Donuts (doughnuts) are the bane of a dieter’s life; so tempting, so available, so inexpensive and yet so treacherous.
Yet, donuts represent a business opportunity in under-developed countries like Rwanda. With minimal investment, but lashings of determination and the right training, an otherwise poor and uneducated woman can start generating an income. She benefits in many ways – building her self-confidence, gaining the respect of others who see her making money – and her family benefits when her earnings pay for their education and health care.
At our Aspire project in Rwanda, we provide business management training and cookery lessons, among other vocational courses. Hundreds of vulnerable women have now been through the holistic year-long preparation for joining the business world, gaining the skills and self-esteem to help them transform their lives.
Devotha graduated from Aspire in 2013; with a loan of $119 or £75 she began making donuts to sell to her community and to local stores. Soon she was making a daily profit of $7 or £4.50 – a significant income in a country where rural people rarely even encounter printed currency. Devotha has used the profits to build a kitchen, keen to expand her business. She thanks Aspire for turning her life around, alleviating the poverty in which she was trapped.
Other Aspire graduates have chosen to work together in women’s cooperative ventures. The Urumuri Coop has 51 members, all Aspire graduates. They are now making a monthly profit of about $50 or £30.
But it would be a mistake to think the skills and business training alone was enough to set these women on the road to success. The key to the Aspire approach is understanding that the women need training in a variety of life skills – health, hygiene, nutrition, first aid, family planning, and their legal rights – to give them a firm foundation. The women rely on the ongoing support of Aspire’s counselling team, and the mutual help network established among the graduates.
Perhaps one of the reasons some development projects fail is that they focus so narrowly on one aspect of need. Aspire provides a more holistic approach, teaching everything from literacy to how to get legal advice in the case of domestic violence.
What is the point of micro lending if people have had little experience of money or markets? Many of the aspects of the modern economy we take for granted are new in societies used to centuries of subsistence farming and barter. Essential to Aspire’s mission is teaching women to save a little each week, and to invest in their children’s education and health. But don’t take our word for it, because the proof is in the eating of the donut.
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