Hand in Hand Afghanistan appoints new Executive Director

After 10 years as Executive Director of Hand in Hand Afghanistan, Abdul Rahim Nasry will be stepping down from the role, with Dr. Kamran Hekmati being appointed as his successor.

Dr Kamran Hekmati has served as Programme Manager, Program Director and, since January, as Deputy Executive Director of Hand in Hand Afghanistan. Abdul Rahim Nasry will continue to work closely with Hand in Hand Afghanistan in an advisory role.

Abdul Rahim Nasry said: “It’s been an enormous privilege to serve as Executive Director at Hand in Hand Afghanistan and play my part in supporting so many people to lift themselves and their families above the poverty line through entrepreneurship and hard work.

“I’d like to thank my colleagues at Hand in Hand and our generous donors and funders – together we have transformed thousands of lives for the better. I am delighted that our own Dr Kamran Hekmati has been appointed to lead Hand in Hand Afghanistan as Executive Director and am confident that under his leadership the organisation will continue to go from strength-to-strength.”

Dr Kamran Hekmati said: “Since its inception Hand in Hand Afghanistan has supported over 50,000 people to set up sustainable, profitable microenterprises – changing 390,000 lives in the process. I’m excited to lead Hand in Hand Afghanistan in this next stage of its journey, and, working with our donors and stakeholders, look forward to reaching more communities, creating more jobs and helping to build better futures for even more families.”

Dorothea Arndt, Hand in Hand International CEO, said: “Hand in Hand Afghanistan’s success is testament to Nasry’s skillful leadership and his commitment to helping people beat the odds and find their own route out of poverty. We wish him all the best for the future. I’d also like to congratulate Dr Kamran Hekmati on his new role – to which he will bring many years of expertise.”

Increasing resilience in the face of skyrocketing costs

In the last few years Kenya has seen a 70 percent drop in crop production, with an estimated 3.1m people in acute hunger, now in need of aid. As a result of the conflict in Ukraine, the situation has worsened, with disruption to global supply chains causing the price of grains, oil, gas, and fertiliser to skyrocket.

Hand in Hand Eastern Africa CEO, Albert Wambugu, explains how the country’s poorest are bearing the brunt of the crisis – and how Hand in Hand is supporting its members on the ground.

Poor yields and food insecurity

“There are a number of reasons why crop production is falling overall in Kenya,” Albert explains. “Growing conditions here are extremely variable. You might have pockets where the land is fertile – and then areas where the soil quality is degraded, and rainfall is low.”

Maize is the country’s staple crop – but soil degradation and drought is affecting the ‘breadbasket’ regions where it is grown. Some of the commercial fertilisers used here are extremely acidic, and have damaged the soil. Albert says: “When the crops fail, people become reliant on food aid. Some families survive on as little as 2kg of maize a week,” Albert says.

Ukraine war causes price rises for staple goods

Because of the crisis in Ukraine, Kenyans are seeing price rises across the board. “The increasing price of fuel is very noticeable,” says Albert. “There’s been a 30% increase in less than one year.”

People in poverty spend a greater percentage of their income on food. For the very poorest, food price increases will result in adults skipping meals, or subsisting only on staples. “Cooking oil has doubled in price. When costs go up like this, the only thing people can focus on is putting food on the table. You would not be able to afford a balanced diet,” says Albert. “Protein from fish, for example, would be inconceivable.”

Cost of living increases can impact members’ enterprises too. Albert explains it’s almost impossible for people to prioritize saving when times are tough, or to spare the funds to invest money back into their businesses.

Strengthening resilience

To combat the hunger crisis, Albert’s team provide training on a range of sustainable farming techniques that improve soil quality as well as increasing yields.

“We tell our members there will always be things outside your sphere of influence, like supply chain volatility and weather changes. But there are things you can do to offset these – like crop diversification, or by using fertiliser that improves the soil instead of harming it. When you don’t know when the next rainfall will be, even something as simple as a water storage butt makes a difference. We teach people to adapt to their environment. Root crops like arrowroot contain more starch than maize and are easier to grow, so it might be a question of changing your dietary habits.”

They also focus on improving members’ financial resilience.

“We train people to set aside some of their income where possible, because savings are an important way of mitigating the impact of financial shocks. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, and now with the Ukraine crisis, this is vital. More recently, we have introduced our members to insurance. Only 3% of Kenyans have insurance,” Albert explains. “So we are working with providers to create new financial products that meet our members’ specific needs”

The team also encourage people to save in self-help groups. “When self-help groups are strong they can lend when things aren’t going well and, unlike some banks, don’t charge exorbitant rates of interest.”

Despite the challenging circumstances, Albert believes that the team at Hand in Hand Eastern Africa will continue to make a difference to the women they work with – and alleviate food insecurity.

“By giving women the tools they need to lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty, we are able to strengthen their resilience so they can weather this global crisis.”

“The farmers we train will also have an important role to play in safeguarding food security within their communities, as well as restoring the soil so it remains productive for future generations.”

 

Boeing to transform the lives of 1,620 entrepreneurs in Tanzania with Hand in Hand International

Boeing and Hand in Hand have been teaming up since 2018 to help communities in Tanzania work their way out of poverty and start businesses – transforming thousands of lives in the process.

By 2023, Boeing and Hand in Hand will have trained more than 3,400 women and young entrepreneurs, creating more than 3,000 jobs and delivering long term economic impact for families and communities.

Launched in January 2021, the latest Boeing – Hand in Hand project trains farmers in Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania as agri-entrepreneurs, raising incomes and protecting the local environment in the fight against climate change. By extending the project for an additional 12-months, Boeing will support the training of a further 720 community members, reaching 1,620 entrepreneurs in total – 90 percent of them women.

Members of the project will become specialists in regenerative agriculture, an approach to farming that takes carbon out of the air and puts it back into the soil, improving both yields and the local environment.

By the time their training in areas such as composting, crop diversification and livestock management is complete, project members are expected to see an average 25 percent boost in income – money that will help fund education, healthcare and improved nutrition for more than 4,500 women, men and children.

Kuljit Ghata-Aura, President of Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META), said: “We feel privileged and committed to continue our partnership with Hand in Hand in Tanzania. Boeing’s sustained involvement and long-term investment in local communities represents one of the many steps we take together to connect the world and make it a better place for future generations.”

Jane Sabuni, Tanzania Country Manager for Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, said: “With Boeing’s help, farmers’ plots are transitioning from surviving to thriving. The regenerative agriculture techniques they adopt are increasing women’s incomes and the productivity of their farms. As a result, we are seeing greener lands, improved food security and brighter futures for their families.”

Dorothea Arndt, Hand in Hand International CEO, said: “Something special is happening in rural Tanzania: a revolution that will help some of the world’s poorest women climb their way out of poverty as agri-entrepreneurs, even while they fight back against climate change. Our sincere thanks to Boeing for making it possible.”

1,620 community members trained

1,134 small businesses launched

Average 25 percent increases in net enterprise income

Why Tanzania?

The World Bank 2019 Tanzania Mainland Poverty Assessment reports that 26.4 percent of people in Tanzania live in poverty, whereas eight percent live in extreme poverty. The situation today is worse, as communities globally were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

With so many people living in poverty, 79 percent of poor Tanzanians depend on agriculture. The majority of households rely on subsistence farming – which is rain-fed – for survival, growing a limited number of crops. Climate change aggravates the situation, threatening livelihoods and food security. It is estimated that approximately 60 percent of Tanzania is semi-arid or arid. Often, long dry spells occur during the growing season to the extent that crop and pasture production becomes poor.

Many practices viewed as mitigating climate change can actually harm local ecosystems, creating further problems. For example, sustainable intensification of agriculture – where farmers seek to maximise production in a condensed area – can involve an intense use of chemicals and synthetic fertilisers. This produces unequal yields and risks damaging community water sources. Monoculture approaches – that focus on the cultivation of a single crop at a time in a plot and emphasise the heavy use of fertilisers through short-term subsidies – similarly deplete land through the reuse of soil.

What’s next?

Based in the communities they serve, Hand in Hand trainers continue to recruit and train project members in subjects ranging from business to regenerative agriculture. Access to credit from external, pro-poor lenders and links to larger markets so members can sustainably sell their produce soon follow.

After project members complete their 12-month training – a timeframe which, for the first cohort of members, began in March 2021 – members will move from fortnightly sessions to monthly check-ins with trainers. These visits keep enterprises on track for sustainable growth and ensure external credit is being repaid. Members will also be encouraged to form larger producers’ groups to benefit from economies of scale and better market access.

 

 

The Hand in Hand online auction is here!

That’s right, folks.

Starting today, you, your friends, your family, your friends’ families and your families’ friends – and your enemies – can bid on a huge range of super-cool items, from wine and original art to designer bags and wine to holidays, e-bikes and wine.

“Interesting,” you say. “But can I enter a raffle to win a stunning Orbit No. 1 diamond necklace from Swiss jewellers Montluc?”

Boom.

And that’s not all. Every time you bid or buy a raffle ticket, you’ll be helping women in some of the most challenging places on Earth beat the odds and succeed as entrepreneurs, which is literally impossible to argue with.

So go ahead. Finish Start your Christmas shopping or treat yourself to a presumably well-earned gift. Then forward our auction site to every single person in your address book, twice.

Happy bidding!

Let’s do this

Research: poverty rate doubles as coronavirus grips Kenya

When Kenya recorded its first case of coronavirus on 12 March, the government wasted no time in acting: within 72 hours strict lockdown measures were in effect, and inter-county travel bans, the closure of open-air markets and a countrywide 9pm to 4am curfew soon followed.

Now, original new research from Hand in Hand is providing perhaps the most detailed look yet at how the smallholder farmers and microenterprise owners that power Kenya’s informal economy, in particular women, are struggling to cope.

The findings, which come as the government of Kenya yesterday extended its curfew by 30 days even while loosening some travel restrictions, paint a bleak picture of shuttered businesses, dwindling savings, and a country with a long road to recovery.

But they also sketch a roadmap to recovery, capturing the areas where our members – and the 11.8 million Kenyans who work in the country’s informal economy – most need support.

The results

In late-May, Hand in Hand staff surveyed 579 Self-Help Group members and 197 borrowers from our Enterprise Incubation Fund, almost 80 percent of them women, to find out they’d been affected by the lockdown. Respondents were randomly selected from 21 branches spread out across the central and southern portions of the country.

How were their businesses coping? Their savings and debt levels? What steps were they taking to adapt? What assistance did they need, financial and otherwise?

Here’s what they said.

 

83% living in poverty

Poverty

Before coronavirus forced Kenya into lockdown, 44 percent of sampled members lived below the poverty line of US $1.90 per person per day (Countrywide, the poverty rate is 36 percent.) Eight weeks into lockdown, that number had almost doubled, reaching 83 percent. 

 

25% of businesses closed

Business closures

A full quarter of respondents’ had been forced to close their businesses. In some areas, that figure was as high as 40 percent. Transport and manufacturing were the hardest-hit sectors, with just 55 percent and 67 percent of Kenyan microenterprise owners still managing respectively. Agriculture, where 78 percent respondents of still had work, and retail, where 75 percent did, were faring best.

 

67% drop in income

Business income

Even when businesses managed to stay open, the picture was bleak: regardless of sector, location or gender, the average drop in business income was 67 percent. Not surprisingly, then, respondents identified low business incomes, a lack of customers due to market closures, and low demand as their most pressing challenges. Rising prices for farm inputs and a lack of affordable transport were other common themes.

 

69% drop in savings

Savings

Before the lockdown, 5 percent of respondents had no savings. Eight weeks later, that figure had shot to 39 percent. Just over half of all respondents, 54 percent, said they’d spent at least some of their savings on household needs including food. An almost equal number, 52 percent, had put at least some towards keeping their businesses running. Five percent were using their savings to pay off loans.

For almost all of them, time was running out. Five weeks ago when the survey was conducted, only 14 percent had a rainy day fund that would last more than a month.

 

54% plan to take out a loan to restart their business

Financing

Forty-two percent of members had no outstanding loans. Among the 58 percent who did, Self-Help Group savings funds and Hand in Hand’s Enterprise Incubation Fund were the two most common sources of credit. Both groups said financing to restart their businesses was their most important requirement, citing an average loan size of KES 27,200 (US $260). Zero-collateral loans, grants and even food donations were requested with no prompting.

Other ways we can help

Financing was our members’ number one requirement – but it wasn’t their only one. Eighty-four percent said they need personal protective equipment including face masks, gloves and soap to reopen. Farm inputs such as new seeds, training to help businesses survive during lockdown, and help accessing markets were also requested.

And then there were members who needed no help at all. Nine percent of respondents said they’d made strategic adaptations to their businesses, ranging from sourcing inputs locally to circumvent transport restrictions to more directly marketing their products door-to-door. In one case, a woman in Nairobi said she was working to make her handmade goods available on an e-commerce platform.

To learn more about this report and how Hand in Hand is adapting our programmes to help our members recover, please contact Hand in Hand International Head of Programmes Amalia Johnsson.

Hand in Hand reaches thousands in Kenya with coronavirus advice

Last month, as lockdown measures, curfews and strict social distancing laws brought Kenya to a halt, Hand in Hand traded Self-Help Groups for SMS’, motorbikes for mobile phones, setting out to reach more than 85,000 members with handwashing guidelines and other health messages, signpost to vital health services, and counter fake news.

