Villages Connected Blog


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.

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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.



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



the importance of matooke: Jamiah’s picture by Caroline Spira
February 7, 2012, 12:36 am
Filed under: Media Co-op Members | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Villages Connected media co-op members, both in their original training last June and in their ongoing activities now, create different types of media that tell stories about subjects which are important to them and their community.

Take the picture below from co-op member Jamiah.

@Jamiah / Villages Connected

“The picture was under the theme “The strength of our community”.  It is showing matooke and a bike. That picture was taken in Kabundaire at the roadside where matooke sellers gather. 

As the culture dictates, the staple food for the Batooro is Matooke. [In matooke trade] the major people involved are the middlemen who use their bicycles to [bring] the matooke to [the market and] their final consumers.  Also the reason for taking the roadside matooke sellers is because of reduced taxes collected from them as compared to the sellers in the main Market.

The picture is important because it shows food items we have in the region.  It informs the visitors that when you come [to Fort Portal], you will leave knowing the taste of our staple food: matooke.”

co-op member Jamiah

To better understand the strength of this photo – because it’s not just a pretty food photo and a description to take lightly – you must know who the photographer is.  Jamiah recently graduated from university with a degree in horticulture management and entrepreneurship.  He is also a farmer.

Matooke is not just a staple food in Uganda, but one of the recognized national dishes.  The Batooro peoples of Uganda inhabit the Kabarole and Kasese districts where Fort Portal is located.  Traditionally, the Batooro economy was based on agricultural and pastoral activities.  One of the main crops produced is the matooke – a green banana or plantain – which is usually boiled or mashed and then steamed and served on a banana leaf.  Alongside millet, sorghum and peas, it is an important part of the local economy and everyday diet.

How important is matooke to the average Ugandan?  Per capita, Ugandans consume 172 kg per year.  That’s 18% of their caloric intake – making them the largest consumers AND producers in the world.  And with the market for matooke being mostly local, the carbon footprint (or bicycle print as it were) is an environmentalist’s dream.  No need for a buy local campaign.



an update from Villages Connected by Caroline Spira

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!

June 25, 2010: VC-Fort Portal co-op members received their certificates for completion

Dear Supporters:

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.

Hardworking crew: VC-Fort Portal co-op members at the entrance of their office

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.

From every angle: VC-Fort Portal co-op members capturing MP Alex Ruhunda special event

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.

With respect,

de Villiers




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