Can social programs truly become self-sustaining? We are going to find out.
On January 1, we launched a project to help 20 struggling self-help groups in western Ethiopia learn to multiply themselves with their own funding. If we are successful, these 20 groups in four years will have become 100 groups helping some 1500 families and starting new groups among their neighbors—without any further help from us.
In 2013 our child sponsorship program in Addis Ababa began eleven self-help groups for the parents or guardians of our sponsored children. Every two weeks each member contributes 25¢ to the group’s savings, plus another 5¢ for its social fund, which goes to help group members who are sick or facing crises. While the group’s savings accumulate, the group members learn financial management and business skills. Eventually each group starts making small loans to its members, based on the business plans they develop. Members pay back the loans with interest and then qualify for larger loans. To date, without any external funding, the eleven Addis Ababa groups have saved over $5000 in assets and made 336 loans to 149 people. Of these loans, 99% have been paid back or are on time. These groups, which also provide social and spiritual support, have transformed many lives. The previous story about Wosene details one such transformation.
But rarely do programs outlive their funding. Can this kind of transformation keep happening when funding for mentors ends?
About 2 hours west of Addis Ababa lie 39 churches scattered across an area 100 km. in diameter, with which we have worked for several years. Hearing about the success of the Addis self-help groups, leaders of those churches started 35 self-help groups on their own. However, they lacked the resources necessary to mentor all the groups well. Some of the groups have floundered. The leaders have been begging for help, since they see these groups as key to their churches becoming self-supporting.
Two breakthroughs made it possible for us to offer that help. First, two donors gave unusual gifts designated for this purpose. Second, we were able to hire Dereje Mirkena, an experienced self-help group coordinator from that area who is passionate about helping his own people, and Helen Ayalew, an accountant with expertise in self-help groups. Together last summer we began training mentors from those churches to oversee the groups there.
What is unusual about these 20 groups is that their members have all signed a commitment to do three things:
1. To start another self-help group each year for three years, without any payment for their time.
2. To tithe their group’s income to a fund which will pay for travel and material expenses for these new start-ups.
3. To refuse outside grants to their groups during this project. (This is to break the dependency that holds so many captive.)
In addition, in common with other self-help-group projects, each group will send two representatives to a leadership group that will little by little learn to oversee self-help groups. When our funding ends, they should be able to govern themselves and the new groups they spawn.
If they fulfill these commitments, we will have discovered a model for multiplying self-help groups without ongoing funding. That could change entire communities.
Lots could go wrong. Passing a blessing forward without being paid is counter-cultural. This is a rural area, where people are miles apart and travel is difficult. Furthermore, this whole area is politically unstable. It has been a focal point of anti-government protests and military backlashes. We’ll need a lot of divine help. But God is interested in people development. We believe he’ll give it!