Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Micro-investments, Project Updates, Uncategorized, Values-Based Marketing
I will never forget the day I met Mwesige Wilson. It was June 25, 2011, the day we wrapped up our three-week training program with the newly established Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda. I was just about to enter the classroom to start the last day, when my eye caught this strong, young, African man wearing a Scottish kilt walking towards me from across a field. It was Wilson. Besides the fact that I have never seen an African in a kilt, what struck me most is that never before have I seen such a strong visual representation of the presence of Western heritage in Africa.
Wilson’s kilt has become a reminder to me of why Villages Connected’s work is so important. For centuries, western societies have had the ability to communicate their knowledge, potential, beliefs and stories to a global audience but only now do Africans have the opportunity to showcase their potential & knowledge globally thanks to technological breakthroughs that allow Africans to access the internet via cell networks.
With these advances in technology, Villages Connected Fort Portal is not only able to show the opportunities within their community but also, the change investments within opportunistic Africans and their businesses creates. In fact, for all investments or contributions received, Villages Connected creates a success story showing exactly where money has gone and what impact it has on the lives of the recipients such as Wilson.
Wilson is a grade ten student who owns a livestock farm. He was introduced to us by Camp Uganda, an organization that empowers youth to save endangered chimpanzees. Haida Bolton, founder of Camp Uganda, first met Wilson in 2009 when he attended Camp Uganda with his school’s wildlife club. Haida learned that he was orphaned at the age of four and was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather was able to raise enough funds to send him to school when he was 11 years old. When Haida met Wilson he was 17 and one of the brightest students in his grade seven class. He longed to be a doctor so he could prevent other children from losing their parents to unnecessary diseases. However, Wilson could not afford to go to high school.
Fortunately, a group of Canadian people pooled their funds together to help Wilson attend one of the best and oldest high schools in Fort Portal, Nyakasura Secondary. Nyakasura is a private school, started in the early 1900’s by a Scotsman and the reason for Wilson’s impressive dress code.
To sustain himself and his grandfather, Wilson started a poultry and pig farm but while away at school all the pigs contracted a disease and died. Now burdened with using savings to buy new pigs and to replace an aging farmhouse, Wilson contacted Haida for financial support. Haida jumped on it and raised the funds to invest in a new house for Wilson.
To see the change this investment has created, watch the video and to help create another success story through investment, click here
Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Micro-investments, Project Updates | Tags: africa, agricultural training, co-op, Fort Portal, loan recipients, micro finance, microfinance, seed fund, uganda, villages connected
It was back in October of last year that Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op made it’s biggest leap yet. In fact, the media co-op made six leaps with 6 local business people.
The media co-op started with a small micro-finance seed fund. The co-op members, under the leadership of the micro-finance committee, worked together to identify small businesses that could benefit from a capital investment and whose owners shared the values of the co-op. With the businesses identified, the co-op held a special ceremony gathering some 25 people where they celebrated issuing these first loans.
The ceremony was presided by Muzigiti Geoffrey Baluku, president of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op, and the funds handed over to the recipients by Mugisa Herbert, Chairman LC3 South Division.
Villages Connected Media Co-op member and chair of the micro-finance committee, Kanyunyuzi Moureen , explained the LC3 chairman was asked to take this role in the ceremony to represent the local government and its support of Villages Connected and “in order to acknowledge the work we have started doing for the community of Fort-Portal.”
“The Loan recipients were very happy and highly motivated to pursue their desired dream goals. And they promise to work harder to help themselves and the community as a whole” added Moureen. “It was a great achievement for me personally and Villages Connected Fort-Portal since it was the first time to issue loans from our seed fund.”
The loans were issued for a restaurant, an event decorator/planner business, a liquor store/lounge, a dairy and a community garden and agricultural training organization. The six loans totaled $2,000 CAD. The terms and interest rates were set by the members and agreed to by the recipients who – more than 4 months in – have achieved a 100% repayment rate.
