Villages Connected Blog


The power of witnessing change – Wilson’s success story by de Villiers van Zyl

Mwesige Wilson building a new house


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

Wilson wearing his kilt



Doreen’s cotton wax business poised for investment by Caroline Spira

Doreen - a Villages Connected microentrepreneur

One of the most striking things about someone’s first glimpse of Africa is colour.  There are majestic landscapes, vibrant markets and best of all, colourful personalities.  In the middle of this however, one finds something beautifully African: textile traditions that defy the colour spectrum.

Whether referred to as kitinge, batengi or pagne, cotton wax fabrics with their wild and vibrant colors are both popular and spectacular.  With varying degrees of quality in weaving and printing and even greater differences in style and design, a good connoisseur of these cloths will pick just the right bolt to turn into fashionable garments as distinct as the cultures themselves.

And that is the market in which Doreen is breaking into with her new business.  Identified by Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op members as a micro-enterprise with promise, Doreen is seeking a 1 million Ugandan shilling loan (about $450 Canadian) to expand her business and continue to support her family. To expand she will invest C$160 to purchase a greater variety of kitenge. The other C$290 will be used to diversify and add shoes to her product line – this is on request from many of her customers.

A former nurse, Doreen’s business has already positively changed her life – and with a greater investment into the enterprise, she is confident she can make an even greater difference for herself, her children and her community. She aims to also provide future employment to others by using her business skills and revenue to create other income generating projects in her community.

With great confidence in Doreen’s ability to deliver on her business aspirations, Villages Connected Fort Portal has already issued the first phase of the loan. While she is putting this part of the loan to work for her business, we are looking for an additional 600,000 Ugandan shilligs (about C$290) from investors to assist her in meeting her full expansion.

To support Doreen or microentrepreneurs like her, watch the video and turn your dollars into an investment by clicking here.



Learning by Doing: An Internship at VC Fort Portal by Caroline Spira

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

–Benjamin Franklin

One of the fundamental values held by Villages Connected is that through participatory means – that is, by truly working together – we can achieve our goals of demonstrating potential through humanity.  This of course requires concerted effort, quite a bit of vision and a willingness to get involved.

Moureen: Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op member and new intern!

It also takes people like Moureen Kanyunyuzi to accept the challenge of stepping out of her classroom at Mountains of the Moon University and stepping up in her role as microfinance committee chair with Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op by turning this experience into a two-month long field placement.

Beginning at the end of this term, Moureen will embark full-time with Villages Connected as an intern working on enhancing and expanding the microfinance products delivered by the Fort Portal media co-op.  Moureen is a second year student in the BSc. Banking and Development Finance, has already completed another internship with a microfinance institution in Fort Portal, and just last year, was a key onsite-coordinator for Villages Connected during the initial set up of the co-op.

“My career aspirations are to eventually design management systems for financial institutions. Immediately after my graduation, I would like to work in a financial institution dealing with the unbanked population – to find out why some people don’t receive financial services and find a way to reduce that number.”

Moureen explains that Mountains of the Moon University approved the internship with Villages Connected because it work is relevant to her field of study, and, most especially with plans to develop savings products for members, it is a great opportunity for her to expand on her research.

Moureen and other media co-op members working on product development

“For my studies, my goal in this placement is to enhance my knowledge of the relationship between saving product designs and women’s savings behaviour. This will help to design products that suit the women’s savings behaviour in rural areas.”  She adds, “It will help me to translate the theoretical concepts attained in school into the practical.”

With the media co-op’s microfinance loans moving forward and more microentrepreneurs demonstrating interest in working with Villages Connected, Moureen’s work and research is a timely fit.

Congratulations Moureen!  Villages Connected is glad be learning together with you.



Villages Connected Fort Portal Response to Kony 2012 by Caroline Spira

It’s impossible to think of anyone not having a reaction to the Kony 2012 campaign. Indeed, we have written about it after many discussions between our board, staff and media co-op members.

One of our goals is to create media that matters – media that is at once positive, compelling and authentic; media that shares our values as interconnected humans. The missing piece in the story of powerful media has been the voices of people who must now live with the representation decided upon by others. It is time to let those voices tell the story.

Last week, members of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda came together to watch the Kony 2012 video and then turned the cameras on themselves to capture their discussion to share this with the world.

No frills, no hype, no hidden agenda. What you get is their reactions and personal opinions – their voices finally heard as the world turns their eyes upon their country. There is a clear message about the current situation in the country, the present focus and the desire for a more prosperous future.

This is media that matters.



“Kony 2012” diverts attention from Africa’s real enemy by de Villiers van Zyl

As the Executive Director for Villages Connected, I am indignant about the Kony 2012 campaign.  I see it as a flawed approach to put the focus on Kony ahead and above of everything else.  I say this because our organization works at the grassroots in a community called Fort Portal, Uganda and what I have experienced there leads me to different conclusions.

So, if the Kony 2012 campaign is a success, and somehow Kony is captured or killed, will it then be mission accomplished for the millions that participated in the campaign? Will they celebrate? After all, the evildoer is gone and now everyone can live happily ever after.

Wrong!

The hunt for Kony diverts the attention from the real problem in Africa: inequality.

