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Thoughts on Ugandan Self-help Groups and their Microfinance Thoughts on Ugandan Self-help Groups and their Microfinance
16/06/2017

Purple Shoots has recently been on a trip to Uganda to see how self-reliant groups and microfinance operates there. We took with us a small group of representatives from our self-reliant groups and the aim was to inspire them with what they saw out there and to develop links with the groups we met.

The trip was organized and partly funded by the charity PONT (Partnerships Overseas Networking Trust) and the Wales Africa Fund. PONT is an organisation which has forged strong links between Rhondda Cynon Taff and the Mbale area in South East Uganda. PONT’s aim is to tackle poverty and improve healthcare in the Mbale region by twinning organisations in RCT with their Ugandan counterparts. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 visits have been made to Mbale by people from RCT thanks to the connections created. Schools, hospitals, churches, business, the university – all have links with their counterparts in Mbale.

Our visit was to the Mbale Coalition Against Poverty, a group of small NGOs working to tackle poverty, including developing what they call self-help groups in the rural communities surrounding the town. We wanted to meet their groups and hear from their members first-hand how they worked and how they benefitted from them.

The Ugandan groups operate largely in the same way that ours do – their members commit to the group, meet regularly and build up friendship and trust between them. They share skills with each other and the supporting NGO provides specific training on a range of things if they request it – Purple Shoots offers this to our groups too. The Ugandan groups save together weekly and members of the groups are able to borrow from this savings fund, to help them through crises, to fund their children at school etc– and they repay through the income generating activities which they undertake. Some of them start their own small businesses.

For example Nabumali is one of the hardest to reach and poorest communities we visited. There are a number of groups in this community with a mix of genders, ages, religions and including some disabled people. They confirmed that between them they have savings of over 2.5million Ugandan shillings (a lot for them) and in the last year had undergone training on a wide range of issues including leadership, business skills, family nutrition, sanitation and human rights. 65% of group members are running small businesses – selling fruit and other agricultural products, quarrying, making bricks, sewing, baking, weaving etc. Children are also involved in the savings and the women aim to involve them in their businesses in the future. The groups have reached out to lonely, depressed and struggling people and draw them in. Jennifer, for example, was making a few pancakes and trying to sell them on the streets – as a group member she has turned that into a business which produces larger quantities and sells through a number of outlets. The groups said “We will kick poverty out of Nabumali!”

The Purple Shoots groups also save into a fund, and most of them work together on income generating activities of some description – proceeds from these also go into group funds. The combined funds are then available to develop the activities of the group – to pay for training or to develop their businesses and also to lend to group members if needed in a crisis. This keeps them away from predatory lenders who are often their only option. Purple Shoots itself will also lend to a group or to individuals from a group to help them start a business. In Mbale, although there seemed to be microfinance organisations available, all lending to groups and group members was done informally through the groups with group funds. They said that local microfinance organisations were too expensive for them.

The lending within the groups seemed to work well because a relationship of trust and respect had grown between group members and they knew and understood the detail of each other’s circumstances. There seemed to be few instances of people failing to repay, although sometimes there were delays – but as they all lived in the same community, it would be difficult for delinquent borrowers to disappear.

The savings and loans had had transformative effects on group members. In Mwanda community, we were impressed by three women in particular:

  • Lorna: Before she joined the group, she made as much as she could sewing and mending on the roadside. One of the group members invited her to join and she began saving. She borrowed money to buy more materials and started making school uniforms which she was able to sell. When she has accumulated more savings, she plans to buy a second sewing machine, take on some of the young girls who drop out of school and train them to sew, and train other group members for a fee, and then grow her business so that she and the other group members can make uniforms for many schools and other clothes to sell.
  • Suzanne’s story is similar to Lorna’s. She wants to work with her to design clothes for the group members, the community and others to buy.
  • Rebecca: She said she was isolated and alone before she came to the group and now her life has improved – she appreciates the wisdom and support of the older women in the group and through the group she has a goat which produces milk and earns an income for her. Her long term plan is to save and earn enough to buy her husband a motorbike so he can earn as a boda-boda (taxi) driver.

These three women are proof of our belief that there are many talented and entrepreneurial people hidden behind poverty who just need a little help to enable them to flourish and reach their potential. We seek to do this through both our individual loans and our self-reliant groups which follow this model and we want to change society’s view of people in poverty which is that they are weak and vulnerable, to seeing them as resourceful producers.

We saw two examples of whole groups going into business together:

  • The Musoto Community. This is a self-help group of people who are HIV positive – making a wide range of beautiful handicrafts which are sold locally (and available through Purple Shoots). In their own communities they are ostracized – but in this group they find friendship and acceptance and a means of survival.
  • Mbale United Association for the Disabled. This group, all people with disabilities, runs a small business making heavy duty bags and tarpaulins. They have contracts with international companies. People seek them out because they are good at what they do. The business earns them a living and they pay themselves equally. The group support each other and succeed against all sorts of odds – a building riddled with termites, machinery which is unusable because it needs parts they don’t have, insufficient stock and poor equipment for themselves (broom handles for crutches, no wheelchairs). Their best quote: “Disability is not inability”

In the UK, it is a bigger ask for a small business to support a whole group of people – but of course that depends on the business and Purple Shoots has at least a couple of their groups who are moving in that direction.

The SRG members I took with me were indeed inspired by the groups – their courage, determination, their achievements sometimes against terrible odds and their ingenuity and resourcefulness in the businesses they have established. But on a different level, they connected with them simply as other women, as friends, often tackling the same issues as them, albeit in a very different culture and circumstance – how to make ends meet, how to stretch few resources, wanting the best for their children and families, coping with bereavement, depression, isolation. In all this, their self-help groups played a hugely supportive and liberating role, and they gradually achieved a level of economic independence which they didn’t think was possible at the beginning. One of their best quotes was:

“We start with the little we have, and we build.” 

Last Day in Uganda Last Day in Uganda
13/05/2017

Purple Shoots expedition to Uganda investigate Self Reliant Groups

Our last full day in Uganda was spent with another partner of the Mbale Coalition Against Poverty - Ugandan Women's Concern Ministries. This organisation, originally aiming to help children, realized early on that the most effective way to support children and communities was to support women to earn their own income - this would help not just the women but their entire family. So one of the key things they do is to set up self-help (self-reliant) groups. They work in the hardest to reach and poorest communities and seek to help holistically - i.e. not just to help them improve their situation economically through the groups but also to find all kinds of other support, helping lonely and isolated people (for example widows, disabled people or others who struggle to feel a part of the community.)

The organisation is run by a very small team of deeply committed people (pictured) who were inspiring - they commented that "the need is very great and we are few and our resources are little but we do what we can and we have come far." We visited the community of Nabumali and after another overwhelmingly warm welcome of songs, drama and poetry, each of us spent some time in the groups hearing from the group members about their impacts: a widow who is caring for 8 of her own children and 4 orphans and not only receives help from the group financially when she is struggling, but has also gained self-respect because she is able also to contribute to the group.

Another lady who was trying to make do as a streetseller of a local pancake-like delicacy (delcious - she gave me one) was enabled to turn that into a proper business through the encouragement of the group and the savings which she accumulated through being part of it. Their best quote (apart from "we are kicking poverty out of Nabumala) was - "we begin with the little we have and go on to build"

Not a bad motto for our self-reliant groups in Wales too!

Last days in Uganda Last days in Uganda
12/05/2017

Our last evening in Mbale and we're all wearing our new dresses.

Today was a visit to Ugandan Women's Concern Ministry - a small NGO which works with the hardest to reach communities to set up self-reliant groups, on the principle that reaching the women also reaches their children and husbands. A great team of people doing great work with hugely inadequate financial resources. We had another overwhelming welcome from the community we visited and spent a long time with them. We leave tomorrow and fly back overnight. Good job I bought another bag today...

Self Reliant Groups - Uganda Self Reliant Groups - Uganda
11/05/2017

More reporting from the Uganda expedition where we are meeting local Self Reliant Groups and getting and possibly giving inspiration!

9/5/2017

Today we went to three rural communities with another partner organisation BRDC and between us met and talked with 6 different self-reliant groups. They are all organized in a similar way to ours, meeting weekly, saving together and supporting each other, creating an environment which allows them to move towards reaching their potential. We heard so many inspiring testimonials from group members about the way being a member of a group had transformed their lives, and although their context is so different we found much common ground and shared issues, and after such a brief encounter we still felt that we had made new friends. They also gave us more ideas which will help us grow the movement in Wales. We spent some time today with a self-help group in Mwanda - another rural one. We heard some fantastic testimonials and I thought I would write about just a couple of them. Lorna was a roadside seamstress, repairing clothes with a small treadle machine for passers by. She was invited to join the group and found friendship and support there and started saving small amounts - from this she was able to buy more materials and instead of working on the roadside she started to win contracts with schools to make school uniforms.

She also gained a goat kid through the group and the two things have improved her income significantly. She now has plans to get a second machine, train local girls and any group member who is interested and then take on bigger contracts which will employ them all! She also makes her own range of clothes and asked if we could sell it for her in the UK - I'm going to investigate!

Rebecca had a goat through the group, bred it successfully and is aiming to trade in her kids for a cow - and in the longer term wants to buy a motorbike so that her husband can earn an income as a bodaboda rider (like a taxi on a motorbike). She said she was very poor and unconfident and it is the group, especially the elderly women who gave good advice, who have helped her blossom. Great proof of the effectiveness of the groups, transforming the lives of individuals and bringing out the entrepreneur in them!

While we don't expect getting a goat to change lives in the UK (it might though) the principle of little incremental changes doing good and having a wider impact on the community and the economy is one that Purple Shoots embraces. 

More Uganda Expedition news More Uganda Expedition news
10/05/2017

I'm here with a group of ladies from our self-reliant groups and we are meeting people from self-help groups here, building relationships and learning. 

8/5/2017

Our visit today was to the Bufukhula Sismukha Women's Group in Lubaale. This is supported by an NGO called Sharing Opportunities Uganda under the umbrella of CAP in Uganda (the NGO which partners with PONT). We were overwhelmed by their welcome - lots of singing, dancing, celebration and welcome speeches - but what they are doing and achieving here is again inspiring and encouraging. Talking with a small group of them, I heard testimonies from people who had come from nothing, with no hope and self-respect, and gained both, as well as economic stability, through membership of their group. The group is a support group and they are all friends and they all save small amounts of money each week together. From those savings they can borrow to enable them to start small businesses and also to pay school fees etc and to cover emergencies like sickness. Some said that during the recent drought they would have starved if they hadn't been able to draw on the resources of the group. The NGO provides training in a wide range of things for them to help ensure that they succeed - but primarily its aim is to be the catalyst for their independence and sustainability. Although the context is so different, there were some parallels we could draw with what we are trying to achieve in Wales and some encouragements for our biggest problem in growing the movement in Wales which (apart from the benefits system!) is how to reach the most depressed and isolated people, who would gain the most from our groups.

See pictures on our facebook page.facebook.com/purpleshoots/

UGANDA TRIP - FIRST VISITS UGANDA TRIP - FIRST VISITS
07/05/2017

Our trip to Uganda is with some of the members of our self-reliant groups. Our aim is to meet; learn from and build relationships with groups in Uganda.

Our first visit was to the Mbale United Association for Disabled People - this is a self-help group composed of people with disabilities. They are battling against incredible odds - no state support or help of any sort, no wheelchairs but managing on crutches made of broom handles, no resources - and yet we met a group of cheerful, resourceful people who are earning a living specialising in heavy duty canvas type products - tarpaulins, bags, covers for lorries and cars etc. Their products are good and people seek them out for work because of the reputation they have established. They have some impressive contracts - for example supplying the bags which hold equipment and drugs for treating HIV for a large NGO. They said, in answer to one of our questiions "yes we have competition from able-bodied people, but we are the best!" and "Disability is not inability"

Earnings are distributed equally amongst the members of the group. They are succeeding in spite of termites in their building, a stack of machinery which needs repair and parts they can't afford, not enough stock and accessibility issues for many of their members. The fact that they are supporting themselves financially in the face of all that was stunning - and an inspiration to show us what groups working together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and support are capable of.

Uganda Trip - press release Uganda Trip - press release
01/05/2017

South Wales group will learn how Ugandans turn self-reliance into businesses

Members of ground-breaking groups helping South Wales people reach their true potential will be travelling to Uganda in May.

They will be learning how locals there have created businesses which are boosting their incomes and helping their communities.

The self-reliant groups were founded by Pontypridd-based charity and not-for-profit microfinance provider Purple Shoots.

The aim is to help groups of people grow and develop, to discover new skills and talents, to give people confidence, and help them start their own businesses.  Purple Shoots wants to help them generate their own income, and boost their communities at the same time.

The two-week trip which begins on May 4 is being organised by the charity PONT (Partnerships Overseas Networking Trust), an organisation which has forged strong links between Rhondda Cynon Taff and the Mbale area in South East Uganda.

PONT’s aim is to tackle poverty and improve healthcare in the Mbale region by twinning organisations in RCT with their Ugandan counterparts.

Over the past decade, more than 1,000 visits have been made to Mbale by people from RCT thanks to the connections created.

The group travelling to Uganda on May 4 will include:

·        Drom Thomas, aged 42, from Treherbert. She is working with Purple Shoots founder Karen Davies to start a new self-reliant group in Treherbert.

·        Richard French, aged 63, and his wife Chris, aged 58, attend a group in Ystrad, Rhondda, which supports isolated people in the community. They use crafts to develop skills and raise funds to fund their group.

·        Rita Evans, aged 63, and her daughter Sarah Evans, aged 38, who are from the Crafty Buddies group in Swansea. This group funds itself by making craft items together and sells them at craft fairs.

Purple Shoots founder Karen Davies will be joining them.

She said: “Self-reliant groups are more well-established in Uganda. So, we will be learning lessons from them.

“We’re excited to see how self-reliant groups there have developed and how they are flourishing.

“As some members of our group have disabilities, we are also expecting to face logistical challenges travelling around the country. Our members are not daunted by that challenge, though!”

Purple Shoots is covering the cost of Richard and Rita’s trip, as they are carers for Sarah and Chris who have disabilities.

The trip is being arranged by Keith and Susanne Lewis of PONT. The charity is covering all the other costs of the trip, supported by the Wales Africa Fund.

Observations on Self-employment Observations on Self-employment
20/02/2017

When I started Purple Shoots, I had some funds behind me which enabled me to work for over 6 months without drawing a salary from Purple Shoots, whilst I set it up and got it off to a strong start. Then because my husband has a job and we can manage on his salary, I have been able to pay myself at a low level whilst Purple Shoots climbs to financial sustainability, which is our aim.

None of the people who Purple Shoots supports have this luxury. For those who have been unemployed and on benefits (the majority) they will start their businesses with nothing except their own talents and courage and the small loan they get from Purple Shoots. The benefits system ensures that all their savings are gone before they are able to claim anything, and the benefits paid are barely enough to sustain them from week to week, so the chances of them being able to put anything by and save up to start a business are zero. No mainstream lender will support them when they want to start a business – they have no money to put in to match a loan (a normal requirement of many lenders for business), no assets on which to secure a loan and often a poor credit score because sudden loss of earnings (or sudden loss of benefits – a not infrequent occurrence whilst the DWP “reviews” someone’s entitlement) very quickly creates financial difficulties.

So to fight their through the vagaries of the benefits system and all the rejections of mainstream lenders to arrive at the door of Purple Shoots already shows a great deal of determination and self-belief – which begs the question of how many talented people are being wasted in our society because they give up before then and because there are so few organisations like Purple Shoots prepared to help.

Once they have a loan from Purple Shoots and begin their business, unless they have a partner with a job to support them (frequently not the case, especially amongst the young), the business is under pressure almost immediately to deliver them an income. Anyone running their own business knows this is unrealistic. Many people on JSA (Job Seekers’ Allowance) will be transferred to NEA (New Enterprise Allowance) which is the DWP’s attempt to support them. The idea is that it replaces JSA for a short period to allow the business time to develop – however it is immediately up to £10 per week less than JSA (why?) and it only continues at that level for 3 months, then drops away to £33 per week for another 3 months and then stops completely. This is grossly inadequate if there is a real intention to support people out of the benefits system and into self-employment and is well below what is offered in many of our neighbouring European countries.

There are other issues apart from that of a basic income which damage fledgling businesses such as the ones I support.

Many of them will be contractors or suppliers to larger companies. These companies will dictate payment terms which can be 90-120 days or more. For established businesses or people with assets, banks and other finance providers can offer invoice finance to bridge this gap. However for the same reasons my client base cannot access loans from mainstream lenders, they will also be unlikely to succeed in getting an invoice finance arrangement in place. This issue can have serious consequences for a new business.

Most of the smaller businesses supported by Purple Shoots are sole traders. This means that if the business owner is ill or has an accident, he cannot run his business and his income stops immediately. Whilst some of them can get help from a family member or friend, many cannot. For people with established businesses or assets behind them, there is income protection insurance – but few of my clients will qualify for this and if they do, it will be at a high premium which the business cannot afford.

These are just three of the issues which make it very difficult for people at the disadvantaged end of our society to start and succeed with a small business – and ALL of them could be addressed by Government policy. Even increased Government spending on this would in the long run be beneficial to the economy and worth the cost because it would allow these individuals to build profitable businesses, keeping them out of the benefits system and enabling them to contribute to the economy in taxes, provision of employment and local spending power. Using a tool developed by academics and Government Departments for the Responsible Finance Association which takes into account benefits saved, contributions to the economy and negative factors such as displacement, Purple Shoots loans have an impact of almost ten times their value on the Welsh economy because of the businesses they help to create.

It seems that the UK is becoming increasingly an economy where self-employment is only an option for the rich or comfortably off and yet it is a major strength and driver of our national economy. Over half of the jobs created since the crash in 2009 have been in self-employment – figures for those running small businesses in Wales are huge and I believe there are strong cultural factors in Wales which mean that small businesses succeed here. They should be being nurtured. Although this is recognized by the Welsh Government, many of the clients I meet are frustrated by the lack of any support available support to them from any public body (apart from some good support from People Plus, the DWP's contractor), in spite of the rhetoric which would suggest otherwise. I know that policy for business support has recently moved away from these small start-up businesses towards “growth” businesses – i.e. already established ones. Whilst supporting them is great, it seems crazy that help has been withdrawn from those most in need of it.

The RSA and others have done important work on issues around self-employment and I am hoping that their influence together with a groundswell of support from organizations working with new businesses and the businesses themselves will bring about a change so that being self-employed is less of a struggle for those brave enough to do it.

To end on a positive note, Purple Shoots now has several hundred people on its books who have braved all those issues, risked the financial hardship which self-employment often brings at the outset, and created successful small businesses in Wales. Purple Shoots is proud to have been able to provide the finance to enable these courageous, determined people to get started – what they need now is ongoing support from our society and Government to build their resilience.

Purple Shoots at Cardiff Christmas Market Purple Shoots at Cardiff Christmas Market
09/11/2016

 

Purple Shoots has taken a double stall at the Cardiff Christmas market again where we will be selling products by three of our borrowers and five of our self-reliant groups. Find us opposite Howells Store in Cardiff City Centre from November 10th-19th. This year we have:

Smith & Jennings Pottery

Simon has a small factory in Ton Pentre where he makes a range of pots from the smaller ones which you will find on the stall to very large ones. He makes some to order for a number of large companies, including the National Trust, but also has his own unique designs.

Morgan’s Dog Boutique

 

Rhys and Sian run this largely online business from their home in Llantwit Fardre, selling a huge range of dog clothing and offering personalised dog gifts, pet beds, pet carriers, a pet bakery full of doggy treats and lots of other dog accessories,  

Find them at their website www.morgansdogboutique.com

Church Road Confectionery

Based in Tonypandy High Street, this is the place to come for sweet treats and gifts: Welsh made chocolate, fudge, sweets, wedding favours, personalized chocolate bars, much of it made by the business owner Paul Stamps.  A small selection is on the stall – go to his website for more www.churchroadconfectionery.co.uk

 

Crafty Buddies

This is a friendly group of ladies, some of whom have disabilities with a common interest in all craft activities. The group meets weekly in the Community Space atTesco in Fforestfach 10.00am to 12.00 noon on Fridays where they work on a variety of craft projects, sometimes with a tutor and sometimes by sharing their own skills.

They are an independent, self-reliant group committed to meeting together regularly and supporting their members. They raise their own funds and use them to pay for equipment, stock and sometimes to buy in the services of a tutor on particular topics.

New Connections Group

New Connections is a group of ladies from around Ystrad who have come together as a support group, wanting to create a safe place for themselves and to welcome isolated people from their community. They make and sell their craft items want to make the group sustainable so that they can learn new skills together and earn enough funds to run activities and events in their community and to continue to welcome new members.

Recconnect

This group reuse, recycle and renovate to make beautiful items by hand. They are a group of women from different backgrounds who meet in Pontypridd once a week to hone their crafting skills. They have a range of specialities that they teach each other and they try to ensure that every item made is the highest quality.

Theysell jewellery, glassware, knitted toys and homewares at craft fairs around the Welsh Valleys.

Four Seasons Gifts

This is a group of pupils from Ysgol Hen Felin Special School in the Rhondda which produces handmade gifts for selected seasons of the year. This is their first season and they have made a selection of Christmas decorations, reindeer food and decorated glass.

BYC Enterprise

This is a group of pupile from Buarth y Capel Special School who are interested in enterprise. They have made wooden reindeers - each one unique

Putting Putting "service" back into Financial Services
30/01/2016

I recently attended  a meeting of the Financial Inclusion Forum in Canary Wharf in London. It’s a few years since I was there and quite a few more since I was a regular worker in London’s financial hub. The contrast between walking through the sumptuous and glittering precincts and walkways of this in many ways beautiful part of London and my usual haunts in the narrow streets of the Welsh Valleys could not have been starker. When I think about it, I am not surprised that often the institutions represented in Canary Wharf struggle to understand the lives of the people I serve, many of whom fail to get any form of funding from them, some of them struggling even to open an account.

In a recent article in the RSA Journal, Jennifer Morgan and Chris Hewett point out that “the predominant purpose of the finance system has become self-serving” rather than serving us and our environment – the sector “presents itself as a sector that is maximising profits for the UK economy” when perhaps an alternative view might be that it should serve the needs of the economy and society. Morgan and Hewett suggest that we should stop seeing the sector “as an ‘industry’ whose profits are the key driver of the UK economy.” They quote OECD research which has shown that “economies where finance is a high proportion of GDP show slower total economic growth and higher levels of inequality. Too much finance can be bad for a nation’s economy and society.”

Our financial system is controlled by a small and powerful minority. The four largest banks account for over 85% of business current accounts, 90% of business loans and 77% of the UK personal current accounts. This amounts to a serious lack of choice and makes the whole system vulnerable, as was demonstrated in the crash a few years ago. Since 2008 there has been growth in the alternative finance sector  - peer to peer lending, crowdfunding, ethical banks and lenders like Purple Shoots. However many of the small lenders are undercapitalized and struggle to meet the huge demand that confronts them and also struggle to get potential funders, even Government, to take them seriously and to recognize the value of the services they offer in providing funding to underserved markets for whom the only other options are expensive “payday” or even unregulated lenders.

Purple Shoots and other members of the Responsible Finance Association have a growing body of proof that lending to individuals and companies typically overlooked by mainstream lenders is NOT doomed to failure. There are some businesses which struggle, but there are also those who struggle amongst the “lower risk” borrowers served by mainstream lenders- but the majority survive. I can point to many successes from my relatively small client base of around 200 borrowers – individuals who have started with nothing apart from their own ability and determination and a small loan from me and have created strong and vibrant businesses. The economic impact of just the last 12 months of Purple Shoots lending (£217,000) is more than 10 times the amount invested at £3.69million.  It is time that the alternative finance sector had real recognition for the economic and social impact it has through offering financial “services” which are focussed on the communities they serve rather than on profit.

Pope Francis: “By itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion…the present world system is certainly unsustainable.”

Ref: “Broken Instruments” by Jennifer Morgan and Chris Hewett

2016 Winter Newsletter 2016 Winter Newsletter
27/01/2016

Welcome to the Winter newsletter which is reporting on activity since July 2015 – another very busy period with lots to tell.

Purple Shoots was set up as a not-for-profit microfinance institution which means it provides small loans to individuals trying to start or run a small business who cannot get funding from anywhere else – the aim is to encourage economic development in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales through enabling people struggling with unemployment to set up their own business. In addition to the individual loans, Purple Shoots is also helping people further away from self-employment through self-reliant groups- getting small groups of people together and helping them rebuild confidence, identify skills and develop income generating ideas.

Purple Shoots has now made a total of 195 small loans since it started at the end of 2013. Some of these loans have been follow on loans to early borrowers, but a total of 145 new businesses have been started and over 150 people have been helped out of unemployment. Over £425,000 has been invested through the loans and the economic impact of these, calculated using a recognized tool developed by the Responsible Finance Association, is more than 10 times this figure at over £5million. These are a few quotes from some of the borrowers:

"PURPLE shoots is giving me the start I need its fantastic I would recommend you to anyone thankyou”

“We’d both like to thank you once again for making it possible to make a start with our businesses and a more meaningful and positive life.”

“I’m thankful someone out there can help.  this is going to give me a stepping stone to something fantastic. You are a dream maker.”

An increasing number of the loans have now been fully repaid – either early or having gone the full term of the loan and met every repayment. This means that those funds can be reinvested in new loans.

 

 

     

 

    

 

Some of the recent borrowers: Lynne Maplanka, nail and beauty specialist in Llanelli, Daryl Evans and the team at Cylent Beatz, a music production company in Aberdare;  Richard Nock, photographer and printer in Pontyclun, RCT; Andrew Carruthers, builder in Aberdare; Martin Foley, stamp dealer Ponytypridd;

The demand for loans is still extremely high and we are currently focussed on trying to increase the capital base of Purple Shoots so that we can meet it. Donations from supporters are always welcome and we can still offer Community Investment Tax Relief plus a good interest rate to anyone who would like to lend money to Purple Shoots for a 3-5 year period. Some of our early investors under this scheme have been receiving their first interest payments. If you would like to know more about investing for social impact with Purple Shoots, have a look at our website http://www.purpleshoots.org/get-involved.asp#lending.

Self-reliant Groups

Key features of SRGs are:

-        Self-reliance, drawing on the group’s own strengths and skills, networks and connections (and helping members realize they have these!)

-        Solidarity – mutual support provided by the group in which trust and friendships grow

-        Micro-enterprise – getting to the point of starting a small business, either collectively as a group or individually with the support of the other group members.

The aim is to help people grow or rebuild their confidence, discover their skills and talents, grow new ones, develop income generating ideas and even start their own small businesses or get back into the workplace. They are all about helping people reach their potential – Purple Shoots believes that everyone has potential and needs an opportunity to reach it.

There are a small number of groups running well and some are about to start this month.

Before Christmas, Purple Shoots took on a double stall at the Cardiff Christmas Market for 10 days – this was for borrowers and for any of the groups to test trade ideas. In total 6 businesses and 2 groups had products on the stall and all of them did well. A further unexpected but welcome outcome was that a young lady who we took on for 4 weeks from the Jobcentre on work experience to help with the promotion and administration of the stall, got a full-time job afterwards with one of our contacts.

 

 

There is a very exciting opportunity to restart clothing manufacture in the Valleys. We have linked up with two fashion designers who have developed an ethical brand and a range of clothing and they are committed to manufacturing in Wales. We are intending to start with some small self-reliant groups making clothing on a small scale and then expand the group numbers, co-ordinated by a central organization. We have begun promoting this, looking for ex-Burberry employees who could spearhead groups – we ran a small event just before Christmas in the ex-Burberry factory. The next step is to run some small workshops in two or three local communities which will rekindle confidence in skills and hopefully enthuse people to move forward. The first two will be in Merthyr (run by another Purple Shoots borrower who has a small sewing business) and in Treherbert.

From Foodbank to Funded:

The value of working in collaboration with other organisations has been demonstrated very clearly recently in the stories of two borrowers. 

Purple Shoots has an office in St Catherine’s Church in the centre of Pontypridd. The church is a distribution point for Foodbank and also runs a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Job Club. Church members involved in these two things were concerned that whilst they were good things to do in themselves, in isolation they couldn’t effect any lasting change on the people who came to them.

So together, we have developed a more holistic approach, creating a complete pathway for individuals who need help to take the next step to improve their lives. It includes:

·        help for a crisis (Foodbank),

·        help with looking forward, and training and mentoring (Jobs Club and ongoing support from the network of helpers, including volunteering opportunities)

·        help with income generating ideas (through one to one sessions or via self-reliant groups)

·        and help to start a business (through Purple Shoots.)

As a result, one of my recent loans was to a young man who originally came for a Foodbank parcel. The church nurtured him through the Job Club, rebuilding confidence, helping him with some specific issues, giving him some work experience in the church’s cafe and finally helping him identify what he would really like to do and bringing him to Purple Shoots for a very small loan to start it up. He is now well on the way to independence from the benefit system and to being a successful business owner.

A second loan in the same week was to a lady who has also been supported by the church. She had come through the Job Club, had a small loan from Purple Shoots and now has her own little business with a growing customer base in the town centre.

Thank you to everyone involved and to everyone who takes an interest in Purple Shoots

 

Karen Davies

 

 

 

Why I do it - a personal note Why I do it - a personal note
14/01/2016

 

Although there are many economic, social and moral reasons for running a microfinance organisation specifically for unemployed people, people from disadvantaged or financially excluded groups and people at the poorer end of society, this Blog is more personal and sets out the reasons behind why I started Purple Shoots and what motivates me to get out of bed and launch into another day of work.

 

Whilst Purple Shoots is wide open to helping people of all races, culture and systems of belief, the fact is that I am a Christian and my primary reason for establishing Purple Shoots was based on my belief that the God who I follow is deeply concerned about the world He created and in particular, is concerned about poverty and injustice.

 

According to the Gospels, the first words Jesus said when he began His public ministry were a quote from the Old Testament book of Isaiah in Luke 4v21:

 

          The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

          because He has anointed me

          to preach good news to the poor.

          He has sent me to proclaim freedom for prisoners

          and recovery of sight for the blind

          to release the oppressed

          to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

 

Jesus stated right at the start of His ministry His concern for the disadvantaged in society. In fact the Bible is full of teaching on wealth and poverty – it is one of the most central themes in it. In the New Testament, there are more than 500 verses of direct teaching on the subject (I didn’t count them up – the numbers are from someone else’s research) – that is one in every 16 – and that doesn’t include indirect teaching from New Testament doctrines and the actions of Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus talked more about wealth and poverty than almost any other subject. One in every 10 verses in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is about the rich and the poor; in Luke the ratio is one to 7. The subject also pervades the Old Testament – some suggest it is the second most common topic found there. The book of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus, was written at a time when the nation of Israel was comfortably prosperous but had allowed a growing divide between rich and poor, a desperately unequal society, rather like the UK today – and is full of exhortations from God for the leaders to do something about it.

 

Here are a couple of the many hundreds of verses in the Old Testament about our responsibility to do something about poverty and injustice in our societies:

 

Micah 6v8

And what does Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

 

Zechariah 7v9-10

This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.”

 

I could go on – but the unavoidable conclusion is that money, possessions and the poor is hardly a casual concern for God – and as His people it can’t be a casual concern for Christians either.

 

I have always had a strong awareness whenever I look at the issues around me that God is saying (to me – but not just to me) “I gave you the responsibility …do something.” And so Purple Shoots is what I have done. But not without a number of “miracles” on the way – impossible obstacles overcome, finance from unexpected sources, support from a myriad of good people – all indicating to me that this is something God is in, and that is what drives me forward. There are disappointments, frustrations, set backs – and sometimes stress and exhaustion - but the demand is huge and the successes are great to see so there is a pressing need to keep going. The secret seems to be to hold onto the vision and to hold onto the God who cares about the people I’m seeking to help more than I can.

Why Self-employment - some thoughts based on the Purple Shots experience so far Why Self-employment - some thoughts based on the Purple Shots experience so far
13/01/2016

There was an article in the Welsh press recently reporting a decline in the number of business start-ups throughout the UK. There were two possible reasons suggested for this. The first, by Lloyds Bank was that it was a result of a decline in the economy and the second, by Professor Dylan Jones-Evans was that it reflected an upturn in the economy since people are driven to self-employment when there are no alternatives.

Whilst there is probably truth in both these positions, they do not reflect the complexity behind decisions to become self-employed and so I thought I would contribute some views based on the Purple Shoots experience.

Purple Shoots offers loans to individuals starting a business, usually as sole traders or partnerships, who struggle to get funding from other sources. Most of our clients were unemployed before they got their loans, but I would disagree with the argument that they are driven to self-employment because of a lack of other alternatives. It does appear to be the case that some Job Centre advisors may push unemployed people towards self-employment, but without other drivers to pursue it, in my experience, it is unlikely that these people will see it through and actually start a business.

By the time potential clients reach us, they have already had a number of push backs, funding refused etc, so to keep going they have demonstrated great tenacity and perseverance – necessary qualities for new business owners. Having to live on benefits they have also developed skill at stretching limited funds and identifying priorities for spending and delaying non-essentials – more important skill for running a business. They have also, when in work, noticed mistakes their employer is making or ways of doing things better or opportunities in the market to exploit – things on which to base their business. Coupled with that is their own knowledge of their community where the business will be based and their own contacts. The decision to go into self-employment will take all this into account.

Some of the reasons given to me for wanting to start up include:

-        It is a culmination of a long held dream or desire to do their business

-        It will enable them to work around a disability or caring responsibility

-        They want to make a difference to their community – a business to revitalize it and provide more jobs

-        They don’t want to rely on or live on benefits.

All these seem to me to be far more positive than simply a response to an economic situation – whether it is a downturn or an upturn. The reality, certainly for the Valleys of South Wales where the majority of our clients are based, is that there have not been the economic fluctuations experienced elsewhere in the UK. There was no boom and no real bust – people have been coping with a pretty bleak economic outlook for years and nothing in 2016 has changed that either way. The businesses we are supporting are started by individuals trying to change things for themselves and their communities in the face of difficult circumstances and lots of negative attitudes towards them – and they deserve admiration and support. Luckily, there was no decline in their numbers last year.

Why Self-employment - some thoughts based on the Purple Shots experience so far Why Self-employment - some thoughts based on the Purple Shots experience so far
13/01/2016

There was an article in the Welsh press recently reporting a decline in the number of new businesses during 2016  and two possible reasons for this were suggested, One, by Lloyds Bank, proposed that the decline reflected a loss of confidence in the economy and the other, by Professor Dylan Jones-Evans was that it might reflect an upturn in the economy since people went into self-employment when there were no or few opportunities for paid employment, so that a decline in new businesses meant that there were more employment opportunities and therefore the economy was on the up.

Although there is probably truth in both positions, I think that they do not reflect the complexity behind self-employment and the mulltiple reasons behind decisions to start your own business, so I thought I would add in thoughts from the Purple Shoots experience. This is obviously only based on the several hundred clients we have helped so far, and is limited to Wales, however it may offer some helpful insights into the Welsh position. 

Purple Shoots provides loan funding to individuals setting up businesses, usually as sole traders or partnerships, who struggle to get funding from any other source. The majority of our clients were unemployed before they took out their loan - however I would dispute the claim that they are driven into self-employment because there are no other options. It is certainly true that many Job Centre advisors appear to push people who have been unemployed for any length of time towards self-employment but that is not a recipe for success and in my experience most people who are pushed in that direction who don't otherwise have the drive to pursue it will not in the end start their own business.

By the time they reach me with their proposals for a small business, my clients have had to deal with many push backs which would dishearten all but the most determined - so most of them show characteristics of tenacity and perseverence, which are very needed characteristics for someone running their own business. Having tried to live on benefits, they are also skilled at making small amounts of money strecth as far as possible, and at identifying priorities for spending and delaying non-essentials - more useful skills for new business owners. Many have also noted, whilst working for others, ways of doing things better or mistakes that their employer makes which could be avoided, or perhaps gaps in the market where they are working. The businesses they start tend to be small and locally based - and because they are local people running them, they know what the opportunities are and have the contacts to exploit them. 

The reasons these small businesses start cannot be explained simply in economic terms, as a response to a lack of employment opportunity - this does not do justice to the people starting them.  Much of the Valleys areas of South Wales, where the majority of my clients are based, have not experienced the shifts in the economy experienced elsewhere - there was no boom and the bust changed little - people have been coping with a pretty bleak economic outlook for years and nothing in 2016 changed that much either way. If there has been an overall decline in business start ups, more studies need to be done to establish why. There has been a significant decline in the last 12 months in the provision of free advice and support from the Welsh Government (whose focus has switched to "growth" businesses) and also from some local councils who no longer have budget to offer business help. I wonder if this could be a factor.

Purple Shoots has not seen a decline in demand for its loans to assist start-ups during the last year.  Some frequent reasons for starting a business which people have given me are:

- it is the culmination of a long held desire or dream to do this particular thing and to be self-employed

- they want to do something positive for their community, creating a business that will revitalize it and create more jobs

- they need to be able to work around a disability or a caring responsibility

- they do not want to rely on or live on benefits

These seem to me to be more positive than simply responding or not to changes in the economy.

The RSA have done some excellent studies on self-employment and it is worth having a look, especially at the 2014 study "Salvation in a start-up? The origins and nature of the self-employment boom" .

 

From Foodbank to Funded From Foodbank to Funded
30/11/2015

Two recent Purple Shoots borrowers have proved the model we have been developing for working with local churches to combat poverty. It draws on the great things that churches have to offer – a pool of skilled and well connected people, especially amongst their retired members, buildings in the centre of communities, and a commitment to respect and help those who are struggling. I hope that this success will encourage other churches to join in.

Purple Shoots has an office in St Catherine’s Church in the centre of Pontypridd. The church is a distribution point for Foodbank and also runs a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Job Club. Church members involved in these two things were concerned that whilst they were good things to do in themselves, in isolation they couldn’t effect any lasting change on the people who came to them.

So together, we have developed a more holistic approach, creating a complete pathway for individuals who need help to take the next step to improve their lives. It includes:

  • ·        help for a crisis (Foodbank),
  • ·        help with looking forward, and training and mentoring (Jobs Club and ongoing support from          the network of helpers, including volunteering opportunities)
  • ·        help with income generating ideas (through one to one sessions or via self-reliant groups)
  • ·        and help to start a business (through Purple Shoots.)

Last week one of my loans was to a young man who originally came for a Foodbank parcel. The church nurtured him through the Job Club, rebuilding confidence, helping him with some specific issues, giving him some work experience in the church’s cafe and finally helping him identify what he would really like to do and bringing him to Purple Shoots for a very small loan to start it up. He is now well on the way to independence from the benefit system and to being a successful business owner.

A second loan in the same week was to a lady who has also been supported by the church. She had come through the Job Club, had a small loan from Purple Shoots and now has her own little business with a growing customer base in the town centre.

Microfinance like this works!

Purple Shoots at the Cardiff Christmas Market Purple Shoots at the Cardiff Christmas Market
12/11/2015

Purple Shoots is running a double stall at the Cardiff Christmas Market! We will be showcasing the amazing products of some of our incredibly talented borrowers and self-reliant groups.

From Thursday 12 November, when the Christmas lights go on in Cardiff, until Saturday 21 November, we’ll be on Trinity Street, outside House of Fraser.

http://www.cardiffchristmasmarket.com/

For Christmas shopping that combines supporting brilliant craftspeople from the Valleys and South Wales, beautiful one-off pieces and boosting your local economy, come and pay us a visit!

Whose work are we promoting?

Wooden Wonders Wales

Wooden Wonders Wales

Rachel and her husband offer custom-made pet furniture and furniture for the home - From upcycled one off pieces to bespoke creations from scratch.

Find them on Facebook

 

http://www.karosajewellery.co.uk/uploads/2/3/7/3/23738461/4534899.jpg

Karosa Jewellery

Karin makes beautiful handmade silver jewellery to her own unique design. Most of her pendants rings and earrings are made in 100% UK recycled sterling silver. She also runs workshops – including design and make your own wedding rings.

Find Karosa on her website http://www.karosajewellery.co.uk/

 

 

Smith & Jennings Pottery

Simon has a small factory in Ton Pentre where he produces a high quality range of handmade pots from the smaller ones which you will find on the stall to very large ones. He makes some to order for a number of large companies, including the National Trust, but also has his own unique designs.

You can contact Simon via his email Smithspottery@hotmail.co.uk

 

Heart of a Phoenix Jewellery

Sally designs and makes her own unique jewellery, working from her home in Treherbert, with the help and support of her partner.  

Find Sally on Facebook

 

 

 

 

The Sewing Room

Nicola is based in Merthyr Tydfil and opened The Sewing Room in June 2015. She offers bespoke embroidery, for uniforms or individual items, including designing and digitise logos, and personalising almost any item. She is a qualified seamstress and offers an alterations service and she also offers sewing classes.

Find Nicola on Facebook

 

Re-Connect Craft Co-operative

Re-Connect is a cooperative group of crafters from around Pontypridd. They have come together to hone their crafting and to share their skills, as well as to build the confidence of group members. They are interested in reusing and recycling to create individual, handcrafted objects of beauty. They sell at many local craft fairs and use some of their proceeds to support local community initiatives.

Find Re-Connect on Facebook

 

New Connections Group

New Connections is a group of ladies from around Ystrad who have come together as a support group, wanting to create a safe place for themselves and to welcome isolated people from their community. They want to make the group sustainable so that they can learn new skills together and earn enough funds to run activities and events in their community.

 

 

Morgan’s Dog Boutique

 

Rhys and Sian run this largely online business from their home in Llantwit Fardre,selling a huge range of dog clothing and offering personalised dog gifts, pet beds, pet carriers, a pet bakery full of doggy treats and lots of other dog

accessories,  

 

http://www.morgansdogboutique.com/ekmps/shops/dogboutique/resources/design/logo.png

 

Find them at their website www.morgansdogboutique.com

The Benefits System - punishing the unemployed and low paid The Benefits System - punishing the unemployed and low paid
27/10/2015

There is a lot in the Press at the moment about the proposed changes to Working Tax Credits and other proposed cuts to benefits – so I thought I would add to the debate with some observations of my own.

A major issue which has been largely ignored by the Press (but not, I am happy to say, by the Labour Party in their recent conference) is the impact of cuts to Working Tax Credits on the self-employed. The Government justifies its cuts in Working Tax Credits by saying it will be offset by rises in the living wage – however, self-employed people, certainly in the early stages of their business, are not in a position to give themselves pay rises. Many of my clients starting out in their new businesses can only survive in the first few months because their income is supplemented by Working Tax Credits. This is only temporary and drops away as businesses grow – but without this, many new small businesses will be put in jeopardy and many people considering self-employment will be forced to abandon their plans unless they have a cushion of cash to see them through the early months. This will stifle the economic recovery in the UK which has largely been built by the growth in small businesses – and will leave self-employment as an option only for the relatively wealthy.

The majority of my clients are on benefits when I meet them (and are keen to get off them – forget the media image of people milking the system – I have not met a single person doing that) and their new businesses are a means to them getting off benefits and earning an independent income. They have a very mixed experience of the Benefits System and I think many are too afraid to complain about the way they are treated for fear of sanctions. I see a number of issues repeatedly so it is worth mentioning them:

  • Less and less time is available to individuals in Jobcentres so that individual advice on a career path or options for finding work just doesn’t seem to happen in many cases.
  • Many people are sanctioned – that means their benefits are stopped for a month or more leaving them penniless – for missing or turning up late for appointments. Often this occurs for legitimate reasons – for example many are dependent on public transport to get them to a Jobcentre which can let them down – but no excuses seem to be acceptable
  • Many people are sanctioned because they haven’t been doing sufficient job searches on the DWP system. This ignores the fact that there are large numbers without Internet connectivity who must therefore find a computer somewhere to use and with declining numbers of libraries, this is increasingly difficult. It also ignores the fact that many are not IT literate and need help with the DWP Job search system. It is also questionable as to how effective searching online for jobs actually is and whether forcing people to spend hours and hours every week doing it is a good use of their time – there are instances of people who have made hundreds of applications this way and not had any response from any of them. No one working with the unemployed thinks this is a helpful thing to do – so why make it mandatory?
  • Many people on JSA are sent on work experience or courses which bear no relation to their skills or aspirations – a complete waste of everyone’s time – and whilst doing these they are still expected to sign on and do their job searching which must compromise their ability to give 100% to their work experience – hence the reluctance of some employers to offer meaningful experience
  • Benefits are sometimes reviewed – especially for people on ESA – and this means that payments are stopped whilst this happens – there seems to be no understanding of people who have to live from week to week without any reserves.

One of my co-workers recently said in exasperation “The system is not helping the unemployed – it is punishing them for not having a job.”

Summer 2015 Newsletter Summer 2015 Newsletter
17/07/2015

Welcome to the summer newsletter which is reporting on activity since January.

Incorporated in July 2013, Purple Shoots is now two years old. It was able to start lending at the end of October 2013 when it got its Consumer Credit Licence. Only one loan was completed before the end of the year so all the activity has been in 2014 and 2015 and loan numbers have been growing steadily month by month.

Purple Shoots was set up as a not-for-profit microfinance institution which means it seeks to provide small loans to individuals trying to start or run a small business who cannot get funding from anywhere else – the aim is to encourage economic development in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales through enabling people struggling with unemployment to set up their own business. In addition to the individual loans, Purple Shoots is also helping people further away from self-employment through self-reliant groups- getting small groups of people together and helping them rebuild confidence, identify skills and develop income generating ideas.

In 2014, Purple Shoots made a total of 91 small loans to 81 different individuals (a few have had follow on loans) 66 of whom were unemployed before they had the loan.  Those figures have now increased to 145 small loans to 40 more individuals (plus some follow on loans) of whom 32 were unemployed before they had their funds. That means that in 18 months Purple Shoots has helped almost 100 people out of unemployment and has helped start or grow 121 businesses. There are also two new self-reliant groups running, one in Pontypridd and one in Ystrad Rhondda.

There have been more great success stories – here are a few:

 

Jon Griffiths

Jon Griffiths set up “Chillit” as a fridge repair and maintenance business. He had had a similar business in the past with his brother but abandoned it when his brother and then his sister-in-law both became seriously ill and died. Following their loss he suffered from depression for more than a year and his own finances reached a very low ebb. He recovered and decided to start again but by then, he had acquired a poor credit score and he could not get funding from anyone – just for a van and some marketing to get back off the ground. Purple Shoots was able to help. That was nearly 18 months ago. He has grown the business and now has a premises in Blaenavon. He is accredited for fridge dismantling and looking to get contracts from manufacturers and councils to do this and is thinking of taking on staff.

 

Robin Jones

Robin has set up a small gym in Merthyr Tydfil, aiming to provide affordable fitness options to the local population. He also wants to show those with addiction issues how to use fitness to break free from those addictions. As a younger man, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol and struggled to get himself clean – but he did it using fitness training and his own willpower with some good support and has set up his business to help others to do the same. He has written a book about this and in it he says: “I want to show people that you can get up off the floor and turn your life around if you really want to…it’s my intention…to make my life something I can be proud of and which can provide a life story for my own little boys.”

 

Leanne Lewis

I’m including her for the sheer genius of her business name – The Wench with the Wrench. She is a lady plumber and handyman (or handywoman)– well able to hold her own in a male dominated space, aiming particularly at vulnerable customers who may feel more comfortable with a lady in their home than a man. She is so successful she has more work than she can handle and is looking for a plumber’s mate.

 

Laura Ryan

A North Wales investment – in fact based in the village next to the home of Purple Shoots advisor Peter Saunders. She took over an old closed village school and completely refurbished it to turn it into a lovely nursery for children up to school age and an after school club for older ones. She had some of her own funds to put in but not enough and could not raise financial support for the last stage. She opened almost fully booked for the term ahead. She is bottom left in this photo- and the rest are the team of staff she has employed.

 

Other Highlights so far this year:

 

  • A seminar on microfinance and self-reliant groups in conjunction with the Evagelical Alliance forWales aimed at churches, encouraging them to get involved as good sources of mentors for borrowers and facilitators and members of self-reliant groups. Speakers included Noel Matthias from Wevolution in Scotland and Rob Parsons, Chief Executive of Care for the Family. Many useful links were made as a result of this which we have been following up. It looks like some more self-relint groups will be starting soon as a result.

 

  • Attending the self-reliant group celebration in Scotland, meeting members of the Glasgow groups and being inspired by them:

 

  • Presenting to the South Wales and North Wales xenos business angels network

 

  • Continued investment from investors taking advantage of Community Investment Tax Relief – an unusual tax relief only available through organisations like Purple Shoots who are members of the CDFA and are investing in deprived areas. This means that anyone investing in Purple Shoots via a loan can gain not only interest payments on their investment but also 25% tax relief over 5 years on the amount they invest. The first investor under this scheme invested in November and others have followed. If you are interested in this, there are some more details on the website or please contact me directly.

 

  • A further grant from The Fairwood Trust and one from the Community Foundation in Wales

 

  • Gaining some brilliant volunteer mentors to help and support borrowers

 

Thank you to everyone involved and to everyone who takes an interest in Purple Shoots

 

Karen Davies

Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Investing - guest blog by Martin Williams Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Investing - guest blog by Martin Williams
18/05/2015

Beyond chequebook CSR

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens to unprecedented levels – we unashamedly tolerate the need for food banks in the UK in the 21st century – business is frantically searching for attention grabbing brand differentiation to combat ever-greater competitive pressures. For over 50 years one way that businesses have attempted to differentiate is through the auspices of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).In parallel, we are now seeing the emergence the social venture economy that is spawning profitable hybrid enterprises that trade for social good, driven by a new breed of social entrepreneurs.

When Jamie Oliver stretched his brand into the social venture arena with Jamie’s fifteen thirteen years ago, you would have been forgiven for thinking that a new, innovative way of delivering social value beyond the norms of conventional CSR was born.

What is staggering is how few enlightened entrepreneurs have taken up the mantle and followed suit by leveraging their core brand to make social impact, and embraced the concept of Corporate Social Investment (CSI).  As far as I can see, Jamie’s fifteen is the only social venture in the UK borne out of a core brand and operating in the same space, and that was created way back in 2002!  fifteen is just one of Jamie Oliver’s strategies (school dinners captured the public imagination) to endorse the business as a brand with a mission, and consumers just love a compelling story.

Before you point out that fifteen was originally set up as a charity, that takes nothing away from its rightful place as an enterprise first and foremost, borne out of the mother brand, and before the term social venture was coined, and before the words social enterprise became part of our everyday vocabulary. Only the London restaurant is part of the Jamie Oliver empire, both Cornwall and Amsterdam are independent, and this proves the theory of scalability through spreading the idea, and if proof were needed, just goes to show how powerful brands can be.

The lack of benign plagiarism of the idea is even more of a mystery given the potential win-win-win benefits of core business enhancement, shareholder value, and social impact generated through this enlightened approach, not to mention recruitment attraction and the added-value corporate growth dimension.

Corporates entertain the social agenda for a variety of reasons:

  • They may have a strong social ethos and believe that they have a responsibility beyond the desire to enhance purely bottom line performance.
  • They may reluctantly have to because their customers demand it, particularly those supplying to the public sector.
  • They are smart enough to recognise that it’s good for business.

Whichever, it doesn’t matter why, it is much more important how.

Of course, it’s easy to entertain the notion of CSR, and since its inception in the 1960s we’ve witnessed dozens of ways of being seen to be a responsible business, from being nice to employees, recruitment diversity, being kind to the environment, community initiatives of every imaginable dimension and charitable donations.

Yet in over 50 years, even accounting for triple bottom line scenarios, and Porter’s Creating Shared Value paper in 2011, we’ve seen very little in the way of disruptive change.

Too few CSR initiatives promote the concept of self-reliance, of giving people the tools to create their own solutions. What is clear is that there is little in the way of evolution out there, it needs brave, enlightened change-makers to do something radically different to change the status quo.

Many of these so-called CSR initiatives by corporates are still no more than ‘paint the community centre’ projects, which bear no resemblance to the notion of investment and provide no sustainable solutions, doing little other than stroking the ego and ‘ticking the box’.

Even worse are the transparent marketing initiatives, dressed up as CSR, generating cheap publicity in the name of caring, responsible business.

However, hidden in the depths of many private sector organisations lies an inherent desire to go beyond the rhetoric of conventional CSR, by creating social value directly through appropriate investment, rather than through arms length charitable donations that ‘tick the box, now let’s get on with the day job.’

Enlightened leaders recognise that they have the capacity, capability and connectivity to add real value to the social venture economy, to mobilise their own valuable resources to make sustainable change.

This is particularly true of entrepreneur and privately owned family businesses that want to put something back into the community, and more importantly have the decision making power to act quickly, without getting tangled up in the intrigue and politics that hinder many of our larger publicly quoted businesses.

The view held in some quarters, and in particular by eminent American economists such as Milton Friedman, that CSR distracts from business’ prime economic role, no longer holds any credence.

There is good news. There are some great examples of true impact businesses, with major brands such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite funding young aspiring entrepreneurs on a global scale, and promoting NOTS, the African initiative, one of the few to take a holistic view of environmental and social issues.

Marks and Spencer has been engaged in their Plan A initiative since 2007, a major project with over 100 commitments dedicated to environmental impact and charitable donations, although perhaps dumbed down a little with one of the latest initiatives involving staff cleaning beaches.

Timpsons is another great example of a business that takes its social responsibilities seriously, with the Chef’s Academy on Anglesey and the ex prisoners Academy programme, just two of its many innovative direct impact initiatives.

Timpsons has recruited 93 ex offenders direct from prison in the last year.  61% of all offenders return to prison, whilst only 17% with jobs return to prison. The Timpson re-offend rate is a miserly 3%, just one of their impressive social impact statistics.

The Jamie’s fifteen model takes this laudable approach just one step further, and illustrates how entrepreneurs and business owners can create and support their own sustainable social ventures in line with core business, by creating subsidiaries that operate in the core business space but with social impact objectives.

It is a paradox that the social venture economy in the UK, led by the social enterprise movement, and apart from a few well known names such as Big Issue and the Eden Project, is comprised almost entirely of micro-businesses that lack resource, and in many cases, business expertise. They certainly lack investment.

In a parallel universe, the private sector, awash with resource and know how, in too many cases follows the traditional CSR formula of giving, fostering a dependency, unsustainability culture, contra to their best intentions.

What is certain is that we need a new narrative as organisations frantically search for differentiation, a new disruptive energy beyond the narrow confines of out-dated thinking.  Sustainable solutions to many of our social challenges can only be attained through a collaborative approach across the private and social economy sectors, not with them operating in silos with conflicting agendas and misaligned objectives.

In turn, sustainable business can only be accomplished through enterprise and trade, and Jamie’s fifteenprovides a blueprint for collaborative engagement with the social venture economy, through enterprise investment, way beyond the limited horizons of conventional chequebook CSR.  As Banksy said, “I don’t want coins, I want change”.

Tex Gunning, CEO of TNT Express, explicitly understands the notion:

“If a few of us can prove that it makes good business sense not just to be socially responsible but to make a serious social mission intrinsic to one’s business, then this is going to be written about, studied, and publicized, because nothing is transferred faster than a success story in business. So I am very optimistic that if a few businesses can set an example here, we can make a tipping point out of it.”

Excuse the intentional pun, but the ‘bottom line’ is that there is a huge, untapped opportunity for the private sector to create, incubate, foster, mentor and invest in the social venture economy, bringing about collaborative, joined up sustainable solutions.

The big win of course is that by taking the Corporate Social Investment path, smart people will not only want to buy from you, but they will also want to work for you, to be part of an innovative organisation that takes its social responsibilities seriously and integrates the business into every day life, believing in and practising the concept of social intrapreneurship. They want not only the chance to contribute directly but also meaningful personal development opportunities way beyond having a day off to paint the fence of the local retirement home.

© Martin Williams May 2015

Businesses supported by Purple Shoots Businesses supported by Purple Shoots
14/04/2015

Who are the Purple Shoots Borrowers?

I am often asked what sort of businesses receive investment from Purple Shoots so I have done an analysis of the first 100 borrowers below to give some idea. Categorizing is hard so note that:

Personal services includes: hairdressers, beauty therapists, personal trainers, a dentist, childcare, cleaning companies

Miscellaneous includes a theatre company, a company working with disabled children, a fisherman etc

Construction includes: builders, plumbers, carpenters, painters and decorators, gardeners, handymen etc

Training and IT include web-based businesses, computer repair companies, business services companies etc

Recycling includes scrap metal dealers, fridge repairs, second hand furniture, furniture repair, clothing recyclers

Of the total borrowers (100 individuals), 43 are women and 78  were unemployed until they took out the loan. Age range is very wide with no dominant age group – 24 are aged under 30. They are located throughout Wales, but the majority are in the South East, mainly the Valleys (67).

Self-employment and Microbusinesses - transforming the UK Economy Self-employment and Microbusinesses - transforming the UK Economy
23/02/2015

With falling living standards, high levels of in-work poverty and increasing inequalities, there is a quiet transformation going on in the UK economy which is changing many people’s lives for the better and challenging some of the dominant economic standpoints – the growth in self-employment. In the first of three reports on research by the RSA and Etsy, the RSA has revealed some surprising results, and challenges some of the popular myths.

Some interesting figures:

–        There are 600,000 more microbusinesses (defined as employing 1-9 people) in existence in the UK than when the recession began in 2008, and 40% more than there were in 2000. All other business types have experienced static or negative growth.

–        I in 7 of the UK workforce now self-employed – 15% of the total workforce. If current trends continue, this will be 1 in 6 in 10 years’ time.

–        Microbusinesses account for 95% of all private sector businesses and one third of private sector employment

–        Since the 1970s there have been 820,000 new microbusinesses

–        Self-employment accounts for nearly 90% of all new jobs added since 2008

–        The biggest increase has been in one person businesses which have grown in number by 60% since 2000.

–        In some demographic groups this trend is particularly strong – the over 50s, the young, women and immigrant groups.

–        Geographic spread is NOT London-centric – in fact in percentage terms, growth is higher in the regions

The RSA research explored (and is still exploring) reasons behind this. Their research identified and discredited some popular myths:

  1. Myth One – people are self-employed because they can’t get work and so have no choice. In fact only 27% of newly self-employed people since 2008 were unemployed
  2. Myth Two – the self-employed are largely low-skilled odd-jobbers. In fact the biggest growth has been amongst professional services
  3. Myth Three – it’s a cyclical blip caused by the recession. In fact self-employment has been increasing steadily since well before the recession

The findings seem to suggest that the reasons behind the shift are many – linked to demography (ageing population more likely to start a business), new technology which is reducing the cost of setting up and running a business and a shift in values, away from materialist ones towards a greater emphasis on the value of autonomy and meaning. Other factors could be the impact of new technology which has been steadily removing middle level jobs, a trend which has been accelerated by the recession, and the erosion of employee benefits, both of which have made self-employment a more attractive option than it used to be. Also, the media has changed the image of business owners who are increasingly seen as risk takers and pioneers. Markets have also changed with a switch away from heavy industry to the service industry with an increasing demand for tailored, unique and personalised products, best produced by local, small businesses.

Is it a good thing?

The research found that self-employment is often financially precarious with weak and irregular income, and stressful. Self-employed people work longer hours, earn on average less and are more isolated than people in employed work. However, they are also some of the happiest people because it offers greater autonomy, a sense of meaning and greater security.

Although there have been some policy initiatives to help the self-employed, there needs to be a much bigger focus on it – especially when thinking about tax changes and changes to the benefits system. The self-employed are a major factor driving our economy forward and have potential to do this more in the future. Small businesses, such as the many helped by Purple Shoots loans, bring huge added value to the communities in which they are based.

Source:  Salvation in a Start-up – Benedict Dellot, RSA https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/salvation-in-a-start-up/

Microfinance working in Wales - Loan repaid early Microfinance working in Wales - Loan repaid early
28/01/2015

Microfinance working in Wales – Loan repaid early

Hunger Busters is a mobile catering business based in Glyncoch, one of the estates near to Pontypridd. Since starting in the Spring this year, it has become a well known feature of the estate and its founder Stephen Griffiths has turned it into a success story of which Purple Shoots is incredibly proud. Stephen was unemployed when I met him, and although he had gone out and got all the necessary qualifications and it was clear he had researched his business very well, he could not get funding from mainstream lenders – no assets, no track record, small amount needed – the usual reasons that exclude people like Stephen from the standard financial services. However, he has been so successful that not only has he not missed a single repayment since starting in April, he has just repaid the whole loan almost 9 months early. This is an amazing achievement – and great proof that people like him are well worth supporting!

Access to Finance is a Struggle for Many Access to Finance is a Struggle for Many
08/12/2014

It was good to see that many of the issues that I come across daily when meeting my clients have been highlighted in the CDFA’s( Community Development Finance Association) 2014 industry report “Inside Community Finance”. I come across many inspiring and capable people with good business ideas and ability who cannot get help with funding their business – either through overdraft or loan – or sometimes cannot even get a proper bank account. The reasons are usually that they have been bankrupt in the past or have some other adverse credit history (often for good reasons – redundancy or unemployment very quickly lead to difficulties in meeting financial commitments, so do long term illness or even divorce); or it could be that they have no cash of their own to put in (a requirement of many main stream lenders) – this often affects the young but also those who have not been working for a period of time – or no assets for security ( a very high proportion of people now, especially the young, do not own property); or it could be simply that the amount required is too small and the cost of providing that level of funding is not worth it for many of the larger institutions.

The CDFA report includes some interesting statistics: the four largest banks account for over 85% of business current accounts and 90% of business loans in the UK (lack of competition therefore) and loan application rejection rates for small and medium sized businesses soared from 5% in 2004 to over 20% in 2012. The UK had 17,637 bank branches in 1990 but only 9500 in 2014 – a decline of 46%, disadvantaging small businesses, vulnerable customers and remote areas. 1.4 million people in the UK do not have a bank account and a further 4 million people are at the edge of banking. 7 million people, 11% of the population, use high cost credit – almost certainly because it is the only option.

Access to finance – not just credit but things like a bank account and financial capability – are a catalyst to economic growth and if people remain excluded to the extent that they are now, our economic growth will remain stifled. For every individual or business declined finance, the opportunity cost can be measured by lost economic output and consumer spending. The CDFA report quotes the World Bank’s findings that there is a positive correlation between the widespread use of financial services in a country and a higher GDP.

A particular gap in access to finance highlighted by the CDFA report is in the sector where Purple Shoots operates. (This explains why I have been so busy!) This gap is for very small businesses with limited borrowing history and track record and no security. This sector has lower rates of success when applying for finance (less than 50% were successful) – and yet it is these businesses which provide goods and services to local communities and keep them vibrant.

CDFIs (Community Development Finance Institutes) of which Purple Shoots is one of only three in the whole of Wales, serve this sector. The results for the last year for CDFIs UK wide are impressive – over 12,000 businesses created or safeguarded, 19,000 jobs created and an additional £0.502billion was added to the economy as a result of their activities. Purple Shoots’ contribution to the Welsh economy so far has been £1.4m with over 75 new businesses created and more than 60 people helped out of unemployment. There is much more to be done!

Ref: Inside Community Finance – The CDFI Industry in the UK 2014. www.cdfa.org.uk

Microfinance success in Wales Microfinance success in Wales
23/09/2014

Having been in business for just over a year now, and lending for almost a year, I thought I could begin celebrating some success stories – proof that microfinance is working in the Welsh context. I visited one of my early borrowers yesterday. He borrowed a small amount to enable him to open a barber’s shop- he was recovering from a difficult past which had included a period of depression and unemployment but he had dragged himself out of that to the point of being able to start his own business. That history and perhaps also the small size of the loan he needed, meant that no mainstream lender would back him – however Purple Shoots did. He opened a small shop a little out of the way in Rhydfelin in the Rhondda Valley – only 6 or 7 months later, he has funded his own move to larger premises in the centre of the village, refurbished them to look really classy with new flooring, new ceiling, new furniture etc and has taken on one member of staff. His success is very evident – and the shop (“Studz”) is busy – and all repayments to Purple Shoots have been met. In addition he is proof of one of the big strengths of the Welsh valleys’ communities and that is their loyalty to their community – because he is local, the locals support his business and in turn he is aiming to support his community when he can.
Another one of my early borrowers has done a similar thing – starting with a small boutique a little out of Maesteg called Angel Candy Boutique, she has now taken over a shop right in the centre of town, a better location for her but also contributing to the regeneration of that town centre. She has grown her business through clever use of the market – developing a niche offering quality but inexpensive special occasion dresses, and especially targeting local schools with ball gowns for their proms, keeping careful records so that no girl from the same school is sold the same dress!

