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.
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.”
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.
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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 named ACT Charity of the Year 2018
Hand in Hand International is proud to announce our selection as the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) Charity of the Year for 2018/19.
The award, which culminates at the ACT Annual Dinner in November, follows a competitive bidding process to the ACT charity committee. Proceeds will fund an entire Kenyan village’s journey from subsistence to success, creating an estimated 275 new microbusinesses and 350 new jobs.
“From financial literacy training to the creation of sustainable microenterprises, so much of Hand in Hand’s work centres on sound financial management,” said Hand in Hand International CEO Dorothea Arndt. “That’s why it’s with particular pleasure that we accept this honour from Britain’s professional body specialising in corporate treasury.”
Although the designation lasts all year, fundraising peaks on 14 November with a charity auction at the ACT Annual Dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, hosted by Sandi Toksvig of Great British Bake Off and featuring John Kay, one of Britain’s leading economists, speaking on behalf of Hand in Hand.
We are looking for volunteers to help in those efforts, attending the dinner to speak with interested ACT members about our work. For more information about how you can help, please email Hand in Hand Head of Media Ann Dickinson.
To read the ACT’s Charity of the Year announcement, click here.
How efficient is Hand in Hand, really?
Founded by one of Europe’s best business minds, Hand in Hand has long put efficiency at the core of our work. But with a job creation model few others employ, benchmarking that efficiency has often been difficult.
Now, thanks to two new World Bank studies, that’s beginning to change. Published this year, both studies consider training programmes similar to ours – one in Kenya, the other in Togo – finding significant increases in profit in both cases.
Neither finds gains on par with Hand in Hand’s.
Study one, Kenya: Zero-sum gains?
Is one businesswoman’s gain another’s loss, or does a rising tide lift all boats? That, in effect, is what the World Bank set out to discover when it monitored an International Labour Organization (ILO) business training programme in Kenya broadly similar to Hand in Hand’s. With a sample size of 3,500 micro-enterprises, the randomised experiment measured the business incomes of ILO programme members versus their non-member neighbours, concluding that ”business training can help the overall market grow.” More importantly, for the purposes of this blog, it also discovered that monthly business incomes among programme members were 15 percent higher than among business owners that had not received the training.
Study two, Togo: The psychology of entrepreneurship
A second study, published in Science and featured in The Economist, considered another angle: psychology. Here, researchers from the World Bank, the National University of Singapore and Leuphana University in Germany partnered with the Government of Togo to follow three groups of small business owners who rarely kept books and almost never wrote business plans, earning an average of US $173 a month. The first group, a control group, received no training at all. The second group received training in conventional subjects such as accounting and financial management. The third group received training based on psychological research, designed to teach soft skills such as initiative and persistence.
Those skills, it turns out, are crucial: profits rose by an average of 30 percent among members of the third group. Perhaps more interesting, however, was another finding: the conventional training group saw no uplift at all.
Study three, Rwanda: Hand in Hand
So, how does Hand in Hand stack up?
In the ILO programme in Kenya, business profit was 15 percent higher for programme participants ($86) than non-participants ($75). In the World Bank’s partnership with the Government of Togo, monthly business profit was 30% higher for those that received the psychology base training ($224) compared to those that did not ($173).
And in Hand in Hand’s partnership with CARE in Rwanda, according to an independent study – the most recent, relevant research we have – monthly business incomes were 75 percent higher for those that received the enterprise training ($48) compared to those that did not ($29).
That’s more than double the World Bank’s programme in Togo, and five times the ILO programme in Kenya.
By the numbers
ILO, Kenya: 15% higher profit for enterprise trainees
World Bank, Togo: 30% higher profit for psychology-based training
Hand in Hand/CARE, Rwanda: 75% higher profit for enterprise trainees
Hand in Hand Country Manager Stephen Wambua was responsible for running our operation in Rwanda. He credits Hand in Hand’s dual-focus on hard and soft skills with the result.
“Yes, Hand in Hand teaches conventional business skills – our members would be lost without them,” says Stephen. “But our trainers’ capacity to inspire and motivate, along with mutual support among group members, is what makes our model work. It is, for lack of a better term, our ‘secret ingredient’.”
Hand in Hand will continue to seek out quality research to benchmark our programmes. And just as we always have, we’ll keep putting efficiency at the centre of our work.
Insights from Participatory Evaluation Processes: Adapting to Local Demands
Your proposal was so scalable, it made USAID weep. Your logframe, so flawless it was exhibited at MoMA. Bono himself called to congratulate you on a “totally rockin’ independent baseline study”. But one year into program delivery, credit uptake is waning and dropout rates are creeping higher by the week.
What went wrong?