At the same time, we were determined to empower our members to lead the fight against the coronavirus in their communities, providing advice on how to produce soap and masks, boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops, and making sure far-flung communities get their messages to distant government officials.

One month later, as outreach ramps up across 21 counties, we’re able to report our progress for the very first time. From 13 April to 10 May, the latest period for which data are available, our trainers reached:

45,417 members with handwashing guidelines and other health messages

14,666 members providing links to new sources of seedlings and crops

11,104 members with advice on adapting businesses, selling face masks and soap

 

Face masks made and sold by the Uwezo Wema Self-Help Group.

Uwezo Wema, a Self-Help Group based in Babadogo, Nairobi County was one of the first to be contacted by trainers.

“The usual products we used to sell the pre-Corona period – shopping bags, playing balls and sandals – are no longer in high demand,” says Rhoda, the group’s Chair. “In order to survive we were forced to be creative and come up with a different business idea. Now we’re selling masks and sanitiser, which Hand in Hand taught us how to make. Our income is down from what is used to be, but we are thankful that at least we can make something during such a difficult time.”

Why women and girls are vulnerable to coronavirus

Although the risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 is greater among men and the elderly, women in the developing world face unique challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, Hand in Hand Programme Development Manager Isabel Creixell explains how women are being affected – and what Hand in Hand is doing to help them.

 

 

Livelihoods

Women are traditional caregivers: when a family member gets sick, it’s their job to step in. First and foremost, this puts them at greater risk of infection. But even in cases when they don’t fall ill, the burden of household work can increase exponentially, particularly at a time when children are home from school. Parents all over the world have been struggling with a version of this, and in many cases feeling completely overwhelmed. Now imagine if you also had to walk miles every day to fetch water, plus do the chores and shopping yourself, all while tending to the smallholding that’s keeping your family from starving and, in many cases, trying to run a small business on the side. Something’s got to give, and when a family member or members fall ill that thing is almost always the business – and in many cases the farm.

 

 

Hunger

Women working as unpaid nurses don’t have time to be unpaid farmers. In households where men don’t share the burden (most of them, in rural settings) and virtually 100 percent of female-headed households, health crises can turn to hunger crises, quick.

Across our operating countries – right now – there are women who don’t have the time to grow food because of coronavirus and don’t have the savings to buy it. Those who do have savings will be running out soon. At the same time, women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, meaning they lack social protections like insurance or sick paid leave. Their capacity to absorb shocks, in other words, can be effectively non-existent.

Finally, and maybe most starkly, when economic pressures and food shortages visit rural households, tradition often dictates that women and girls eat least and last.

 

 

Gender-based violence

Increases in gender-based violence during lockdown have rightly caught our attention here in the developed world. The developing world, where rates of violence against women are significantly higher, deserves our attention too.

Let’s not forget that things could get worse, not better, as the lockdown lifts and the true extent of our economic crisis begins to dawn. If isolation is one cause of gender-based violence, stress and financial difficulties are two more. At a time when every spare penny will have gone to buying food, escaping violent relationships will be more difficult than ever.

 

 

Health

Health services can be universally lacking in the countries where we work. But even when they’re available women face unique challenges in accessing them. In some communities, restrictive norms keep women from travelling alone. In others’, doctors won’t see them unless their husband – who could well be ill with Covid-19 – is present at the appointment.

How Hand in Hand is helping

Long-term plans to help women weather the coming economic storm are being developed by our programmes teams now.

In the more immediate term, we’ve already taken measures to protect our women members. These include:

  • Reaching women that official health guidance hasn’t, typically via their Self-Help Group leaders, to spread information about social distancing, handwashing and other virus prevention measures.
  • Providing opportunities to talk about domestic abuse. Although they’re stuck in their homes, some women find that simply having a space to talk about their situation can benefit their mental health. When the lockdown is over, we can more actively direct them to support services.
  • Providing information about keeping their businesses running, from how to produce items such as soap and masks to boosting food security by pointing rural members to alternative sources of seedlings and crops.
  • Working with men, who make up roughly 20 percent of our members, to share information about the benefits of sharing household tasks.
  • Reaching men with targeted messages about coping mechanisms, and providing someone to talk to, in order to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse.

95% of Hand in Hand members report improved quality of life

From designing new projects to evaluating old ones, Hand in Hand puts our members at the centre of everything we do. So last year, we asked 60 Decibels – experts in measuring impact through a “customer feedback lens” – to find out what our members in Kenya are saying about our work.

For two weeks in November, the team at 60 Decibels interviewed more than 170 members who’d completed our training, all within the last two years.

