The Villages in Action Conference (VIA), is the brain child of Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora and was held in Kikuube Village Grounds, Masindi, Uganda on 27 November 2010. The conference was co sponsored by Orange Uganda and Business Fights Poverty Kikuube is a beautiful village in Masindi district western Uganda and is home to at least 1000 people most of whom are farmers. With no running water or electricity, it is the sort of village that the world of development would refer to as remote and impoverished and therefore ripe for the plethora of development programmes. The people of this village would be the first to tell you that they do need help to develop their village but as I found out not the sort of help that denies them an opportunity of having a say on what that looks like. I will now take you through how the actual day went as we gathered to hear the work villagers are doing to develop their village The technology panel
The organizers- PROJECT DIASPORA
Teddy Ruge and his team were motivated by the fact that back in September 2010; the World Leaders came together in New York to discuss the state of the poor. The poor according to the World Leaders are those that live on $1 a day such as the inhabitants of kikuube, they spoke about the poor in their absence, like they didn’t have a voice and referred to them as numbers. Project Diaspora decided that if World Leaders would not invite the poor to their conference perhaps because they do not know who they are, the best thing to do was to bring the conference to the so called poor so that they can tell the world who they are, how they live and the solutions that they come up with to their day to day challenges. Project Diaspora felt that the voice of villages like Kikuube was missing in conversations about development and yet how the village develops depends on the decisions that the villagers take and not those made by the World Bank, nor decision makers in London and New York
Project Diaspora handed the Microphone to some in the village and encouraged them to introduce themselves to world, tell world how intelligent they are and insist that they need to bring change they need to ask the Villagers how they would improve this Village In Action. This single act put the village on world map as the world sat and listened via Social media platforms, such as UStream Video Channel, Twitter and Facebook made possible by WIFI provided by Orange™ Uganda Issues for discussion included; Technology, education, farming and entrepreneurship, small businesses and how that contributes to the well being of the community and health For the purposes of this post I will only draw out the reasons why the sponsors got behind this event, the key points raised by the Local councilor in her speech as well as the local enterprise stories.
The Sponsors- Business Fights Poverty
As the lead sponsor of the event Business Fights Poverty (BFP), their decision to sponsor the event was based on the view that the event provided a unique and powerful way to tell the story of the importance of enterprise for development. Most events on this topic are based in Western capitals, with speakers and attendees drawn from relatively large companies, non-government organizations and governments.Villages In Action would provide an important platform for the voice of poor people in this discussion. BFP is a global network of over 7,000 people from more than 130 countries who believe that the best way to improve lives is by helping entrepreneurs succeed. When businesses grow, they create new opportunities for others – new products, services and jobs. BFP is a community around the world that shares practical ideas about how to fight poverty through good business. Half the members come from business, and the other half from governments, donor agencies, charities and universities.
Orange™ Uganda played a vital role by providing the technology that made it possible for the world to hear the voices of the people of Kikuube and to watch and participate in the conference via video link and internet access. Orange™ Uganda feel that they have a vital role to play as far as meeting the Millennium Development Goals are concerned and to that they are keen to work with development partners by applying technological services and products that provide new possibilities for communities such as Kikuube. Orange™ Uganda believes that mobile telephony brings people closer and through innovation lives of both urban and rural communities can be improved The Village Voices The Local Councillor- Mrs Milly Businge
Milly is a formidable African woman, articulate and purposeful. I spent 2 days with her and she left me in no doubt about how much she cares about the development or her village. She is married with 8 children, one of whom is Teddy and is a farmer As she took to the microphone she invited the world to come see how they exist, how empowered they are, how they educate their children as well as how they survive and share in their successes and failures. She was surprised that as Village councillor she had never heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) even though these had been in place as long ago as the year 2000 and had been set for the benefit of villages like Kikuube. Over the years she has witnessed several government programmes to immunise children, the introduction of universal primary education for all village children as well as programmes on HIV/AIDS but was not aware that this was due to the MDGs as those delivering the programmes did not bother to include them in the planning nor delivery of these programmes in the village. The main occupation in the village is farming especially commercial sugarcane growing that is supplied to Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd.
Milly reported that this has been good for the village as many in the village have access to mobile phones, personal means of transport such as bicycles and motorcycles, many have been able to construct permanent houses as well as send their children to school from the money earned from sugarcane growing. She was surprised to learn that elsewhere in the world people who survive on less than $1 are considered poor and yet some folk survive in the village survive on less than that, through hard work.
In what seemed like a direct message to the community she said
Every society has winners and losers, those that work hard as well as the lazy ones but we are still considered poor. Our fertile ground will feed those who sow and bury those who do not
On the MDGs, she said the village has more or less met the goals concerned with eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and that 75% of the children in the village have access to free education.
