Living on the Edge: First Impressions of Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo.

This blog post was written by our CEO, Rachel Lindley upon her return from visiting our new programme starting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Crossing the land border from Uganda into DRC was underwhelming. The border was a piece of rope held by two young men, and as we waited for the inevitable paperwork, the landscape was surprisingly dull. There was none of the usual cross-border trade, bustle and bargaining. Not a single overladen truck, motorbike or even bicycle, no kiosk selling mobile phone top-ups, Coke and sun-bleached biscuits, nothing.


Passports eventually stamped, we drove off into DRC. The contrast with the Ugandan town we'd just left behind was stark. Behind us, a thriving metropolis, with tarmac roads, men, women and children heading to work and school with all the hustle and bustle of every day life in a busy town. Just a mile away in DRC, life could not be more different. I noticed the silence first. No dust - no traffic apart from bicycles. The tarmac main road from the border was built by one of the gold mining firms, but otherwise the roads are all unmade. There is no electricity except from generators or solar panels, no advertising, no mobile money or airtime kiosks and very few roadside businesses, even the most informal.

People in Aru live on the edge in more ways than one. They are on the edge of DRC, just a few miles from Uganda, and many have fled there when conflict and violence have erupted. Decades of civil war in the region mean communities have experienced hideous atrocities as well as famine and sickness that come from fleeing your land and home. As we write, thousands have fled their homes just 100 miles south of Aru, to escape violent machete attacks, raping and looting. Thousands more risk starvation.

I received a warm welcome in a village in Aru, DRC

Thankfully, Aru itself is currently peaceful, and the communities we met could not have been more welcoming - nor more desperate for our programme to begin. Most NGOs are working in the conflict zones, where the need for disaster relief is urgent. But in Aru, people urgently need a way to boost the local economy, increase the number of small businesses, build some savings in case of emergencies and support their children to go to school.

Our programme will integrate literacy training because so many adults missed out on schooling during the years of civil war, and trauma counselling to help adults and children come to terms with the attrocities they have seen and experienced. Despite the horrors in the past, Aru is a place of hope - living on the edge of opportunity with powerful resources of community solidarity, fertile land and a belief in creating a better future for their children. We're privileged to be part of this journey with them.

Client Story: Sarah from Embu, Kenya

This blog post was written by our Engagement & Finance Officer, Sasha Watterson and a member of staff from the Five Talents Kenya programme, Brooks Anderson



Like many people of Embu county, Sarah never had access to financial institutions or a safe way to save. So when a visiting reverend spoke to her congregation about the Five Talents savings programme and its potential, she gathered her close friends and start a savings group. The group started small, with only five members, slowly building up their savings until eventually, they were able to start loaning. With her first loan, Sarah bought a goat she named Kiama, or “Blessings” so she could use the milk to feed her family and sell to make a little bit of money. Five years later, she continues to save reliably with her friends while paying off her current loan, four times larger than her first. With this loan, Sarah was able to invest in a shop where she sells cornmeal, clothes and other things the community may need. This small store helps ease the trials of the summer months and gives her control over her own personal finances. Her group is still growing, now with over 100 people.


Kiangazi, meaning the dry season, is especially tough on Kenyan farmers like Sarah and her husband. As with many living in the region, her family mainly produced tea to be sold to any of the government or private collection centers scattered across Embu’s steep hills. But now the months between planting season are a little less trying as her family need not rely solely on their patch of land. She was even able to find relief from the pressures of school fees through the loans she took. Her eldest son, now 27, was able to find a job as an accountant thanks to his mother’s resourcefulness.

Click here to read more of our client stories.

What did our evaluation tell us about our impact for women in East Africa? Part 2

This blog post was written by our Programmes and Systems Manager, Hannah Wichmann.
Five Talents recently conducted an independent evaluation of our work in Kenya to learn more about the impact of our work there.

As we mentioned in last month’s post, women are at the heart of our programmes, in fact over two-thirds of Five Talents’ beneficiaries are female. So during our evaluation finding out as much about how our programmes impact women was critical. We know that in Kenya, just 34% of women have a bank account compared to 50% of men.

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During the evaluation, we visited groups where we asked members to raise their hands if they owned a business. There was a clear trend. Significantly more men raised their hands than women. We then asked the women who didn’t have their hands raised, what their businesses were.

Margaret, one of the members in Nakuru in Kenya told us that whilst she doesn’t have a business, she did borrow a loan to buy chickens and sells their eggs to pay for the school fees of her two grandchildren who she cares for. She then added that she doesn’t think of it as a business because she didn’t think it was big enough. In fact, this was true for many of the women we met - they didn’t recognise themselves as the entrepreneurs and small business owners that they are.

Using the evaluation, we’re going to help women benefit even more from our work. One of our aims is to improve the training our female members receive. We know that small changes such as adapting the language used can make a big difference. By avoiding words such as ‘business’ and instead use terms such as ‘income generating activity’, we will see an even greater impact for the women we support.  

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This will help women, in particular, to continue building on what they already have - small businesses, relationships with each other, a small amount of savings. And we know from over a decade of experience that with this training, these resources can accumulate to a lot. Over £16M in small loans to be exact!

As women have invested these loans, they’ve begun to earn more and in turn, this gives them greater decision making power in the home. Over eighty percent of women told us that relationships in their households had improved since they joined the programme. By helping women to save and grow their businesses, we expect this to grow even further.

If you want to find out about what else we found during the evaluation click here

This evaluation was made possible through the generous support of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Commercial Education Trust. We are extremely grateful to the Trust for their support of this project.

Financial exclusion of women is a global issue but how will our microfinance programmes help? Part 1

This blog post was written by our Engagement & Finance Officer, Sasha Watterson.

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Empowering women through microfinance is at the heart of what we do. 70% of the worlds poor are female. What’s more, studies have found that internationally, women are more ‘financially excluded’ than men. This isn’t just a developing world issue; studies in the US and Europe have shown women are more likely to be financially excluded (less able to take a loan for example) than men [FinMark Trust, 2016].

In 2012 the State of Microcredit Summit Campaign Report found that of microfinances’ reach, 82% of the very poorest were women. Too many women struggle to access financial services - even the most basic, like a safe place to save.

We know that financial exclusion is a major issue for women worldwide; women and girls comprise half of the world’s population but own only 1% of the wealth. [Advocates For Youth].  We see the result of this inequality in the lives of our clients. Before joining our microfinance programmes, many of our female clients were forced to rely on their husbands, fathers, or brothers when they needed money. They had no control over their finances, meaning they had no control over their futures. For women in poverty, microfinance offers an opportunity they have never had before.

But is all this empowerment having an effect? It’s easy to say the work we do is empowering but how empowering? Could we be doing better? All of these questions (and many more!) led to the decision we needed to independently evaluate our programmes - so that’s exactly what we did (and in next month’s post we will tell you what we found!).

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Women’s empowerment through sustainable microfinance is important, not only because it offers a route out of poverty, but also because it addresses problems of inequality. Research has found that women farmers are responsible for 60-80% of food production in low-income countries, but, globally, own less than 20% of agricultural land - and less than 5% of the world’s titled land [Advocates for Youth]. Giving women the chance to build and scale their own businesses is an effective way to deal with this inequality.

Research has also shown that women are more reliable when it comes to repayments, which is important when our clients are borrowing from a communal savings pot!

Providing access to financial services when accompanied by business training, increases women's’ decision-making power in the household and improves their socio-economic status in the community. In essence, for our female clients, it’s all about respect and self-empowerment. In our opinion, women and microfinance are a great combination!

And what’s more, the benefits aren’t limited to the women themselves. Studies have shown that women are more likely to invest extra income on the children’s education. Research has shown that when the mother controls the household’s budget, a child’s chances of survival increases by 20%.  [Journal of Health Communication]. Whenever we ask our clients what difference the programme has made, the answer is normally simple: “now my children can go to school.”

Running through the hills of rural Kenya: the Kericho Impact Marathon 2017

This post was written by a combination of Five Talents staff and marathon runners.

