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Boosting Women's Economic Development
Micro-Enterprise Trainings for Women
To be honest, when we first launched Micro-enterprise trainings in South Sudan in 2010, we were not sure what to expect. After all, there were no banks in the country at that time, and hardly any women had any formal education. All the women had suffered through decades of civil war, and most had languished in Kenyan or Ugandan refugee camps for long, unproductive years. Yet the displaced women returning to South Sudan were positively jumping at the chance to start businesses. Mercy Beyond Borders began by offering 3-day training sessions to small groups of women. Those who showed interest and aptitude were then invited to form cohesive “savings” groups to apply for small loans from Mercy Beyond Borders.
Micro-Loans for Women
Mercy Beyond Borders started its Micro-Enterprise Loans in South Sudan slowly, not sure whether the efforts would be successful. The odds were stacked against the women, who have no experience in running businesses, no authority in the culture, no formal schooling, no safe place to store savings, etc. To date, we have sponsored groups in 3 villages: Nimule, Narus and Torit.
In Nimule, the women (all HIV+) started a dozen businesses, and can tout some phenomenal successes: a bakery, several roadside kiosks, a restaurant… After all the women repaid their loans with interest, however, the local woman to whom they entrusted the fund absconded with the money. The group confronted the thief, who admitted her guilt but said the money was “gone;” though she pledged restitution in full, nothing has been forthcoming. Nonetheless, the original loans accomplished their purpose and the families of these dozen women entrepreneurs are now doing well.
In Narus, the original group was from a mixture of tribes, and they received their loans just prior to the elections that formed South Sudan. Several successes were immediately evident, such as the woman whose peanut butter business expanded dramatically after she got her loan. But political uncertainty surrounding the national elections prompted many families to relocate to their original tribal regions in 2011. This disrupted the women’s group and has made it hard to track the success or failure of a number of their businesses.
In Torit, Mercy Beyond Borders is working with a group of women still in the savings mode; we have not yet distributed any loans. We expect to do so in early 2012 and to launch micro-enterprise projects in 3 more villages as well. We know it can work despite all the challenges—and when it works, it really works! Women speak of their net earnings being more than enough to send their children to school, to rebuild their huts, to supply the whole family with good food, to pay for needed medicines, etc.