What does it take to change a life? To change a community? Part of this work requires us to constantly ask ourselves truly difficult questions.
Those particular questions have not grown easier with time. While we as a world lifted a billion people out of poverty since 1990, the impacts of the pandemic and other global crises have placed these incredible gains at risk—and over 700 million people still experience extreme poverty, living off of less than $1.90 a day.
Opportunity’s experts around the globe work diligently to test, perfect, and scale up human-centered solutions to end extreme poverty around the globe. Through data-driven research and partnerships with influential institutions, we strive to find those answers.
But a recent engagement in rural Malawi reminded me that, most of the time, the solutions we seek to the world’s biggest challenges are found within the spirit and determination of the people we serve.
This summer, I traveled to Denza - a village several hours outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. There, I was greeted by 36 women who were gathered in a semi-circle, sharing their time, energy, and financial resources. One woman needed a small loan for a bag of fertilizer. Another needed support for a new fence for her livestock. All of them were placing 10 cents into a metal box secured with a lock.
It was the weekly gathering of the Todonga Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), a long-established group supported by Opportunity International. Every week, this group of entrepreneurial women comes together to save their earnings—in 10-cent deposits—and loan cash to one another.
It was a remarkable experience. With weekly deposits, these women were planning for the future and seeing their lives transformed in incredible ways. The group had developed a social fund in case of a community-wide emergency, their own personalized loan funds to support one another’s goals, and a healthy sum of individual savings that built community-wide stability.
Every week, these women gather to support and strengthen their families, their community, and their economy. Ten-cents a week from every individual in this group has fundamentally changed the village of Denza for the better—and in real, concrete terms.
One participant told me that her family’s fortune had been transformed in the years since the VSLA formed.
“Before, I had to ask others for salt for my family,” she said. “But today, I have been able to grow my farm to purchase the things my family needs—and earn enough to send my children to school.”
In seeing what’s possible, I am more committed than ever to Opportunity’s continued innovation and growth. We talk about building tools, training, and support that help farmers grow more and earn more—and the results found at the Todonga VSLA prove that it works.
In bringing our methods to scale, we are using high-tech, human-centered supports to help the Todonga VSLA become even more successful. We have connected them to their Farmer Support Network via WhatsApp. We are automating much of their operations digitally via smartphone applications, turning what was once a two-hour management process into only thirty minutes. We are leading pilot projects that use satellites and AI to connect the hardest-to-reach rural farmers with banking services.
But none of this can happen without the determination of our clients. Through countless barriers, smallholder farmers like the women of the Todonga VSLA are putting their hearts and souls into building a better future for their families and their communities. The answers to our hardest questions are found in strength, determination, and spirit of collaboration within these women – leading us to a light at the end of this tunnel, and a day when extreme poverty can be eradicated.
Every day, we continue to take the steps necessary to achieve that goal – just as the Todonga VSLA takes transformational strides to strengthen their community, 10 cents at a time.