Months of anticipation, long weekend runs and carb loading had brought us here - the start line of the inaugural Five Talents Impact Marathon! Against the beautiful backdrop of the worryingly steep tea plantations, the time had finally come! Running through Kericho with the locals cheering us on (or joining in) and monkeys raiding our water/banana stations was an incredible experience! One of our runners, Mahoo, wrote to us afterwards: 

‘As a novice runner, the Kenya Impact Marathon provided a challenging, but undoubtedly memorable experience. The camaraderie, the laughs, the nerve-racking bus journeys, the never-ending spinach supply, the breath-taking sights over the Rift Valley – all helped to make the week one that I will never forget.

We were so warmly welcomed by the team in Kericho. Seeing the projects and hearing from Trust Group members really cemented my desire to cross the finish line, and support some really great work. I am very proud to say that I ran in the inaugural Five Talents Impact Marathon.’

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But the running was just one part of this adventure. We were delighted to take everyone to visit our savings groups in rural Kericho and see for themselves how Five Talents’ work transforms local communities.  Several of the team had never experienced anything like this and were genuinely inspired;  Jamie reflected:

I found the event so tough - keeping going for 6 hours was in itself a gruelling endurance effort, let alone the totally new terrain and environment. Kenya just takes you in - a week passed so quickly, with a whole lot of standout experiences. Meeting a new savings group and hearing about their plans, and running alongside elite Kenyan athletes rank amongst the best of my time out there.’

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Similarly, Margaret summed it up: ‘I felt privileged and humbled to be given such an amazing welcome... It was an unforgettable life changing experience. I’m still waking every morning in Kenya.’

It was unforgettable for us too. Spending the week in Kenya with so many of our amazing supporters, visiting our fledgling Kericho programme and running the race of a lifetime was definitely a highlight in our year. We brought back some incredible memories and photos, made new friends and raised over £40,000 - so next year we plan to do it all again!

If you or anyone you know would like to join the adventure of a lifetime, register your interest here.

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A Year On From the 2016 Big Give Christmas Appeal: Karamoja

I’m writing this whilst sheltering from torrential rain with two of the new team spearheading our programme in Karamoja - Revd Joseph and Sam. We’re in a church which is almost completely bare; earth walls with holes in for windows, dirt floor, some benches and one table. We’ve also just been joined by two goats who have wisely taken shelter too; the rain is really hammering down onto the tin roof!

We’re in Amudat district, Karamoja region, eastern Uganda, visiting the newest Five Talents programme which was launched earlier this year thanks to your generosity in the 2016 Big Give.

The communities you’re helping here really are isolated. Today I’m visiting a new Trust Group in a village 54 km from Amudat town, along an un-tarmacked road. We didn’t pass a single 4-wheel vehicle on the way here – just some motorbikes, women carrying firewood and water on their heads, herds of goats and cows, a hunter with a bow and arrow, and even some camels shepherded by a small child, kept for their milk.

Aside from the challenges of isolation, life is tough here, especially for women and girls; child marriage, FGM and polygamy are still common. In Pokot culture (the main ethnic group in this part of Karamoja) women are not encouraged to speak in mixed groups. In this Trust Group meeting, the men sit on benches or on the small stools they carry whilst the women sit at the back or on the floor.


Yet despite this, the majority of the Group members are women and as the female Treasurer introduces herself it’s clear that things are already beginning to change for the better. The members of this Trust Group have begun to start their own small businesses – one grandma buys a bit of maize, gets it ground in a mill and then sells it by the mugful from a washing up basin by the roadside. Another sells rice similarly in mugs from a bucket, and another has a tiny kiosk-shop.

These businesses are essential for these families. The grandma tells me the small profits she makes help to cover school fees for some of her grandchildren. But she can only afford to buy stock in the harvest season, when she has some money. During the rest of the year when there is no money to spare, the whole family struggles to afford even enough food to put on the table.

The only banks here are in Moroto town and the public transport fare from Amudat costs around 12 days of day-labourer wages. Clearly, access to any formal financial services is out of the question for these rural communities living on the poverty line.

