In 2010 I was working with my good friend, Voster Tembo, in a project to provide housing and shelter for widows and vulnerable children in Zambia. We noted that even in a new house, they would remain chronically poor. Most had no employment or steady income and were suffering greatly. We also noted that many of them had a good business idea but had no access to finance to start a businesses. Arising from that conversation, we came up with an idea to help these widows to lift themselves out of poverty. We set up the “Zambian Development Support Foundation” (ZDSF) with a view to providing small micro-finance loans to widows who wish to start a small business, but who have no access to funds.
Micro finance loans for widows
The ZDSF was registered in Zambia as a non-profit company and it has charitable status. Its first purpose was to provide very small loans to poor people who have no alternative source of business finance. The average loans were initially in the region of €300.00 and invariably our customers were widows with hungry mouths to feed. After the first set of loans, slightly larger loans were made, to fund the expansion of businesses. In each case, this is not a gift or a grant. The loan must be paid back and it is the recipient herself who does the hard work and lifts herself out of poverty. This works.
Based on starting capital of just a few thousand euro, we have assisted in the foundation and expansion of over 60 start-up businesses. These businesses have all been successful and nearly all loans have been paid back. We work on the basis that if we get our seed capital back, we can continue to fund more business ideas. This is a good way to enable people and to give them a chance to better themselves, where previously there just simply was no chance, but just an endless grind of poverty.
Typical loans are for the establishment of businesses like tailoring, dress-making, chicken rearing and the manufacture of cement blocks or perhaps opening a small shop. Within a few months, nearly all loan recipients are permanently lifted from poverty. This is one project which enable people to lift themselves out of poverty and place themselves in a financially stable position within six months. According as the loans are paid off and we get our capital back, we can lend out the money again to another group of similar people, so that over time many more people can commence the same journey.
The major constraint on expansion of this project comes down to the availability of funds. So far, the project has been funded by a handful of generous donors, and I have donated money myself, but the need for more money is always pressing.
Financial and budgeting skills workshops
Many of our loan recipients, especially those who were new to business, asked for advice with regard to financial planning, bookkeeping and financial skills. They felt that their businesses were suffering and some were in danger of failure because of poor financial controls or planning. At their request, we started running short training courses on these topics for established business people, and for those who aspire to run a business. These training courses have remained very much in demand and so we run a training course for our business people in Chipulukusu every year, at the same time as our teacher training seminars. Our course participants report that the budgeting and financial skills they learn help them greatly in planning and running their businesses.
In 2019, we expanded into vocational training, when an Irish carpenter came with us to Zambia train six young men as carpenters and we then provided them with the tools necessary to ply their trade. Each trainee was trained in how to make tables, chairs, doors, shelves and other household items and left with the tools necessary to make them, so that they are now equipped to sustain themselves and their families for life. This is something which we hope to continue to expand with other skills, such as basic plumbing, but depending on the availability of volunteers with the skills to teach.
The Enterprise Centre
A further development came in 2020 when we established an Enterprise Centre and Business Skills Integration Workshop to bring together skilled tradesmen, such as the carpenters we trained in 2019, in a more organised and supportive way. The workshop space is near the main market in the centre of Ndola and is managed by my friend and colleague, Emmanuel Phiri. This workshop is used by carpenters, mechanics, upholsters and welders who share their knowledge and resources to more easily establish, and then grow successful independent businesses. We invested 50,000.00 kwacha (€2,500.00) in raw materials, including wood, leather and steel as a start-up initiative and we provided basic tools. Emmanuel is always on hand to give business advice and mentoring and to assist with budgeting and marketing. Tradesmen who had previously no access to funds or materials or a place to run a business, now work together at this one location producing window frames, door frames and school desks as well as beds and domestic furniture. Once each business has been successfully established and move out, a new person can start and so the cycle continues of nurturing small business start ups.
The Farm Block
In 2022, we received a donation of 3 hectares of land at Luanshya, a short distance from Ndola, to establish a farm block where people can commence farming under supervision and be trained in agricultural methods. This is an initiative is intended to further assist people to rise out of poverty. For many families, subsistence farming is the only source of income and food. Tragically, it is often not enough. Given the prevalence of drought, the absence of tools and fertilisers, and lack of training, survival by subsistence farming is precarious. Most people who engage in farming have no training at all.
The farm block project is intended to be a place of learning and support, where skills in the growing of crops and raising of chickens can be learnt. We will provide small plots where vulnerable people, especially widows, can start farming under supervision and mentoring by experienced and professionally trained farmers, and they will have access to tools and micro-finance support to equip them to farm successfully. It is hoped that after one or two seasons of supervised farming, our participants will be enabled to successfully farm by themselves, and thereby to permanently and securely lift their families out of poverty and malnutrition.
We are hoping to develop the Farm Block over the coming two years by the provision of irrigation and the purchase of basic tools and farming supplies. This is going to require some capital to establish, but once it is up and running it should be self-sustaining out of the profits earned from the farming activities. In the long term, the ability to grow your own food is a basic protection against malnutrition and a fundamental tool of survival. Little else could be as important or life-changing.
The Zambian Development Support Foundation has now become the structure through which all of our projects in Zambia are managed, and a lot of our work is now also in the area of literacy, books and education, but the goal is the same. Either short term or long-term, we want to help Zambian people to lift themselves out of poverty, and on to a better life.
You can read the ZDSF Director’s annual report for the previous years in the Reports section at the top.