Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Hey FACE AIDSers!
I’m writing from Kirehe, where I’ve been living for almost four months now and working as FACE AIDS Program Associate. A large part of my work this year is to help transition our HIV associations to independence. Currently, FACE AIDS works with three HIV associations: groups of HIV-affected people who have come together to support each other. FACE AIDS supports these associations through income generation activities; we pay small salaries to our association members for making the beaded AIDS pins you sell on your campuses! The first association visit I made was to distribute beads and string for the making of the pins. This was particularly exciting for me because I have been selling FACE AIDS pins since high school and was now able to see exactly where they came from!
In conjunction with the pin-making cycles, we have also helped these associations establish rotating savings and credit cooperatives that act like community banks. Association members pay into a general fund that they then lend out to individual association members for emergency expenses or business investments. Over the course of this year we are hoping to provide enough training and support that these savings cooperatives will function smoothly without our oversight and our associations will no longer need our organizational support. As part of this process, we delivered small business trainings to our associations in December. Many of the association members have small businesses that range from growing and selling crops to making banana juice to being tailors. The associations requested a training that would help them improve, or expand their small businesses, and since we feel like economic empowerment is an important part of fighting HIV, we were happy to oblige!
For the small business trainings, we utilized a small business training curriculum developed by Barefoot MBA, an NGO whose mission it is to “provide people with the knowledge they need to make better business decisions.” Barefoot MBA has developed training modules that cover a variety of basic business concepts, from saving and spending to cost-benefit analysis and planning and records. The modules are meant to be applicable to small business owners across the globe. Our friends at Gardens for Health International in Ndera, Rwanda had already adapted their lessons to a Rwandan context, and translated the curriculum into Kinyarwanda! After talking to our associations we decided which topics would be most useful to them and headed out in the field to get started with trainings.
Our program assistants, Bosco and Theo, did an amazing job delivering the trainings. They are both small business owners themselves and were even able to weave personal experiences into the lessons to make it that much more engaging. We spent two days with each association, covering basic business concepts and prompting discussion around various business scenarios.
The highlight of the trainings for me was watching our association members do an activity that was meant to demonstrate the different types of investment one could make, the advantages and disadvantages to different types of investment, and the risk involved in investing. The activity was essentially a role-play where different members were assigned different products to buy at the market and then we charted their appreciation in value over time on the white board. One association in particular got really into the role play and members were bartering at the “market,” and introducing new factors into the investing scenarios that affected their decisions to buy and sell! I was so excited to see them take the activity and run with it!
Getting positive feedback after the training from association members was also really gratifying. One association member told us that she had never thought about investing her money before and was going to start investing her profit so she could see it grow! Another member told us that she was going to start using the business ledger we showed them to keep track of her profit and loss and be able to know what kinds of sales and expenses she could expect in coming months.
The main frustration of the training was feeling like we did not have enough time to go into depth on many of the topics we introduced. Ideally, we would have more time address more individualized concerns of each association member and tailor our trainings to their specific needs. In order to address this concern, we are going to check in with the association members to help them set goals for their businesses and set up small working groups that will hold each other accountable for these goals.
Next steps to take with our associations will be working with them on their governance to make sure they have strong mechanisms for accounting in place and everyone is clear on their role and the roles of the committee members. In general, working with the associations has been my favorite part of the job! It’s inspiring to see the ways in which members of our oldest association, Rwandarera, have come together to support each other and see what they’ve been able to achieve collectively. Together they have invested in cassava fields as well as livestock that help support them and their families. At meetings with them, it is clear they are a second family to each other. We hope that through small business trainings and other efforts to strengthen our associations, that they can all achieve this level of independence and success and be a strong source of support for each member, even after FACE AIDS’ fiscal support is complete.