“This comes at a time when it’s increasingly becoming difficult to access credit especially during these difficult times of high inflation rates in our country Uganda. Therefore, this is a big opportunity for us […] to invest in our [local] businesses so that as our businesses grow, [so] we will be able to showcase our potential and that of our community.” — Muzigiti Geoffrey Baluku President-VC-Fort Portal
Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Project Updates, VC Team | Tags: africa, co-op, Fort Portal, media, microfinance, uganda, villages connected
The attached is a letter from Villages Connected’s Founder and Director, de Villiers van Zyl, to VC’s supporters with an overview of the last few months and the direction for upcoming year. Enjoy!
First and foremost I want to thank you for your generous support on behalf of Villages Connected International and our whole team in Fort Portal, Uganda. Your support made it possible to set-up and equip a Villages Connected media co-operative in Fort Portal as well as to provide the co-operative with a $2000 micro-finance fund. Thanks to your support this unknown African community is now able to show the world that opportunity is plentiful, that Africa is a great investment and ready to create value-based partnerships globally.
Even though we were not in the limelight the last six months we have been very busy. I want to take the time to give you a quick update of what we have been doing and what you can look forward to see from us in the coming months.
Our Canadian team left Fort Portal in July. While Caroline and Greg went back to Cameroon to finish their contract with CUSO-VSO, Ernie and I returned to Canada. We arrived in Canada with more than a hundred hours of footage, hundreds of pictures and a strong commitment to our first media co-op in Fort Portal.
In Uganda, Villages Connected Fort Portal and its 21 members took the reigns and with our support, worked out the organizational kinks to make this idea we had a reality. See, we took over equipment, did some training and communicated our vision, but at the end of the day VC Fort Portal belongs to its members and only they can make it fit like a glove. And wow, did they make it fit.
They have restructured the leadership and management teams to reflect commitment, talent and interest. Geoffrey Muzigiti, Micro-Finance Lecturer at a local university was elected President. He is supported by directors Margaret Kemigisa (Award winning Social Entrepreneur) Vice-President and Annet Kugonza (Teacher) as secretary. To oversee day-to-day operations in media and micro-finance they have elected a five member Management Committee: Goldino (Chairman), Gilbert (Vice Chair), Mourreen (Micro-finance) Prisca (Secretary) and Lawrence (Media). In need of office space, but with limited resources as a start-up, the team met with Local Member of Parliament, Alex Ruhunda for advice and support. He was so impressed with the group and their mission through Villages Connected, that he offered to provide them with paid office space for six months.
With committed leadership, an office and a paid part time office manager, Villages Connected Fort Portal has achieved the following highlights:
- Issued its first micro-loans to six businesses in Fort Portal with a 100 percent of monthly installments paid back
- Grew its membership base to more than 50
- Has set-up its first media training class with ten new members.
- Approved and documented 5 new businesses, with footage being edited and to be distributed for funding in the coming weeks.
Our Canadian team and I have been working behind the scenes editing footage, supporting VC Fort Portal and structuring Villages Connected International, now fully registered and incorporated.
Structurally everything in place, both here in Canada and in Uganda, we are exited to declare 2012 the year of Villages Connected. In the next coming weeks we will re-launch our blog and distribute Fort Portal business opportunity videos that will provide you with exciting investment opportunities. Furthermore, in February, we will distribute the world’s first participatory ad created for Tigh-Na-Mara Resort Spa & Conference Centre in partnership with VC Fort Portal.
Villages Connected International and Villages Connected Fort Portal will also hit the road in February to start sharing the stories of Africans ready, committed and capable of creating mutually beneficial economic partnerships with you. Please let us know if you belong to a service group, have a group of socially conscious friends or are part of a socially responsible business that wants to discover an Africa full of opportunity.
Thanks very much for being a part of this exciting journey on route to realize our vision of a global village where humanity, prosperity and economic growth are interconnected.
Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Project Updates | Tags: africa, co-op, Fort Portal, media, microfinance, uganda, villages connected
One might think that building a media co-op would be all fun and games – an exercise in creativity and visual experiments. All of the photography and video taking of community assets, curiosities and getting that “awesome shot”.
There is a whole other side to the inception of the Fort Portal media co-op and it’s not creative in the least! In order to have a successful media co-op, not only will there need to be breathtaking media, but there will also need to be a sound foundation to work from. And that’s where the co-op members, and additional assistance from a select few members (which we lovingly call “the microfinance core group”), have come in.
Since the very first week, together we have been working towards developing the co-op’s constitution and bylaws, as well as the terms and conditions of the microfinance fund. There is a lot of cross-over between the two, and much, much discussion on the best ways to move forward.
In general, the discussions have focused on structure and future growth. It took no time at all – days, really – for the co-op members to not only “buy-in” to the Villages Connected vision, but also to begin to define ways to make it a reality.
But whether or not the co-op members would make sure their organization would function lay in the details.
The “proof” lay in the “pudding” they mixed up during a marathon set of discussion groups talking about such intriguing subjects as co-op structure, criteria for loan recipients, interest rates and repayment terms, and sustainability of the co-op.
The going wasn’t always easy. Most of the co-op’s members had never taken out a loan or even visited a microfinance institution. Fewer even had established an association or co-op – never mind the two at once!
But the members of the microfinance core group kept things rolling and made sure everyone contributed to the way things would work. The members were lucky enough that among their numbers they had a president of a women’s community lending circle, a community mobilizer, a lecturer and a student in microfinance, and a single mother with a keen eye for business potential.
So the group of 21 founding co-op members rotated from station to station, discussing exactly how their co-op would work. The Villages Connected team offered advice when it was asked for, but ultimately the end product was theirs.
They answered the question not only of how they would give loans, but also how they would keep their momentum going for the long run.
Of course, while answers abounded, we all know that many more questions come up any time you have twenty people working together on a dynamic subject.
So that’s what the core microfinance group is working on now – going forward with the essential task of figuring out the minute details that their colleagues asked about. These, of course, need to be nailed down before they approve any microfinance loans!
This part of the work may not be fun and games. But it is essential!
Their work is almost ready and the business of supporting business well underway!
Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Project Updates, VC Team | Tags: africa, co-op, Fort Portal, media, Nikon, uganda, villages connected
Twenty media co-op members. Twenty different skill levels in photography & video. Previous media experience as varied as the stunning scenery around Fort Portal. Backgrounds, ages and education levels similarly ranging all over the map.
Just how do you “train” a group like this in media skills? Take a tag team approach.
Over the last two days we’ve worked with the members of the new Villages Connected Media co-op in building everyone’s skills in taking pictures and video with purpose. We’ve split the group of twenty into 4 more manageable groups, working intensively on such basic fare as composition, lighting and capturing motion.
VC’s team was picked because each of us had something to share. Ernie and de Villiers have a strong mastery of the art of arguing over the best way to capture girls running across the screen. Meanwhile, Greg masters the art of getting his backside dirty while showing off interesting angles to shoot from.
So what do we do?
Let the co-op members build their skills by figuring out what they like about photos and videos. We went around asking participants what we should photograph, took the pictures they suggested from different angles and perspectives, and talked about the results.
We would have had them take the “practice shots”, but one thing got in the way…
Most of the co-op members’ camera batteries had run out of juice!
When we arrived in Fort Portal we had charged all the batteries before starting. But we hadn’t counted on low voltage running through Fort Portal’s grid. This sneak-attack meant what we thought were fully charged batteries capable of 200+ pictures turned out to be poorly charged light-weights with barely 30 minutes of battery.
Now that our eyes are open, the problem has been fixed.
Despite this temporary speed bump, we took out our fancier cameras and worked as a group to support each other in building participants’ photo and video skills..
So, after Greg worked with the members on composing still pictures, de Villiers and Ernie jumped in to ask how shooting video was different.
Ultimately, the group decided what they liked in each medium and made suggestions for improving the shots we took.The participatory training will continue over the weeks to come – hopefully with everyone holding fully charged cameras!
This tag team approach to photography and video training has already paid off! Today we received the members’ cameras back for the first time and the results are amazing!
Stay tuned, we’ll be sharing their work very soon!
Filed under: Media Co-op Members, Project Updates | Tags: africa, co-op, Fort Portal, media, uganda, villages connected
If we could have, it’s very likely we would all have had our heads out the windows of the Villages Connected vehicle – anything to be able to better take in the views as we made our way to Fort Portal. But as it was, we had to contain our enthusiasm generally to the inside of the vehicle for the 5-hour drive from Kampala to Fort Portal.
There was no time to waste with too many camera acrobatics anyway. Having to make up for the lost day in Kampala, we quickly morphed into a controlled frenzy and adrenaline-pumping 36 hours that marked our arrival in Fort Portal and the start of the Villages Connected media co-op training.
Barely setting foot in Fort Portal, we quickly rushed over to St Maria Goretti Senior Secondary School – the Villages Connected training site for the next 4 weeks. Lounging on the grass below an avocado tree, we informally met some of the new media co-op participants. We started learning about each other and also answered the participants’ pressing questions.
“You’re called Villages Connected but Fort Portal is a city, not a village – is that OK?”
“Of course,” we said. Fort Portal is part of the global village and has much to share with the world.
“What are the other villages? Can we learn from them too? Can we visit them and connect?”
“Fort Portal is the very first Villages Connected media co-op.” we replied. “You will set the standard for all the others to come. They will look to you, to your experiences so you can all learn and grow together.”
“Can we share what we create beyond our border?”
“Of course! You already are!”
As night began to fall, we reached the Villages Connected Headquarters – a rented house that is to be the crew’s abode for the next month. Although road weary, we spent the evening hours preparing the next day’s sessions, charging up the equipment and making some quick adjustments to schedules.
The next morning we set up in a large classroom on the school’s beautiful campus and welcomed 20 participants ready to create media! Our charged-up first training day included not only introductions and outlines of things to come, but also covered the drafting of cornerstone elements of the media co-op, basic instructions in photography and shooting video.
Villages Connected’s vision is that local people in communities like Fort Portal can create media that tells their stories. They should also work together with socially responsible businesses to promote values they both share. But first, of course, a team of people – in the spirit of co-operation and participation – have to come together, learn together and then create media together.
We discussed at length the power that media co-op’s members will have in portraying their community – a power usually reserved to outsiders. The members spoke about the need to be honest and transparent in capturing media so that what they will share will represent their truth, their reality.
We spoke at length about responsibility of using and caring for the cameras and other equipment provided by Villages Connected. We explored risks that can come with filming and how to deal with possible consequences. But most importantly, we didn’t forget about the rewards of using media to tell the stories each of them want to share.
No first day would be complete without testing the equipment. As expected, not everyone had previously used a still camera, and even fewer had ever shot video. The room oozed enthusiasm; the dash of timidity on the part of some of the co-op members quickly dissipated once they were able to run around the school shooting video!!!
The day came to a close with homework. We told everyone about the photography and video assignments for the week – their chance to practice using the equipment, but also in starting to think more about the stories they want to tell about their community.
So stay tuned as the stories are captured and Fort Portal’s media co-op members create their first media!!!
Filed under: Project Updates, VC Team | Tags: africa, co-op, media, uganda, villages connected
42 hours of travel. 42 hours of anticipation. 42 hours of waiting to hit the ground running!
The Villages Connected team – after traveling from both Cameroon and Canada – landed in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. We were met at the airport by Isaac, Villages Connected’s newest team member – our smiling logistician and driver – who met us with smiles and great patience.
We all needed patience. Amazingly the passengers and luggage from Cameroon arrived tired but triumphant. They and their bags had made it… alas, their Canadian colleagues somehow managed to jump slightly ahead of their bags at London’s Heathrow airport.
So wait we had to – wait for bags to meander their way across continents. After only a day’s delay they made it.
We spent the days wandering Kampala’s commercial centre in search of key bits and pieces of training material and equipment. It was a fun and vibrant atmosphere made even more eye-and-ear catching by Ugandans revving up for an epic confrontation between their national football squad and that of Guinea Bissau.
So, amidst the honking of vuvuzellas (the horns made famous during last years’ World Cup in South Africa) we shopped for bottled water, a printer and printer ink, surge protectors, lens filter, flip chart paper, markers, tape, and a variety of bits and pieces.
The last minute little bits that make projects happen on the ground.
We continued as long as we could, but jet lagged dropped some of us sooner than others!
So today we will move one step closer to the launch of Villages Connected’s first media co-op. Today Isaac will drive us to Fort Portal!