Written by special guest authors, Ken and Karen Gerdes
Since 1994 we’ve been working with friends in and around Denver, Colorado to raise money for FINCA. Picking up on our hometown’s moniker, we call our group the Mile High Friends of FINCA. Over that time we’ve raised more than $100,000. And we also have watched the increasing sophistication of FINCA-pioneered microenterprise lending circles as they have spread around the world.
This past July we traveled in Uganda with FINCA founders, John Hatch and Rupert Scofield. We’d visited FINCA operations a couple of times over the years. Our first trip with FINCA was to Ecuador with John and his wife Mimi back in 1999. We’ll never forget the pork skin soup with potatoes that the women in the local village bank served us. This trip to Uganda was equally amazing. It really opened our eyes to the great diversity of services that FINCA now brings to its clients.
In a country where electrical hook-ups cost $120 and connect clients to unreliable electricity and all too reliable bills, FINCA’s BrightLife program now sells an array of solar lighting options costing $50 to $300 which offer predictable lighting, cell phone charging, and even built-in radios. BrightLife offers the products on a pay-as-you-go (PayGo) basis making the systems affordable for almost everybody. And because clients can build a credit history through their PayGo payments, BrightLife also can help open the door to a broader array of financial services.
Still, even BrightLife has trouble reaching the poorest of the poor, the millions of Africans living on just a few dollars a day and who have NO light at night, only dim and dangerous kerosene “candles.” How to help them? FINCA’s lending circles once seemed the best way. But FINCA’s new Mwangaza Project (Mwangaza means brightness in Swahili) expands on that model.
While in Uganda, we met a whole village of families transformed by their $4 purchase of hamburger-bun-sized Pico Plus solar-powered LED lamps. Their kids have good light to study, and they can safely travel in the pitch-black African night. Best of all, they save the dollar or more a week they previously spent for kerosene. FINCA subsidizes $4 of the $8 cost of these little beauties, which are guaranteed for two years but often last five or more years.
We’re proud to have helped support FINCA’s work all these years. And we’re super proud of the way we do it. As part of their loyalty program, many grocery chains will give 5% of the value of purchases to charitable organizations, with no added out-of-pocket cost. Today we have about fifty families who all choose the Mile High Friends of FINCA as the charity that their shopping dollars support. We currently raise about $6,000 per year this way – more than $100 per family. And right now, we’re dedicating all of it to the Mwangaza project.
The math is pretty simple. $6,000 divided by the $4 per lamp subsidy equals 1,500 lamps. That’s 1,500 African homes getting perhaps their first electric light. With an average of five people per household, that’s 7,500 people moved out of darkness. Just by our buying groceries!
If you’d like to learn more about our adventures with FINCA, our thoughts on their new solar energy initiative, or how we structured our grocery loyalty program to raise money for FINCA, we’d be happy to talk to you. You can write us at [email protected] or [email protected] or call Ken on 303-881-4998.