Here’s what they had to say:

  • Hand in Hand’s training is useful. 95 percent of respondents were still using it in their business.
  • Hand in Hand’s training improves people’s lives. 95 percent saw improvements in their quality of life after completing our training. Bigger incomes were the main reason why.
  • Hand in Hand goes where other NGOs don’t. 92 percent of respondents said there was no alternative to Hand in Hand where they lived.
  • Given a choice, they prefer Hand in Hand. Among respondents who had an alternative, 85 percent said Hand in Hand was better.
  • They could use more credit. Asked for suggested improvement, 34 percent of respondents suggested increased financing, the most common of any response.

Conducted before the threat of coronavirus was known, the survey will nevertheless help us tailor our post-Covid-19 response, providing insight into what’s working for our members and where we can be of more help. More on that in weeks in and months to come.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan steps up fight against Covid-19

Hand in Hand is delivering soap, chlorine solution and crucial virus prevention training to 26,000 Afghans as the country braces for a Covid-19 crisis that could become “another Wuhan” without immediate action.

Launched on Sunday 5 April, the emergency response came just days after Afghan officials appealed to NGOs for help, targeting 4,000 hard-to-reach households in Herat, Balkh and Parwan Provinces.

“We consider it our duty to inform people about methods of prevention,” says Zahra, a Hand in Hand trainer on the frontlines of our response. “We can save lives.”

An uncertain world

In a world where so much is uncertain, Afghans have reason to be especially concerned. Every day, thousands of returnees pour across the border from Iran, one of the early epicentres of the virus, fleeing both the economic devastation wrought by Covid-19 and the virus itself. It’s impossible to know how many are bringing it with them, but public health officials here are worried.

“We fear that Herat will turn into another Wuhan,” Afghanistan’s national health minister, Ferozuddin Feroz, told reporters in late-March. Add to that the country’s depleted health system, which struggles to keep up even at the best of times, and prevention is the only hope.

For as long as that hope remains, Hand in Hand will do everything in our power to protect our members and their neighbours. That’s why we’re urgently appealing for your help to nearly triple our impact, reaching 70,000 more Afghans – most of them living in camps for the internally displaced – with soap, chlorine solution and virus prevention training. With your help we can save lives. But we have to act now.

Hope remains

A day’s travel away in Balkh Province, Hand in Hand member Sharifa has worries of her own. The 24-year-old was among the first to receive virus prevention training from Hand in Hand in the earliest days of the outbreak, before the government’s response kicked in. In an area without adequate health services, she says, that training could be her community’s only defence.

“There is a health centre in our village that cannot do anything about Coronavirus and a hospital in the district with very few facilities, no capacity and no equipment for testing,” says the mother of four young children.

For precisely that reason, she says, Hand in Hand’s training on how to keep safe “has brought me peace of mind. Thank you to the supporters of Hand in Hand. Please know you are giving us hope.”

Afghanistan recorded its first confirmed case of Covid-19 on 24 February. Within weeks, Hand in Hand trainers were instructing members – many living in remote areas that public health messages don’t always reach – on virus prevention measures including handwashing, social distancing and more.

Help us save lives. Donate today

With your help, we’ll…

Reach almost 100,000 Afghans

Provide 14,000 households with 6 bars of soap, a bottle of chlorine solution and one spray-pump each

Train every household in handwashing, social distancing, disinfecting surfaces and more

Hand in Hand fights spread of Covid-19 in Afghanistan

Hand in Hand Afghanistan is joining the fight against Covid-19, sharing virus prevention guidelines with families in some of the hardest-to-reach areas in the country.

Lessons in handwashing, social distancing and more have appeared alongside our usual business and skills training since the start of last week, when the country reported its earliest cases.

Other measures taken so far include:

  • Limiting training sessions to three to five members as opposed to the usual 20 to 30.
  • Wherever possible, conducting training in members’ homes.
  • In some projects, distributing livestock and chickens slightly ahead of schedule. In the event of a lockdown, chicken eggs in particular will be a vital source of nutrition. Besides, we don’t want members’ training to go to waste.
  • Prioritising training modules that will do the most good during a crisis (for now, marketing takes a backseat to poultry farming, for example).

Forty cases of Covid-19 and one death have been reported in Afghanistan as of 23 March. Home to one of our biggest projects in the country, Herat Province is the epicentre of the outbreak, with most cases arriving from neighbouring Iran where thousands of Afghans are employed. Cases are expected to jump as more people return from Iran every day.

Visit our Covid updates page for the latest information on our programmes in Afghanistan and beyond.