That’s the question new SEEP member Hand in Hand was forced to confront when two of our programs – one in Afghanistan, the other in Kenya – were threatened by similar issues. Despite more than 10 years’ experience training Savings Groups members how to launch their own microenterprises – resulting in more than 3 million new and improved jobs – we found ourselves humbled by an inescapable truth: nothing gets in the way of a masterfully designed program quite like reality. Adaptive management isn’t merely crucial to success – it’s necessary to survive.
This blog, and our session at the 2017 SEEP Annual Conference – ‘Insights from Participatory Evaluation Processes: Adapting to Local Demands’ on Tuesday, October 3 at 2:15pm – ponders a central element of adaptive management: feedback. In doing so, it posits a package of feedback mechanisms that can be (more or less) universally applied to produce useful learning, drawing on examples from the aforementioned cases, plus a third from VisionFund in Tanzania.
The learning that these mechanisms produced varied across contexts, but in each case the results were transformative, compelling Hand in Hand to redesign its theory of change and exit strategies in Afghanistan and Kenya respectively. Meanwhile in Tanzania, VisionFund applied a similar package of mechanisms during its pilot phase, and shares its experience of taking learning to scale.
The Big Five: Feedback Mechanisms for Useful Learning
Feedback is only as good as the sources that provide it. In order to obtain the fullest picture possible, our package of mechanisms draws on the following sources and methods:
Each of the following cases employed our package of mechanisms. All have been edited for brevity. For the full picture, please attend our session on October 3.
Case One: Hand in Hand, Afghanistan
Occasionally, sources of feedback are in perfect harmony. Such was the case for Hand in Hand Afghanistan, who administered an Enterprise Incubation Fund (EIF) to finance members’ microenterprises where other institutions wouldn’t. Increasing numbers of beneficiaries said they were loath to take loans in remote rural areas where the Taliban had identified credit programs as an opportunity to disrupt NGO activity, branding them as a Western imposition. M&E data showing reduced uptake confirmed their waning interest. Other NGOs had by and large abandoned cost-recovery models in favor of flat-out grants, rendering microfinance even more unattractive. Field staff reported difficulties in recovering loans (and in some cases received anonymous threats). And strategic information pointing to a resurgent Taliban provided scant hope Afghanistan’s credit environment would improve anytime soon.
With all sources of feedback pointing in the same direction – decisively away from our microfinance component – Hand in Hand closed the EIF, adopting productive asset transfer in its place. In the time since, we have distributed some 21,300 Enterprise Startup Toolkits containing all the necessary inputs to launch a business in nine accessible, high-margin sectors such as beekeeping and tailoring, designed to maintain the self-help ethos that lay behind the credit component. Feedback has again been unanimous – this time in our favor.
Case Two: Hand in Hand, Kenya
Things would not be so straightforward in Kenya, where Hand in Hand’s EIF faced the opposite problem: it was too popular. Prior to October 2016, we provided three cycles of subsidized microcredit to members. Not surprisingly, beneficiaries were happy to continue borrowing at slightly below-market rates. But field staff complained they were overworked – tied to old members by cycle after cycle of credit while juggling ambitious recruitment targets for new members. The M&E data agreed: recruitment was indeed slowing down. Strategic information meanwhile pointed to a robust ecosystem of local MFIs, suggesting credit was available from other institutions.
Staff and management met in September, 2016 and immediately embarked on a set of program reforms, reducing the number of loan cycles from three to one. A 27-month phase-out strategy was also agreed, whereby groups would receive nine months of intensive training, 12 months for the EIF credit cycle, and six months of support on market linkages for commodities and loans. Finally, it was agreed that after 27 months, we would help mobilise members into co-operatives known as Community-Based Organisations that would help them lend to each other and gain access to bigger markets and value chains.
Initial feedback suggests the changeover is working favorably.
Case Three: VisionFund, Tanzania
From October 2016 until August 2017, VisionFund Tanzania, World Vision Tanzania and private sector grower/exporter the Great African Food Company (GAFCo) partnered to run seven pilots in different regions of Tanzania with more 3,000 smallholder sunflower and kidney bean farmers. The goal was to improve these beneficiaries’ outputs and, ultimately, their livelihoods.
Involving technology, crop insurance, loan credit processes, payment to farmers, and beneficiary engagement and education, the pilot was highly complex, and field staff reported challenges testing so many combined elements in a variety of locations. But partners had identified both a need and an opportunity: GAFCo needed to generate and test volume and quality for its European buyers, and there was an opportunity to test the approach in parallel across regions.
A major review took place in July 2017, following a review process experiment in June. Senior management from the three partners met with beneficiaries and external stakeholders, including village elders and local and regional government, as part of a 10-day M&E trip visiting each of the pilot locations and engaging in detailed conversations. The process resulted in identifying improvements in beneficiary education, explaining better to village authorities the detail behind areas such as crop insurance, and generating buy-in from local officials.
The model has now been adapted for a wider rollout from October, with an ongoing monitoring of the engagement with beneficiaries and other stakeholders to test the scalability and acceptability of the updated model and improvements in client training.