded, from selling produce and beans in the market, to now moving into the charcoal business and baking cakes.
The success of these women showed Kleos that they were on to something. Trusting these women that were deemed un-bankable and high risk was a lesson not forgotten.
In the years that followed, the trust extended to these individual women, was extended to the community as a whole, with the organization’s first satellite office – Kleos Uganda – founded in Gulu in 2014. The office was not only in charge of working with female entrepreneurs, but through their own self-determination, were able to determine the needs of their own community and create programming to address them. This resulted in additional business skills training being given to the women, a multi-tiered savings program for those who, for the first time in their lives, actually had savings, and scholarship programs for women to learn vocational skills.
Acayo Bosco, a 40 year old mother of two who is also supporting four other dependents, has seen her family’s income increase more than three-fold, giving her a sense of freedom and peace of mind that she never knew possible. In addition to the loans, she credits the expanded Kleos programs with her success, “I am happy because the business skills training I get from Kleos Uganda is helping me to improve on my weaknesses in managing my business. For example, I used to spend money unnecessarily but now I learned how to save.”
Stories like those of Bosco and Monica offer a glimpse into the idea that no idea is too small to make a truly significant impact. Their stories are incredible, and their circumstances are not unique. As Kleos continues to help them, they also look towards other areas where millions of others could benefit from access to that same opportunity.
For Bosco and Monica, and the thousands of other villagers just like them that have benefitted from this type of support, this type of programming is opening up possibilities that seemed insurmountable not too long ago. With the increased security and education that is resulting from the program as well, long lasting and sustainable impact is in the future.