I’ve only been here in Karamoja for 2 days but already I can see why this Five Talents programme will make such a difference. Our programme will mean members can buy stock and earn a little money all year round. Most keep no business records either, so our training will help them to know which stock is most profitable, and make sure no-one is conning them (this is one of the challenges they identified - sadly it happens all over the world). They will be able to start planning for their futures with the knowledge and resources needed to make their aspirations a reality.

I’m looking at the small children napping on the earth floor of the church in their threadbare clothes, whilst their mothers listen to Sam encouraging them to save little by little, week by week. Most of these young mothers never went to secondary school. It’s incredible to think that some of their children could even go to university from this remote village in Karamoja, now that their mothers have voted to start saving today.  

This is exactly what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Thank you for making it possible.

This post was written by our Programmes Manager Rachel Lindley whilst on a programme visit.

When Savings and Loans Become Tractors and Schools

Five Talents funded the startup of a new branch in a particularly rural area of Uganda’s Mukono region called Kayunga. This blog was written after a visit to the branch in the summer of 2016.

It’s easy to get an impression of the scale of his vision for the Diocese when you’re sitting round the breakfast table with Bishop James Ssebaggala and his wife (affectionately known as Mama Bishop). He talks about the Diocese starting new schools in some of the poorest rural areas and about training farmers in techniques to increase their yields. But with such limited funds, for years these optimistic ideas remained just that.

 The SACCO provides rural schools with loans for, amongst other things, building classrooms.. 

The SACCO provides rural schools with loans for, amongst other things, building classrooms.. 

This frustration led Bishop James to start the Mudi SACCO, a type of credit co-operative that Five Talents has been supporting for the past year. His vision was that it would act as it’s own micro-economy, enabling the poorest to deposit their savings and borrow small loans whilst also offering larger loans to the rural schools and projects he so desperately wanted to support. Now that the SACCO is in place, schools can borrow loans to invest in (what is often the most basic) infrastructure and repay with interest from the school fees. Not only that, but the lady selling bananas in her village can borrow small loans from the growing fund. At least that’s the idea.

Soon though we’re heading down a long untarmacked road following Daniel, the Loan Officer, who rides a motorbike that Five Talents helped purchase to reach these highly marginalised locations. After about an hour we pull into Destiny Primary School and greeted by over 200 children - quite a change from the usual programme visits we make to small businesses.

The school is very basic. Probably more so than you’re imagining. The earth walls of the three classrooms only reach to hip height with a gap between the mud bricks and the tin roof. The headteacher tells us that the school opened in January in response to the need of the poorest families in the nearby villages who couldn’t afford the transport costs to send their children to the nearest government schools.

But what he really wants to tell us about is the roof. The (fairly unremarkable) roof which was built using a loan borrowed from the SACCO. Without it, the school would never have been able to open. They have already repaid the loan using the school fees and hope to borrow a second loan to finish construction.

The impact of the SACCO for just this one school was quite staggering and a recent independent evaluation noted that access to these kinds of loans had been fundamental in allowing community projects like this to go ahead in the very poorest communities. The SACCO is currently supporting 15 schools and various other projects. It was particularly exciting to see midwifery school and a tractor which local farmers can rent with the help of small loans which are repaid after harvest.

We also often talk about the benefit of working through the local church; the trusted, rural-reaching network it provides. The evaluation of the SACCO also found that, its links with the Church were the primary reason that individual members trusted the organisation. During our visit we also met several women running small businesses - more of what you often hear us talking about. One group of women we met had saved together and borrowed small loans to start a business making mats. As a result, they said one had rebuilt the roof of her deceased son's home and rents the house to earn an income to support her orphaned grandchildren. From another woman, we hear exactly what we hear again and again from our clients: now she is able to send her children to school.

“I used to spend all my excess money but now I run to the SACCO to save it,” says Isabirye Stephen Lowly - a farmer who grows passion fruit and other vegetables

My Visit to South Sudan: Literacy, Blindness, & Hope

A version of this blog was written by Suzanne Schultz Middleton, Five Talents US's Programme Director, and originally appeared on Five Talents USA's website. 

