Dan Stroot

Make Big Bets

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2 min read

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just released it's annual letter. I have come to look forward to these letters because I find them incredibly inspiring. This year instead of an annual update they are re-baselining and taking a fifteen year view of the future. As I read this year's letter I was simultaneously moved, inspired and awed by the scope their mission:

"The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else's."

— 2015 Gates Annual Letter

There are four pillars to accomplish this mission:

  1. Health
  2. Farming
  3. Banking
  4. Education

My daughter and I spent 10 days traveling in Uganda several years ago with our friends Jeff Jensen and his daughter Caroline. We traveled fairly extensively and visited a number of charitable organizations in and around Kampala and Gulu. It's hard to appreciate how far ahead we are economically unless you experience it first hand.

One of the places we visited was Krochet Kids in Gulu. They are the largest employer of women in the area. They provide job training, a fair wage to lift them and their families out of poverty, and a positive family-oriented environment. On a side note you can buy their products in Nordstrom! This picture is "the factory" on the day we visited:


As you can see the women get to sit in the shade of large trees, children are welcome, and they are encouraged to socialize as they work. The women I met were very happy and grateful for the opportunity. However we found out that when the women got paid (cash - they do not have bank accounts) their husbands would take the money. Some husbands would go drinking or find other ways to spend the money unwisely. The women were not empowered culturally to resist.

The founders of Krochet Kids decided they needed to find a way to create a type of bank where the women could protect their wages. If they didn't bring home cash their husbands would not have access to it. The key was to find a way to allow them to save money in an account, and also possibly loan each other money. The Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) was born. Currently on any given week there is roughly $10,000 being saved in the VSLA. The VSLA now offers small loans to women in the group and collects and divides any interest incurred.

What Krochet Kids discovered was that in some ways the most valuable service they provided was not "a job" but rather training and mentorship on personal budgeting, savings, loans and business management topics. One of their stated goals is now:

To equip the women of Northern Uganda with the financial assets and knowledge to enter into the local economy and thereby end their dependence on humanitarian aid.

When reading this year's Gates Letter Mobile Banking is one of the four pillars of the fifteen year plan. I have seen firsthand how empowering this can be.


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