Microfinance working in Developed Economies Microfinance working in Developed Economies
27/08/2014

I tweeted recently about an article by Bruce De Boskey who is a prominent US philanthropist, business strategist and consultant with numerous significant positions in the business and academic world who is dedicated to community building and social change. In this article, he summarized the success of not-for-profit microfinance organisations in America, which is very relevant and encouraging to Purple Shoots, seeking to follow a similar model in Wales. Microfinance in developing countries, where it has its roots, has been relatively well researched and documented – we hear less about its success in developed world economies.

The article starts with statistics – one in seven US citizens living below their poverty line – that’s 47 million people on very low wages or out of work. For all of these, most with hopes, dreams and aspirations to improve their circumstances, traditional banking and lending programmes are unavailable, just like they are here in the UK. De Boskey goes on to say that microfinance organisations in the US have helped many of these people start businesses, creating jobs, lifting themselves out of poverty and these have also had an impact on their neighbourhoods and communities. This is encouraging for Purple Shoots seeking to do the same in the UK context.

He cites many examples – I have picked out a couple. Accion New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado is a not-for-profit microfinance organisation working in those states of the US. Last year it gave loans totalling US$10m to 1500 businesses. Their repayment rates are around 98% and 7000 jobs have been created in 330 communities. Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute focuses on people a little further away from starting a business (as Purple Shoots seeks to through its self-reliant groups) offering business coaching and training to help rebuild confidence and self-esteem. In 3 years they have helped launch 83 businesses in Denver, going beyond just lending to help activate the potential of their clients.

De Boskey concludes that microfinance fills a significant gap in access to finance in the US but many of these organisations can only achieve what they have through the generosity of donors and investors who accept that this type of lending may not be profitable (although it can be sustainable), but it can provide a vital social impact on communities.

Full article here: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_26347045/microfinance-helps-low-income-folk-build-businesses-rise

SELF-RELIANT GROUPS - A ROUTE TO INCOME GENERATION FOR THOSE STRUGGLING WITH UNEMPLOYMENT SELF-RELIANT GROUPS - A ROUTE TO INCOME GENERATION FOR THOSE STRUGGLING WITH UNEMPLOYMENT
05/05/2014

The concept of self-reliant groups is not new in the developing world – it is a model which is widely and effectively used throughout the Indian Sub-continent, Africa, South America etc as a means of tackling poverty amongst their poorest communities, referred to in these places as self-help groups. I have described some of these in previous blogs after I visited them on my recent trip to India. In the developed world and especially in the UK it is not so well known at all. In the UK there is only one other organisation operating the model – see www.wevolution.org.uk – Wevolution are successful pioneers of the model in Scotland and Purple Shoots is following their lead, in partnership with them, adapting the model for our context.

What is a self-reliant group? It is a small group of people, usually around 8-10 but the number isn’t rigidly fixed, from a similar economic background and usually with a shared geography who meet together regularly and work together towards a shared goal of improving their situation. The groups give their members a chance to realize their potential, to find their skills and strengths, perhaps to learn new ones, and to develop ideas on how to put these to practical use.

Key features are:
– Self-reliance, drawing on the group’s own strengths and skills, networks and connections (and helping members realize they have these!)
– Solidarity – mutual support provided by the group in which trust and friendships grow, and also provided by the support organisations (Wevolution and Purple Shoots and the linkages that these organisations can provide)
– Micro-enterprise – getting to the point of starting a small business, either collectively as a group or individually with the support of the other group members. Wevolution and Purple Shoots can provide help at this point, both via advice and via small loans to get something started.

How do they work? The successful groups in Scotland have usually started with two people who wanted to start one. These two had some initial help and training from Wevolution and then gathered a group of others around them. The group members then agree when to meet (usually weekly) and where. There is a handbook which groups can follow or dip into which can help guide their weekly meetings so that they agree a set of principles under which they operate and move towards identifying needs, ideas and ways forward. The groups set up a savings fund and contribute regular amounts (usually £1 per member per week). This provides additional commitment but also a fund which slowly builds out of which equipment or materials can be bought for income generating ideas, or small personal loans can be agreed to members of the group for emergencies.

This is a undoubtedly a slow process towards income generation but its impact on the group members in Scotland has been stunning in terms of restored confidence, skill development and community support networks as well as developing small businesses. The most ambitious group so far have moved from offering a weekly lunch club, to doing alterations and repairs on clothing, upholstery etc to opening a launderette – and all of the group members would say that they never saw themselves as capable of achieving this when the group started. There are other groups working on businesses connected to crafts, catering, fashion and market trading.

Doing it in Wales. Many of the individuals in whom Purple Shoots has invested so far have overcome very difficult circumstances to get to the point where they have the confidence to start a business and take out a small loan to do it – Purple Shoots has simply removed the last obstacle (access to finance) to enable them to start – they have already overcome a whole raft of other obstacles on their own, and the resilience and resourcefulness that some of them have demonstrated is impressive. The self-reliant group model fits for people who haven’t got to that point and perhaps need some help to get there in order to realize their potential and use the skills that they have. The scattered communities in rural Wales and the solidarity which still exists amongst the old mining communities of South Wales are strong bases out of which these groups could grow. I am close to getting one or two started – in the Rhondda Valley and in Barry. As the number of groups grows, Purple Shoots will be able to provide other forms of support for them – for example marketing which is much more feasible for a range of products and services offered by a number of small businesses than it is for each small business to do on their own. The potential is great. The model creates economic development and growth from the bottom up – a principle which is far more likely to be successful in Wales where the economy is made up of a large number of very small businesses.

“If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. We linked arms and got out of the boat together” quote from one of the members of a Scottish self-reliant group.


 

Purple Shoots Launch Purple Shoots Launch
03/03/2014

Purple Shoots was incorporated in July and started trading at the end of October – but we had a launch party at the end of February as a celebration of what has been achieved so far and to communicate our vision and what we hope to achieve in the future.

We held it in the Connect Café in Pontypridd, where Purple Shoots is based, and the café manager and staff put on a great spread of food and drinks which was all served by volunteers from the local ATC. Music was provided by local musician Ben Ricketts and magic tricks by local magician Matt Tynan “the Illusionist”. Photography was by Claire Scowcroft – a local professional photographer. So it was all put together by small businesses from the area – anyone there who would like to book any of these people, let me know and I’ll put you in touch!

There was only a short formal part when I spoke generally about the aims of Purple Shoots, which are to address poverty and disadvantage through encouraging entrepreneurship and independence and rebuilding confidence. This is via microfinance, small loans to businesses or to individuals seeking to start a business, and via self-reliant groups, bringing people with similar issues and a similar economic background together in groups which support their members and may eventually lead to business ideas. Noel Matthias, from Wevolution in Glasgow, gave an inspirational speech about his experience with self-reliant groups in Glasgow which have allowed people struggling with poverty and disadvantage to start to solve their own issues, proving their innate skills, resourcefulness and abilities which negative attitudes towards disadvantaged communities often obscure. Peter Saunders also spoke about the initiative between his charitable trust and Purple Shoots which is enabling small loans to be available to people in the Tywyn area of Mid Wales. His Trust will provide the capital for Purple Shoots to lend – Purple Shoots will do the loan assessments and collect repayments and return the capital to the Trust. This is an innovative model for providing finance to communities struggling with unemployment which we are hoping that others may want to replicate in other parts of Wales. The formal part closed with some pictures of some of the borrowers so far (15 – 9 featured in the show) which demonstrated the range of businesses we have been able to help so far.

Over 60 people came to the launch representing a wide cross section of the South Wales community – businesses, government and local authorities, Jobcentres, community organisations, voluntary organisations, churches, banks, local accountants, solicitors and training companies as well as some of the borrowers and of course the trustees and other supporters.

  

The Indian Model - Addressing Poverty through Self-help Groups and Microfinance The Indian Model - Addressing Poverty through Self-help Groups and Microfinance
03/02/2014

During my recent trip to India, I spent four days in Karnataka with an Indian NGO, Myrada. This organisation started here in 1983 around the town of Kolar which had suffered large-scale job losses as the result of the demise of the gold mining industry there – an unexpected connection right from the start with Purple Shoots since we are starting in an area in a very similar situation in South Wales. Myrada’s work spread to the rural areas and a lot of the work I saw whilst I was with them was in small rural communities or small towns.

Through its years of experience, Myrada has learnt a lot about what works and what has failed in their efforts to help the poorest communities out of poverty and they were keen to pass this information on to us so that we can get to where they are without wasting any time on things that don’t succeed.

The core of what they seek to do is to build institutions for the poor. This has come from a recognition that a lot of the barriers which prevent the poor accessing finance for businesses, finding training, making changes in their communities etc is because they were excluded from the mainstream institutions which existed. The “institutions for the poor” were not imposed but were developed by the people themselves in response to their needs – and then once established, Myrada was able to get official systems to recognise them – i.e. banks will lend to them, companies will contract with them etc. Myrada has demonstrated that this has effectively empowered the people who have been a part of these institutions which has enabled them not only to improve their economic position but to make changes in their communities – some have become members of their local government, others have effectively lobbyed to make changes, and some have trained for new roles or in new skills.

There are a range of institutions which Myrada has fostered – the key ones we looked at were what they called Self-help Affinity Groups, and the Federations of these groups. These SHGs are small groups of individuals linked together in some way or with a shared background or shared position or problems– in the rural areas these were often groups of people from the same village. They came together voluntarily, initially just with the aim of mutual support and the socio-economic development of their family and community, trying to solve collective problems. This led to saving together – very small but regular amounts – and this built up a fund from which they could offer loans to each other, thus avoiding the expensive and exploitative money lenders, who were their only other option.  Myrada together with another organisation NABARD successfully demonstrated that these groups could be bankable propositions – and banks started to lend directly to the groups who then lent the money on to individual members. The Indian banks are now statutorily obliged to offer a certain percentage of their lending to these groups which have proliferated throughout India,  with 7.9 million people involved in groups facilitated by Myrada and many other organisations following Myrada’s lead. The banks report an almost 100% payback rate of loans made to these groups.

The first group we visited, in a small farming village, had been together for many years. In its early stages it had worked to solve some common problems, a key achievement being to get a proper tarmacked road to the village to enable them to get produce out easily. As the group developed they began looking for ways to improve their income and eventually planned and financed a silk worm business which now employs many in the village and has enabled the group members to improve their lives significantly. In the photos below, one lady is standing outside the new house she was able to build and in the background of the group picture is the school which all of the children are now able to attend.

The groups are all linked to a local federation – two members from each group are represented on this which meets regularly and acts as a further support network, helping groups to solve problems and issues, forming a strong body to lobby government or other institutions, and collecting and disseminating useful information. They also appoint members to oversee the running of the third institution – Community Managed Resource Centres. These employ staff and offer services to the SHGs such as training, accountancy etc – and these centres are entirely self-sustaining. This structure is very successful and the transformation in the lives of everyone involved is very evident – and many of them were happy to talk to us about that.

Although this is a well developed Indian model, it can be adapted to work in the UK context – as the charity I have been working with, A Passage from India (soon to be rebranded Wevolution) has demonstrated in Scotland. A lot of the barriers to UK unemployed and disadvantaged people are similar in that mainstream institutions are not able to support them, particularly to raise funding and their only options are our own UK equivalents of the Indian exploitative money lenders. Unemployment and disadvantage have the same effects on people in the UK as in India – damaging confidence, engendering feelings of hopelessness and being worthless, and disempowering. Wales has a lot of the strengths needed (more about his in another blog)  to ensure that community groups similar to the self-help groups set up by Myrada would work well and could be effective. Purple Shoots is therefore working to establish some groups to prove this – the first one or two will hopefully inspire others.

Addressing Poverty through Business - Creative Handicrafts Industries Addressing Poverty through Business - Creative Handicrafts Industries
24/01/2014

CREATIVE HANDICRAFTS INDUSTRIES – Addressing Poverty through Business

This is a successful organisation established to help those in extreme poverty in the slums of Mumbai which has now been running for over 30 years. It was started in 1984 by a Spanish missionary – a nun who was nearly 60 at the time but who saw the misery of the women in the slums and wanted to act. She saw that they had no equality, no empowerment and were treated as second class objects. As  long as the husband was working, they could survive but as soon as he lost work, the women had few other options and their families struggled. The missionary wanted to help but in a sustainable way. She recognised that a first step towards empowerment was economic freedom – she acknowledged that when someone is economically insecure, money is of supreme importance – it buys food, shelter and education.

Her first step was to teach the women new skills and with these, they made and sold sewn handicraft products and started to share the income. This grew slowly over 10 years – after this point she registered Creative Handicrafts as an Indian charity, largely to take advantage of the tax benefits associated with it. She was a dynamic relatively well connected lady and won sales and contracts with companies in Europe and further afield. In 1999, she moved the business away from dolls, toys and small handicrafts to the manufacture of garments, recognising the need to produce goods which people bought every day. She used her connections in Spain and France to get financial and technical support and through a team of designers, developed their own collection of garments which are now widely sold to companies such as Traidcraft and Peopletree. From 2003, the business grew well, at times at 30% per annum – turnover last year was US$1.3m with a sales value of goods of US$7m, and the company has manufacturing contracts with many of the leading buyers from around the world.

The business now employs over 300 women organized in small groups and 12 co-operatives throughout the slums. Work is organized from the central factory – cutting and distribution of work is done from here as is all designing, checking, quality control, packing and despatch. As groups have availability, they are sent orders for garments to make up and bring them to the factory when they are done. Payment is either via a salary or per piece depending on which method the group prefers and adopts. Profits are shared with the women – any losses are born by the central organisation. Capacity grows through orders – Creative Handicrafts will always take on an order and contract work out if need be to ensure it is met and repeat orders obtained – this then gives time to train up more women if the opportunity is there. Order cycle is very long – from first enquiry about a design through to placing a final order for bulk numbers could be as long as 18 months and this is a cost which the central organisation bears. The groups are paid an agreed price for their stitching work. Each group has an elected leader who liaises with the main factory and decides how the order is divided up between members and how they are paid.

The groups are organized like other self-help groups – they save together small amounts into a central fund and can decide to lend each other money from this fund which keeps the members away from the money-lenders. New members of groups often come via social workers who will identify if a woman meets the key criteria – which is that she wants to change her life and is prepared to commit to the group and the training involved. Training is not limited to skills but includes issues such as health, nutrition, confidence building etc. The new skills mean that the women could find work in mainstream clothing manufacturers – however they said that the pay and conditions are better with Creative Handicrafts so if they leave, they usually come back.

 

Creative Handicrafts is now largely a sustainable, stand alone business. There are a few working capital issues related to the large time gap between initial enquiries and designs and receiving bulk orders but on the whole the business is able to support 50 staff at its main office and 300+ women out in the slums sewing the garments. This is a great achievement – the creation of an independent business which has also been and continues to be the means of lifting hundreds of women out of poverty. It is a model which could be followed in the UK – the key is winning enough contracts at the right price for the manufacture of the garments, but with the issue of transport costs and “Production miles” an ever growing one, it seems likely that now is a good moment to try this – not necessarily just with garments, but with other products or components. The role of an NGO equivalent to Creative Handicrafts could be as a training and marketing company which identifies opportunities through larger companies which could be met through a group manufacturing model such as this Indian one.

An Amazing Indian Gentleman - Microfinance and Self-help Groups in India An Amazing Indian Gentleman - Microfinance and Self-help Groups in India
16/01/2014

An AMAZING INDIAN GENTLEMAN

As part of my recent trip to India, I was privileged to spend two or three hours in the company of Aloysius Prakash Fernandez – the founder of Myrada, the organisation which hosted us for the first four days of our trip, a man with a distinguished career which covers roles in the World Bank, the Canadian and Indian Government. Perhaps it says something about his humility in that, having bought all four books which documented the development of Myrada and provide practical help with implementing their model, there is nowhere in any of them a write up about this exceptional man.

He grew up in Karnataka in India but was educated at Oxford University and worked abroad until he felt moved to come back to India with a vision to lift one million people out of poverty, starting in the area where he grew up. This area was suffering from the loss of a mining industry which had been the major employer and source of prosperity for years. Without it, the region had declined dramatically’ (obvious parallels with South Wales made this just one more example of the relevance of what I was learning on this trip!) He came back to India with a donation of 100,000 rupees to get something started – a generous gift but very small in the scheme of things. His advice – don’t be afraid to start small because great things can grow. Since it started 30 years ago, Myrada has achieved a great deal in terms of improvements to people’s lives and livelihoods, establishing proper institutions for the poor etc and at any one time is working directly with over one million poor people in rural villages and settlements and increasingly also in small towns – so Aloysius achieved and exceeded his vision. He has also successfully changed Government policy and bank attitudes towards lending to the poor.

During the course of our meeting, he had many interesting and helpful things to say and I am just going to record a few which resonate with what Purple Shoots is trying to achieve:

He talked about two key objectives when he worked in the Canadian Co-operative movement – (1) the provision of credit and (2) the alleviation of poverty and he emphasized the importance of seeking to do both – it is possible to do (1) without (2). He commented that the poorer people are, the less is credit a trigger for the removal of poverty – and this is possibly at the root of some of the harmful instances of the use of microfinance. He also said it was important to distinguish between management and entrepreneurship – most of the poor in India are good managers because they manage to survive, but not all of them are also entrepreneurs. His approach, through Myrada, is to encourage confidence building and self-reliance which will then help them to be good managers of what they have and what they develop, and will allow some to go on to be entrepreneurs.

The Self-help groups and the institutions associated with these which Myrada creates (more about this in another blog) are what create the self-reliance and confidence amongst their members to enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. Disadvantaged and marginalised people need their own institutions where trust and empowerment can grow. The model is not rigid and can adapt to different circumstances and he encouraged us as pioneers of the concept in the UK to be prepared to modify it, to allow it to develop organically from the ground up, to adapt it to fit in with existing institutions if that works better, to encourage the principles of self-reliance and confidence building.

Having lived in the UK (including spending some time in Wales) he had a very good grasp of the UK context and an understanding of the impact of the recent economic downturn. It was encouraging that he believed that in seeking to establish self-reliant groups in the UK, in conjunction with microfinance, we would be offering a route out of poverty and benefit dependance for many of those who get involved with them.

The First Borrower - Rugby Coaching for Children The First Borrower - Rugby Coaching for Children
05/12/2013

The first loan by Purple Shoots has been to Little Stars Rugby, owned and run by Anthony Dunne. The business was born out of his desire to create a high quality weekly rugby coaching programme for children aged 2-7. He is passionate about coaching and developing children. His programmes aim to improve their motor skills, co-ordination, balance and movement as well as developing their social and physical skills such as interaction with others, teamwork, listening and discipline. The business launched with five venues throughout South Wales (Cardiff, Newport, Risca, Cwmbran and Abergavenny) and after the first year, added two more (Blackwood and Caldicot). The programme engages both the children and their parents, encouraging them to have fun together. Every class has a qualified lead and assistant coach and a pack of kit and equipment. The business is doing well and its primary focus is the families and communities it serves. Anthony says:

‘  I would like to say a BIG thank-you to Karen and Purple Shoots for providing a small business loan to help us grow our organisation. Thanks to Purple Shoots we have been able to invest in the infra-structure of our business, launch an additional 3 new venues throughout Wales as well as employ more individuals which means we can make a real difference to local communities. Thanks Karen!’

To find out more about Little Stars, have a look at their website:www.littlestarsrugby.co.uk

Planting our Purple Shoots Planting our Purple Shoots
11/11/2013

Welcome to the brand new website and blog for Purple Shoots! We are a registered charity on a firm business base, loaning out small amounts of money to start-up businesses across South Wales, as well as offering business mentoring to really get the businesses on their feet.

We have recently worked with Creating Media to establish our branding, business stationery, website and promotional materials, and are thrilled with the feedback we’ve had!

We began with the logo design, establishing the visual direction for the rest of the project to take. From the first round of concepts, we really loved the flower design – so much so we only made one small tweak at the meeting and it was signed off as the final logo! We were also taken with the grass element from one of the other logo concepts, so we decided to incorporate this as a design feature throughout the rest of the project. The colour scheme naturally fell into a purple and green pattern, linking up with the business name and the idea of fresh new beginnings and growth (green has a link with nature and plants which gets summoned up subconsciously), as well as doing things a little differently (purple is often seen as a quirky colour).

The next stage was a full office-load of business stationery. Letterheads, compliment slips and business cards were all created in the same great visual style as the logo, and then sent to print. As the website address was now being promoted, we needed to provide a simple, yet elegant, holding page for Purple Shoots as well, promising that the website would be coming soon.

 

The next stage was the biggy – the website design. We sent all the text over for the website in advance of the design, meaning that the team at Creating Media knew exactly what to work with and could just crack on with what they do best – the design. We stuck with the purple and white theme, with the grassy element along the bottom. They also commissioned their in-house illustrator to provide 4 lovely, playful images to illustrate the 4 key ideas behind Purple Shoots. These really help to make the brand feel friendly and approachable, unlike a big scary bank. This was the main idea behind the brand, lending money when others won’t. As we are also active on social media, we included a twitter feed across the website, and a blog for us to update with our views on various current affairs, business and finance. This again helps to get across the personality and friendly human element behind the business – making us more approachable.

The final stage was a range of promotional materials to help us get the Purple Shoots name out there at networking and business shows. We got Creating Media to design a pull-up banner stand and double-sided promotional postcard to attract new potential business start-ups to take out the much-needed loan they need to give them that final push.

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