Child mortality – the government has made huge strides towards eradication child mortality through immunisation programmes and urged the parents to work with the government in order to achieve this goal. She highlighted some of the key challenges that prevent parents from getting their children immunised • Parents have to travel long distances to access this programmes the nearest facility is 3 miles away, another is 4 miles and whilst another 8 miles • The village culture is that the women take care of the sick, it therefore their duty to travel these long distances to access immunisation • And sometimes they arrive to health centres they discover that the necessary medicines have run out and this leads to child mortality, it will help to bring the health centre facility near
Another challenge facing the community is Environmental sustainability. She said we have a lush green village and it used to be better than this before we started cutting down the trees for charcoal and firewood as well as growing of sugarcane- this has led to the disappearance of woodlands, and loss of rainfall, we would like the world to work with us on programmes on environmental care to help prevent further loss of woodlands
In committing her village to supporting the government to achieve the MDGs she said,
we cannot direct the wind but can adjust the sail,
How does business fight poverty in this village-
Kikuube is a farming community and enterprise evolves around this activity through services and products required by farmers as consumers. I spoke with 3 entrepreneurs in the village and here are their stories
Yossam- the sugarcane grower
Yossam has been involved in sugarcane growing for the last 14 years and this has enabled him to put his 15 children through school and the eldest is currently at University. He is what is known as an out grower for the Kinyara Sugar Works ltd part owned by the government (49%) and the Rai Group (51%). I understood that the government intends to distribute its shares to the Bunyoro Kingdom where Kukuube is located, the employees, the district council and some of the outgrowers. He noted that since privatisation the scales have been tipped in favour of the Rai group at the expense of the growers. I asked him about some of the challenges they face • Access to affordable finance- the growers can only borrow from Kinyara Sugar Works at a rate of 26% and at an 18 month term • This means that the growers are often running at a loss as the struggle to pay back the loans •
Kinyara charges very high for services to the farmers and does not pay on time and when they do 10% of the pay is held back and when this is paid normally a year later no interest is given on that money I asked Yossam whether under the circumstances he considers sugarcane growing a viable business and he said it is near impossible to break even but they do and have managed to • Send their children to school • Build permanent residential homes as well as commercial buildings that they rent out as business premises • Acquire bicycles and motorcycles as a means of personal transport as well as • Pay for health care
James – the grain miller and local bicycle repairer
This is the shed that houses James’ grain mill James is an older man possibly 60 years old and very easy to like and he provides two very vital services to his community. Grain milling- James says that he and his family started this business in 2004 as they wanted something that could bring them a daily income. He decided to call the Business LET US HELP EACH OTHER because he provides a service to the village and in turn that brings him income. The impact of this business on the village is easy to dismiss until you take a closer look.
One of the MDGs is preventing extreme hunger and in this village without electricity or factories to preserve food for leaner times the easiest way to preserve food is turn into flour which is easy to store. The grain miller facility is very simple and is located in what we in the west would consider a shed but has far reaching consequences for those that rely. Bicycle repairing- bicycles are the most common means of personal transport in Kikuube and as any means of transport the bicycles do break down and need repairing. I asked James the significance of bicycle ownership in the village. It enables farmers to get their produce to market without bicycles it would be near impossible as the market is a long a way away nearly half a day’s walk James told me Out of these two services James has been able to sustain his family, pay for health care and education
Pamela- the Hardware shop owner
Pamela is very unusual for an African woman and a sign that times have changed in days gone by she would not have been able to open or own a shop. When I caught up with her I asked her what motivated her to get started and her challenges. She told me simply that she saw a gap in the market as the community prospered, there was an increase in the construction of permanent houses and folk had to travel to nearest town which 45 minutes away so she decided to open hardware shop and on the day she opened the entire stock was bought by the villagers. One of her key challenges is access to affordable finance, which would enable her to buy stock at wholesale prices in Kampala- the capital city of Uganda. Because she doesn’t have substantial assets she would be excluded from borrowing from the local banks.
Some after thoughts
As I left Kikuube, I was in a contemplative mood as I wondered how I personally would cope with challenges such as poor roads, sky high interest rates. I didn’t feel that these were ideal circumstances in which in which to transact business but against all odds folk here were doing their best to lift themselves out of poverty with no intervention from donors but through enterprise. I felt proud to have been there in person as they told the world their story of how they survive day to day, how they help each other to grow and develop. If there was ever a story that proves how private enterprise impacts development, this is it!
The question to the rest of the world is- what are we going to do to ensure that we build on the successes of this VILLAGE IN ACTION!