The root cause is that poor villagers are vulnerable economically and man and nature can so easily exploit their weaknesses. Many of these villagers cannot even afford mosquito nets to protect themselves from malaria – which has killed many more people than Kony has. But this fact is one that we somehow accept more easily.

The real enemy is the world turning a blind eye to the importance of investing in Africa as a way to turn inequality on its head.  Supporting businesses that build strong economies give the power to the people to protect themselves socially and economically from “Konys” and malaria-mosquitoes.

We want to see a different outcome, but we too often fail to bear witness to the potential of opportunities in Africa.

Ugandan kids, full of life, in school and ready to show us the potential of Africa.

Too many times, Western organizations go to Africa to find problems.  People start organizations to address these problems, then sensationalize them to spread the word to millions of people to raise funds. What is the result:  a million negative messages about Africa being war-torn, emaciated, helpless etc.

Elsewhere in the world opportunities attract investors. The worlds economic system is driven by investors – if these investors don’t have confidence that a business exists in a stable environment and can flourish, guess what, they won’t invest. Media and aid organizations feed us endless messages about the problems of Africa – not a picture to attract investors for sure. However, this is not the reality for most of Africa – and definitely not in Uganda where Kony and his cronies actually left years ago.

Opportunities are there and waiting for investors.

While we don’t see the messages, there are countless everyday people seizing opportunities, starting businesses, developing new techniques, giving rise to new products.  We may not hear about people working hard to show they have products to sell, but they are many!

This message just isn’t communicated because everyday people don’t have millions of dollars to launch marketing campaigns.

Instead, these everyday people seem to get food packages, donations to band-aid the real issues, and – now – millions of dollars spent on a marketing initiative to make a warlord famous.  Kony has killed 60 000 kids.  Economic equality is killing millions and will continue to do so unless we stand up and create a real victory over inequality.

We need to invest in the countless viable African businesses – big and small – so that everyday Africans can grow their local economies. They will then be able to protect themselves socially and economically and become less vulnerable to the Konys of the world.

With a successful Kony 2012 campaign, we may neutralize this “Kony”, but ten years from now there may be another “Kony”.

It really saddens me that millions of dollars will make a criminal famous, when millions of people in Uganda and a billion people in Africa can radically change their long-term economic well-being – and by default the negative perceptions of Africa – with a fraction of that money.

In our work at Villages Connected, we invest in businesses, share stories of the everyday opportunities.  Our work creates an environment that could lead to a prosperous future for at least 200 000 people in Fort Portal alone.  We make Fort Portal a little more famous in our own way.  Yet it’s the people, the businesses, the opportunities for investment that have center stage in making the real difference.

Imagine the possibilities if our approach was replicated elsewhere? .

No war, no negativity, no handouts, no band-aids, no space for the Konys of the world.   An end to the inequality.

What I know from my experience is this: investing in communities and bearing witness to the potential – this is the solution.

Villages Connected International is a registered non-profit that combines the tools of media, marketing and micro-finance to unlock the potential of global and local values-based partnerships. Check us out on www.villagesconnected.org



Peace Restaurant Investment by Caroline Spira

When you first meet Prisca, you notice her smile and her bubbly personality. When you speak with her, she is curious and energetic. But it isn’t until you ask her about the Peace Restaurant that you realize that this 20-year-old university student is also a very strong businesswoman and focused entrepreneur.

The video attached alternates between scenes from the restaurant and Prisca’s own presentation to the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op. Her presentation of the needs of the restaurant was done as part of an exercise in demonstrating business needs that the media co-op could meet with its microfinance fund – it is, in fact, one of the steps in the media-based loan application process. (Make no mistake: when she says “they” in that video she actually means herself!)

Maintaining and growing the Peace Restaurant is very close to her heart. It was Prisca, the second of four siblings, who inherited her mother’s restaurant when both her parents died within a few months of each other. What was a labor of love for her mother, is now hers to continue in the same tradition. The business revenues not directly reinvested in the restaurant are instead invested in her own education, in the support of her siblings and in employing others – mostly women – in her own community.

The Villages Connected investment made in the restaurant was focused on aesthetics and functionality – two elements that Prisca identified as necessary to increase the profitability of the business. Prisca wanted to give the restaurant a facelift so as to attract more customers in the taxi park and to make some repairs. The restaurant also needed additional equipment, such as pots, utensils, plates, etc, so they could operate more efficiently onsite and have the ability to handle outside catering.

Now that the investment into her business has been made, her words from her initial Villages Connected application almost a year ago resonate in a way that shows this young entrepreneur is only just beginning. On why it was important for her to take part in Villages Connected, Prisca wrote:

“It is going to help me put up my business through financial assistance, in that I do not sit back and look on after I have finished my degree, thus helping me to be a job creator rather than a job seeker.”

It isn’t hard to see the true value of this investment and the reach of its returns – for Prisca and the Peace Restaurant.



first micro-loans in Fort-Portal by Caroline Spira

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.”

Microfinance Committee Chair Moureen assisting loan recipient Joy in filling out her loan agreement

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

Micro-loan recipient Moreen receiving the funds to make her dairy business grow




%d bloggers like this: