When Village Enterprise business mentor Christine Birungi gets together with her female-led business savings groups, she recites a rhyme with the members “savings, savings, who are you, savings, savings, what are you? I’m the only route to wealth accumulation.” It’s a rhyme she passes on from business group to business group, inspiring people, particularly women, to save more money. “I went the extra mile to help these business owners start daily income-generating activities, which would increase their savings,” Christine explained. With each new group that Christine oversees, she creates exchange visits where previous business owners come and mentor the new women-led business groups. They arrive and share success stories to empower the new female business owners to adopt a culture of saving. Christine went so far as to create a mentoring committee that helps guide the business savings groups. Christine’s efforts paid off; last year, one of the female-led business savings groups in their sixth year of operation shared-out $4,000. Having ownership over one’s money is a form of empowerment, especially for women who are more likely to invest their savings into their children’s education or household needs.
There are many factors as to why Village Enterprise sees the importance of continuing to empower female leaders. We know communities change for the better when women are earning and saving money. We know women are skilled multitaskers who are willing to learn and be corrected. And we also know that women are often more committed to their businesses than men. With 75% of our business owners being female, we know this to be of the utmost importance. But we can always do better.
Last February, during our annual Innovation Summit in Mbale, Uganda, Christine, and a few other women, Village Enterprise staff, led a discussion on female empowerment. The presentation focused on what we currently do and what else we can do to improve women’s leadership within the organization. A few fundamental problems were identified: a lack of family support — women are expected to do a majority of the household chores, the mentality that women cannot lead, sexual harassment, and many other vital factors. Christine led discussions around the effectiveness of Village Enterprise’s current family support training module and the potential of incorporating women’s leadership skills into our business training manual and working to change mindsets around who is allowed to lead business savings groups.
As an organization, our goal is never to stop innovating and improving. We will always use feedback to strengthen our programming and ensure we are achieving meaningful empowerment by addressing social norms and the potential unintended effects. The Founders Pledge recently selected Village Enterprise as a top women empowerment NGO for our rigorous evidence of impact, cost-effectiveness, and organizational readiness to absorb significant new funding. As an organization, we pledge to always propel women to the forefront. We look forward to carrying the energy Christine brings with her into the field by inspiring hundreds of women to feel confident in leading their communities into the future.