Women Helping Women: My First Giving Circle

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Last night I went to my first giving circle using the Dining for Women model, and it was pretty inspiring. What I didn't realize about Dining for Women, is that they research and choose the organization that will be receiving the funds from that month's gatherings so that all of the Dining for Women groups meeting across the country are donating to the same thing. This month's organization was the Village Enterprise Fund. Because the Village Enterprise Fund's administrative office is in San Carlos, CA, about 25 miles from San Francisco, we were lucky enough to have VEF's Development Director, Barbara Lamb Hall, there to chat with us and to show us a quick PowerPoint presentation.

Here's how VEF works. They offer $100-$150 start-up grants to businesses in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. For example, VEF gave a $100 grant to Flora Khaombi who was struggling to provide food, clothing, healthcare and education for her two grown daughters and her grandchildren. All Flora said she needed was enough money to buy a 50 kg. bag of maize for resale. Flora got four other women to create a business group and with that grant they were able to start a business that sells vegetables, maize and tomatoes. In addition to the start-up funds, grant recipients also receive business training and long-term mentoring.

75% of VEF's businesses last 4 years or longer.

VEF also offers $300 follow-up grants to recipients of start-up grants to help them grow and expand their businesses, and loans of $5,000-$20,000 for community-based businesses such as a truck for famers to be able to drive to key markets, or a bakery at a secondary school.

61% of the business owners are women.

Each business that VEF funds directly improves the lives of at least 15 people.

Barbara also told us about two other related projects.

Project Baobob, an organization that provides free education in business skills for Kenyan youth, and Kiva, a web-based organization that allows individuals, like you and me, to make microloans (rather than a donation) to individuals via the Internet. The thing that is so intriguing about Kiva is that the people featured on their website are real people who need a microloan and because Kiva has low overhead and does fundraising offline, every dollar you loan to that person goes to their business, and you get your money back. You can read more about Kiva in this post by Nancy White.

I am looking forward to our next giving circle and learning about more ways that women can help women.