by Mira Reverente
The idea for the non-profit The Greater Contribution (TGC) came about when a group of successful local women decided to pool their knowledge and resources. “I would regularly get together with a group of women to talk about workplace issues,” said Karon Wright, a Thousand Oaks resident, and former teacher and stage/TV actress. But the women wanted to do something more for others, so they started the organization focused solely on helping women in Africa.
“We knew we wanted to work with women and alleviating poverty but didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Wright, who became president of the group of six members. The idea of giving out micro-loans to women, specifically Uganda and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, appealed to the group of six women. They approved the first batch of loans in 2008.
To date, 9,000 micro-loans have been awarded. “The impact is just astounding if you think that an average Ugandan family has at least five members,” said Wright. “That’s 45,000 people easily who have a shot at a better life.”
How TGC Is unique
The women get loans ranging from $100 – $300 with a six-month repayment term. They go through three days of training given by local trainers, covering the basics of running a business including opening a bank account and managing inventory.
TGC wants to drive down the concept of sustainable livelihood. “We want them to be self-sustaining and we give them tools to help their business grow,” said Wright, who tries to visit every year.
On her most recent trip last summer, Wright brought solar-powered calculators and handed them out to the women. Since electricity is a luxury available to only four percent of the population, Wright and her team try to scout for solar-powered gadgets for practicality. The “top saver” for one, gets a solar-powered lamp.
Success stories abound, according to Wright. There’s Judith who is into corn-grinding. She has saved enough money to buy her own grinder and now employs two men, she said.
Most of the women are natural entrepreneurs and crafters, like Barbara, who makes dazzling jewelry and Alice, who paints colorful scarves. Sharifa, a gifted seamstress, was recently awarded a contract to make uniforms for an entire school.
How the women conquer challenges
The Ugandan business climate is not without its share of unique challenges. Catherine, who had a brick-making business, had to relocate her kiosk when the government decided to widen the road where she was conducting her business. Another woman’s poultry business was wiped out by a virus. “Theft is quite common in that area,” said Wright, recalling one woman’s tale of a bota-bota (motorcycle) driver taking off with her just purchased goods.
Health issues including malaria and cholera, which are common in the region, also pose a challenge to the women who are usually the family primary caregivers as well. “The women always prevail,” said Wright,
Kerrie Sadler, communications manager for the New West Symphony, said she got involved with TCG, because she knew Wright “cared deeply on how the money,” as well as their time and effort, was being spent. “One of the phrases we heard over and over again from the women [when visiting Africa] was ‘thank you for loving us,’” she said. “You just know that you’re changing people’s lives.”
How you can contribute
Volunteers with grant-writing, fundraising and accounting skills are always needed, said Wright.
Once a year, TGC also embarks on a major fundraiser called the “Black Tie No-Show” dinner. As the name implies, supporters and benefactors are encouraged to purchase tickets but there is no formal dinner. “It has worked beautifully over the years and people are usually happy to give without having to dress up for a formal fundraiser,” she said.
TGC also receives grants and donations from both private and public entities. Everything goes towards the micro-loans since TGC is an all-volunteer group, based out of Wright’s home office.
The micro loans not only help the women and their quality of life but also their children. Through their increased earnings, they are able to send more of their children to school and buy basic necessities such as soap. Some are able to move up from houses made of mud and sticks to sturdier structures made of brick or cement. Some start buying farm animals with their earnings to increase equity. “These women are hard-working, resourceful and creative,” said Wright. “They just need a little push and a little help sometimes, just like the rest of us.”
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