80% of women in South Sudan missed out on education and are not literate, so it was not a surprise that in the community learning circle in Gorom, South Sudan, the three facilitators were all men.

A few years ago, Angelo, Pierensio, and Oliver were tasked with the creation and running of three circles of learners consisting of 32 women and 12 men. Their aim was simple: to improve basic literacy and numeracy. Incredibly, today, all 44 participants have been accredited as literate and numerate.

In 2012, the three literacy circles combined to form a single community Savings and Loan Association. The members voted to call this association "Light". The group has continued to flourish and is fortunate in receiving the support of a local chief, Charles, who has even joined the group himself. 

Left to right: Community facilitators in Gorom, Angelo and Pierensio; Oliver and Charles in the Gorom community meeting; Arrival into Gorom.

Charles' membership demonstrates his support and endorsement. But he’s not just a passive member. In fact, Charles applied for and was granted a loan which he used to open a small shop to supplement his income from charcoal production. In the year following the loan, Charles earned four times the GNI per person for South Sudan. He gave half his profit to his wife to start a peanut paste business and the remainder is used to send each of his nine children to school.

As I was leaving the group, Oliver approached me, thanking us for bringing this training and for not bringing money. He said, "even 1 million SSP (£124,000) would be eaten but this knowledge will stay with us always".

This was powerful testimony to a programme that set out to transform the lives of women, their families, and their communities in South Sudan. We found women and men working together, sharing new knowledge and leadership roles to improve their ability to provide for their families. 

At the end of the meeting I greeted the Pastor and thanked him for letting us meet in the church and for his support for the programme. He also wanted us to know that while he himself was blind, the Gospel was read every Sunday in the church by women from the literacy circles.

At the time of posting, South Sudan is experiencing a shaky ceasefire. Will you support Five Talents' financial inclusion and help move the country towards stability? Donate here.

Programme Update: Big Changes!


KENYA & UGANDA WORKSHOP - The Programme Workshop in Kenya went very well - our partners were all very interested in our sessions on in-country fundraising and we also presented a range of new training manuals to begin the process of reviewing all of our business and financial training in East Africa.

Progress was also made on new M&E measures and this week PPI and PPI+ (two systems of measuring our impact, an international standard and a custom one we've developed) went compulsory for all new member registrations at MBF. For the first time ever we'll get a full spectrum of baseline data rather than the samples we've had hitherto. It was also good to meet the representatives from Karamoja, Uganda and Kericho, Kenya where we hope to work in the near future.


MBF, Tanzania - On Monday, MBF opened a new branch! It's in Ifupila, near Mafinga. This now makes four MBF branches: Iringa, Mafinga, Morogoro and now Ifupila.

Ifupila is a tea-growing region and most of the clients will be tea-pluckers. There is a strong need in this area as the pluckers do not save year-round. This means they live well in tea season but not the rest of the year. MBF plans to teach them savings and business skills so they can save for off-season and also start side businesses to give year-round income. 

Ifupila is only 25km from Mafinga but the community because Ifupila communities were spending large sums on transport to and from Mafinga and really wanted services closer to home - the need was so acute that local leaders donated the building for an MBF office. 

Two staff have been posted there - one is a former IT officer from Iringa who is freed up now that the cloud-based Musoni system is bedded in, and the other is a female intern who has previously been volunteering her time, but who has now been offered a job. The MBF Programme Leader, Japhet Makau, predicts this branch will break even within three months thanks to commission on MKOPA's solar loans and CRDB agency banking, and because the operating costs are very low. 

Japhet is also planning to start a new branch in Dodoma region which will serve 4 dioceses. So, we currently have four branches in three Tanzanian dioceses and could add another four dioceses through the Dodoma branch if that gets going. Mama Bahati Foundation is very definitely spreading her wings. 

To hear more about the specifics of these changes, please feel free to contact the programme team. As always, we ask you to consider signing up to give small amounts on a regular basis. As little as £10 a month can have huge cumulative impacts.