The Young Women Christian Association of Malawi is a women led, non-profit organization that achieves positive change by providing advocacy programs and services for women, families and communities. The main goals of the organization is to develop the leadership and collective power of women and girls, support individuals, their families and communities at critical times and promote gender equality and community strength.
The YWCA of Malawi through the World YWCA, secured funding from Horyzon, to run the project for young women and girls as transformative leaders.
In the last 3 years the YWCA of Malawi embarked on a project titled building the assets of girls. The project aimed to ensure that young women and girls have access to SRHR information and services. Key lessons learned and challenges included: That despite knowing their rights young women and girls are unable to enforce them as they are economically disadvantaged. Women will compromise on safe sexual practices, as well as family planning as they rely heavily on the man for financial support and he will dominate over them when it comes to SRHR decisions. In light of the worsening economic conditions and increasing poverty levels, access to education is a challenge for young women and girls and teenage mothers have little or no support at all. In addition to this young people struggle to see value of education and maintain motivation due to the poor quality of education and high unemployment levels. There is need for young women and girls to have mentors and role models and for those unable to attend school entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged as well as village saving schemes.
Malosa – Zomba
Likhubula – Mulanje
Namiyango – Blantyre
Women living with HIV, women survivors of violence, young women (aged 30 or younger), women from an ethnic or linguistic minority, rural women, out-of-school girls and young women, migrant workers, orphans, etc.
2.0 Entrepreneurship and Leadership Training
In the six months starting July to December 2017 the YWCA of Malawi kick started the program by conducting entrepreneurship and leadership training in all the four sites, namely; Chapananga in Chikhwawa District, Likhubula in Mulanje District, Malosa in Machinga, Mondiwa Village in Namiyango Township. These are YWCA branches where women who are members of the organization meet to attend adult literacy classes, share information on economic empowerment ventures, mentor young women and girls on SRHR, HIV/Aids, ending child marriages and staying in school. The ages ranged from 18 years, while the oldest was 64 years of age, with the average age was 32 years.
Four trainings have been done in four project sites, namely; Chapananga in Chikhwawa District, Likhubula in Mulanje District, Malosa in Machinga, Mondiwa Village in Namiyango Township.
These are YWCA branches where women who are members of the organization meet to attend adult literacy classes, share information on economic empowerment ventures, mentor young women and girls on SRHR, HIV/Aids, ending child marriages and staying in school.
The ages ranged from 18 years, while the oldest was 64 years of age, with the average age was 32 years.
2.1 Contextual analysis;
Every participant filled a pre-training form, detailing; age; number of children; if they already have a business or not; if they had attended leadership and business training before; their expectation from the training; if they have special entrepreneurship skills; etc.
Majority of the women are in their youthful ages. However, it was revealed that most of them were keeping a high number of children, largely due to orphan-hood due to the AIDS epidemic. For example, one woman has a total of 10 children, while 3 was recorded as the average number of children. It is important to note that majority of girls get married very early, even at the age of 14 years.
39% of the women in all the 4 centres have small scale business. The businesses range from selling vegetables, pan cakes, dough nuts, agri-business, etc. One woman in Namiyango Township is into tailoring with her husband while another one in Mulanje is into arts and crafts. These two are specialised businesses, which need specialized training.
73% of the women in all these centres had not attended any leadership training before. This means that skills obtained from the trainings will help them greatly in not only the YWCA branches but also in other groups.
In terms of expectations, women expressed so much enthusiasm with the training. Majority expected to learn new skills to improve and grow their businesses. Others indicated the desire to help improve their families and be able to send their children to school as a result of obtaining new business skills.
2.2 Planned Activities;
- A Leadership and Entrepreneurship training was designed to benefit women in YWCA branches in Malawi. An independent business trainer was identified and hired to facilitate the trainings. Jointly with YWCA staff a training content was developed, tailor made to suit the needs of the training participants.
- YWCA noted that majority of its women members have limited literacy skills and as such there was need to undertake the trainings in local language, chichewa. YWCA also emphasized on the need to use visual teaching aids and lots of group work and other participatory approaches to maximise participants’ participation.
- The trainer designed a pre-training questionnaire which was administered before the training to help provide baseline data in terms of existing knowledge and practices of the participants. The trainer also developed a post-training questionnaire, in order to help capture immediate changes and outcomes the trainings would have achieved. Both these questionnaires were approved by YWCA.
The training content included some of the following topics:
- Leadership, what is leadership, who is a leader, qualities of a good leader
- Group dynamics and conflict resolution
- Entrepreneurship and skills needed to manage small scale business; business planning
- Financial management, record keeping, calculating profit and saving money;
- Village saving and loans; developing a saving culture
The training was planned for 2 days each. Each day had 3 health breaks – mid morning refreshment, lunch and mid afternoon refreshments. At the end of each training participants were asked to score a mood meter of their impression on each of the topics covered smileys which were drawn on a flipchart paper.
