Small Investments and Major Impacts
The district of Gulu lies in the northern stretches of Uganda and is only known to those outside of the country because of the infamous Joseph Kony and documentary that chronicled his abuse of the area over the past few decades. To the about 350,000 residents of the area though, it’s a simple life for anyone from sustenance farmers to University students and footballers. It is an area filled with some of the happiest, most grateful people you will ever come across, but the ravages of decades of conflict, war and occupation have clearly left their mark. The legacy they have left is one of poverty and instability, but has also left the Acholi people who mostly inhabit the region resilient. They are experts in survival. What is clear that is missing there however, is opportunity.
Kleos MFG is a group founded in 2011 with a simple idea – to empower individuals so they can get themselves out of the cycle of poverty. The simplicity of the idea ran counter to much of development practice, which can be said of most Kleos policies. Instead of focusing on men, focus primarily on women. Instead of giving handouts that gradually eat away at work ethic, give out loans to increase people’s responsibility in their own success. Rather than require borrowers to repay inflated amounts at high rates, work as a non profit and raise funds at home to infuse into the supported areas. Rather than try to control how the money gets spent, leave it up to individuals address their own needs. Instead of focusing on harsh penalties to ensure responsibility, trust the community to work together to ensure everyone benefits. Instead of dictating all programming from the west, set up an infrastructure for the local community to grow and address their needs as they see fit. Rather than give things, give opportunity.
Kleos started working in Gulu in March of 2012, learning the area through a pilot project with a local NGO before opening the Kleos Uganda office in March of 2012. The full service office is staffed entirely by local people in the community and now includes training and scholarship programs to accompany the micro-loan program. While the impact on the region has been brief, real differences are already being seen. Within only, the first year, all Kleos borrowers who were not able to afford school fees for their children, were able to make enough additional profit after infusing their small businesses with Kleos loans to afford the fees for all their children. Ognam Akoko, who had a small concrete business, was able to buy metal molds to expand and improve upon the wooden molds he had been using to improve both the quality and diversity of his products. With his additional income, he was able to go from feeding his family once a day to twice a day. Adoch Jaclyn, who took a loan to sell produce in a nearby market, was able to expand her business into selling second hand clothing and is now working with women in her village to create a new market closer to their home. Although these impacts had major impact to the lives of the borrowers, their families and community, the average size of an annual loan remained under $100 and the repayment rate rose to more than 97%. Such minimal investments, paired with outside the box development strategies, hvae and continue to make major impacts for the people in Gulu.