Based on the training evaluation responses generated from their scores on the mood meter chart, participants expressed excellent satisfaction on the content of the training and topics covered. Participants acknowledged to have acquired new knowledge in a number of areas and were more eager to work in a more organized group to improve their quality of life. Participants were also impressed with the skills deployed by the training facilitator. Equally, they were happy with support provided by project staff and the health breaks. Some of them had babies and the breaks allowed them to attend to their babies.
- A total of 98 women acquired skills in small scale business and entrepreneurship;
- Women reported enhanced competencies in leadership and ability to resolve conflicts in their groups;
- Women were able to develop sketchy business plans to improve existing businesses or for those planning to establish new ones;
- Women improved their business management skills;
- Women improved their financial management skills;
- Savings culture through VSL;
2.4 Immediate outcomes of the trainings
- Some women developed methodologies (book keeping) on how to reduce wastage and cut expenditure on unnecessary things in order to grow and manage their business;
- Some women developed interest to join village savings and loans groups in their communities;
- Some women were ready to take up leadership roles in their business groups.
2.5 Key Challenges
There were no major challenges registered during implementation of the trainings. However, the following are some that were faced:
- Limited literacy skills – 37% of the participants were unable to read and write. Their uptake and understanding of things and theories was somehow impaired and to some extent, their participations was limited. This means that the trainings had to move at a slow pace, with lots of emphasis in order to accommodate this group.
- Presence of babies – some women brought their babies and children to the trainings. The children caused some disturbances to the mothers who had to feed them while training was in session, but also disturbed their counterparts.
- Power outages – it is summer in Malawi, with temperatures soaring as high as 33deg C
- Transport – the dust roads to Chapananga in Chikhwawa and to Likhubula in Mulanje are not ideal for small vehicle. For example, a 23km stretch off Chikhwawa took us 2hrs 30 to drive. An off-road car takes about 45 minutes!
- Electricity blackouts – Without electricity it means we could not use fans to provide fresh air to participants. Many were overwhelmed, especially in the afternoon due to severe heat.
3.0 Village savings Loan Schemes
Following the training on Entrepreneurship and leadership, the YWCA disbursed funds to the trained women, in form of village savings loans, where the women will use the funds for income generating activities. The sum of MWK1,000,000.00 (USD1,396.64) was disbursed to each group of twenty women in all the four sites. The women were encouraged to engage in group businesses but most opted to do individual businesses as they were already engaged in some small ventures.
The women formed committees where they chose new leaders to run the village bank schemes. They also came up with rules for running the groups and the village savings loans.
In order to instil discipline and accountability, the committee members signed an agreement with YWCA office to abide by the rules and repay the loans after every six months so as to allow for other young women and women to access the loans.
The loans are shared according to needs with a minimum of MWK20,000.00(USD27.93) and maximum of MWK60,000.00(USD83.80) at an interest of 20%. The women agreed to factor in the interest of 20% so that they can apportion 10% towards savings, which they will share after the six months and 10% towards growing the loan fund, to allow for other members to join the scheme.
Other groups have opted to be depositing funds, to the VSL scheme, in form of shares as a way of saving some of the profits they make, so that at the end of the six months they can share the savings plus interest.
Repayments can also be made before the six months, if a member so wish, and another loan accessed.
There are also express/emergency loans which a member can borrow and repay with interest, for a week. This is done in order to increase the loan fund so that at the end of the six months the members can generate more funds.
The groups also have a welfare fund which members contribute towards, to assist one another in times of celebrations, sickness and bereavement.
The groups meet once a month and others two times a month.
At every meeting the women start by making repayments on the loans, then they make other contributions i.e shares. When all the money has been added together, the loans are disbursed according to members needs.
The women have opened group bank accounts where funds will be deposited as they go towards the end of the six months, before another cycle is started.
The group committee members submit a report on how the village bank is progressing every month and monthly visits are also conducted to monitor progresC
- During planting season which falls between November and December, most women are busy in the field tending to their source of food for their families. So business gets disrupted.
- As a result of this food also becomes expensive and more especially maize, the staple food, and rice. Most of their harvest stocks are depleted.
3.2 Success stories
The women are very happy with the loan scheme as it provides them with easy access to funds and flexibility in repayments as compared to loan sharks and micro finance institutions, which end up impoverishing the women and making life unbearable when they fail to pay back the loans.
Alice Julius 21yr old high school dropout and single mother, from Machinga, says after accessing the loan she started selling fritters from her loan of MWK20,000.00. She managed to buy a bag of flour, cooking oil and fire wood needed to sustain the business. She says she is able to make payments towards her loan every month. She is able to fend for her Childs basic needs and has also started a small hairdressing salon from home.
Asiatu Kassim 18yr old high school dropout and mother of one from Machinga, got married at age 15 and the husband is living in diaspora in South Africa. The loan she accessed has helped her to boost her business of buying and selling rice and she is able to support her child and her mother with the profits she is making. She wishes the amounts accessed can be increased so that she can build a habitable dwelling house for her family
Christina Maliko from Chapananga, got a loan of K50,000.00 kwacha and this helped boost her livestock business. Chapananga borders with Mozambique and this is where she buys her goats for resell at the local market. She is also engaged in pig farming, which she hopes to grow as she continues to access the loans.
25 yr old Violet Anamiyo from Mulanje, declares that the loan she has accessed has helped boost her business of selling small fried fish at the local school. She says she did not have enough resources to sustain the business before. She is able to make repayments after making her profits.
Maize field in Mulanje. Fertilizer input bought with loan accessed from the VSL scheme.
4.0 YWCA Safe Spaces
The YWCA embarked on SRHR, sexual reproductive health and rights for young women and girls and established centres where the girls could access information. The centres however needed rehabilitation, some underwent major rehabilitation. In some areas make shifts were being used and peer champions made home visits to sensitize the women and girls in the areas.
We have managed to rehabilitate our branches in Namiyango, Malosa and Mulanje, which now have a spacious room that has a baby corner, where our adolescent mothers can access information and counselling, while the babies play. There is also an office for the branch coordinator and waiting area as well as a store room, guard room, outdoor toilet and shower. These are still works in progress and with continued support, we can stock up on children’s educational materials and other reading materials for the women.
The spaces have been furnished with various items such as plastic chairs, mats, toys, cups, plates and buckets.
The spaces are also being used by the women to meet for their monthly and weekly meetings for village banks.
Adult literacy classes are also conducted at the spaces. Trained peer champions, are on hand to assist on a voluntary basi
- Rising cost of materials put a strain on the resources during refurbishment of the branches. With inflation rate at 10% it is hard to keep up with the cost of goods and services.
- With the onset of the rains, most rural road networks become impassable making it a challenging feat to monitor the branches as desired.
4.2 immediate outcomes
- The refurbished spaces have motivated the local leadership and we have seen an increased patronage of the spaces.
- The women, who were part of the process in volunteering their time, have taken ownership in ensuring safety and cleanliness of the spaces.
- The spaces have fast turned into a meeting place for women, young women and girls. The women have also taken an initiative to volunteer and cook some nutritional porridge for the babies as the young mothers visit the space for mentoring.
- Key Challenges of the Project
- High illiteracy levels made implementation of planned activities challenging, which entails close monitoring of progress. Although some of our recipients have attained secondary school education, most lack exposure which is necessary to help them understand things better.
- Persistent power cuts in the country have affected some expected outcomes which relied on uninterrupted supply. Communication to our branches has been affected as most rural households do not have electrification and depend on few sources to charge their electrical gadgets and phones.
- Accessibility of our branches during rainy periods is challenging as roads are impassable after a down pour, especially with a saloon car. The need for an off road vehicle is imperative.
- Rising cost of goods and services put a strain on resources during implementation.
5.1 Key lessons learnt and best practices
- It was noticed from the trainings, that while many women have limited literacy skills, majority are willing and passionate to change their living conditions. This was so true with the women of Chapananga. Half of the members, including their group leader, cannot read and write. But they were very attentive during the training and contributed positively. In Machinga, a woman with 10 children expressed her desire to educate her children, using the little money she gets from her small business;
- Women are also ready to embrace the concept of doing a group business. In Mulanje and Chikhwawa, participants expressed optimism that it is possible to do a group business, as that boost confidence but also ensure pooling of resources together, thereby increasing their business capital substantially;
- Key recommendations
- Continue with the adult literacy classes. It was observed that many women have benefited from the adult literacy classes in these centres and that underscores the quest to continue to benefit as many women as possible.
- Replicate the trainings for entrepreneurship and leadership elsewhere. Studies elsewhere have pointed to the fact that women are the poorest of the poor. But we also know that many are doing some small scale businesses to change their living conditions and are doing these businesses without any trainings.
- Follow up sessions with role models. There is need to continue improving the confidence of young women and girls by introducing role models in different fields to interface meetings.
- Continue the economic empowerment program, to reduce glaring poverty levels in line with the SDGs
Based on the responses collected from the participants and their enthusiasm after the trainings, it can be safely concluded that the trainings achieved the intended purpose. We had initially planned to train 20 women at each centre but the number rose. This can be attributed to high demand by women wanting to be trained. YWCA is happy with the calibre of the women and commitment they demonstrated throughout the trainings and are sure that their lives and those of their families and communities will improve.
The introduction of the VSL schemes has boosted the moral of the women and given them a chance to be able to empower themselves. This concept should be continued so that more women, young women and girls are reached.
We believe that if properly managed, the VSL scheme has the potential to expand rapidly.
YWCA Malawi is particularly thankful to the World YWCA and Horyzon for providing funding for the project. We are certain that this project will greatly help contribute to the realization not only of YWCA goals, but also ties well with the ambitions and aspirations of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which among other things, aim to reduce poverty and achieve gender equality.
7.0 Way forward
As the YWCA continues to work with rural women, young women and girls, who access our safe spaces, we look to strengthening our capacity in mentoring the women and also holding awareness open days in schools to encourage girls to stay in school and also provide role models to help.
We are also aware that most women and younger women are stuck in situations that they cannot easily come out of due to high poverty levels, it is our mission to provide alternatives for them in form of empowerment, through trainings, adult literacy classes and financial assistance.