Five Talents is a Christian organization that seeks to help people in some of the poorest countries in the world by partnering with local churches to facilitate microenterprise. Through its efforts, the group is changing people’s lives by giving them the tools they need to better their situations.
“I became transformed in learning how to plan a business, and the qualities of a godly woman and mother,” says Frida from Burundi. “Since joining the program my life has changed. God has transformed my life (from prostitution and alcoholism) in how I plan and how I behave. In my community, I was chosen as a local leader and a counselor. As a widow, I have finally built my own house and my children have continued their studies. I was very glad to leave my past situation. My children now trust in the power of Jesus Christ.”
Five Talents: Empowering Women, Changing Lives
Every 10 years, the bishops in the Anglican Communion meet in Lambeth, England, with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the meeting that occurred in 1998, Bishop Simon Chiwanga from Tanzania said he could not share the hope of the gospel when people in rural Tanzania were starving. “Empty stomachs make for blocked up ears,” he said. “How can the church respond wisely to extreme poverty?”
It was through the bishop’s remarks that Five Talents was born. The organization does not have a single founder per se, but grew out of a collaboration of leaders who “prepared a strategy for empowering the world’s poor through the ministry of the church,” says Liz Ha, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Five Talents. “These leaders were shaped by the Parable of the Talents and their belief is that each person is created with God-given dignity, abilities and resources that can be identified, cultivated, and multiplied.”
Five Talents partners with local churches in countries primarily in Africa, although it also has a presence elsewhere in the world, such as Myanmar. The group’s efforts, says Ha, are “very grassroots.” There is often not much government infrastructure or even NGOs in the areas where Five Talents goes.
Through its partnership with local churches, Five Talents teaches people basic literacy and numeracy. Once participants are competent in those areas, they have the opportunity to enter a savings and loan group led by a Five Talents facilitator. These groups are similar to fellowship groups, says Ha. Attendees learn how to save money and start a business. Each group comes with an emergency fund because most members have no other resources if an emergency should arise.
After six months of saving, the savings and loan group enters what is known as the “Shark Tank” phase. In this phase, members present their business ideas to their peers, and the group provides feedback as to whether the member pitching his or her idea is ready to receive a loan.
Ha explained that Five Talents does not hand out loans to members; rather, the loans are all derived from the savings of the group, so there is a high degree of accountability. “It’s the difference between dependence and empowerment because they have skin in the game,” she says, noting that it’s “powerful” for people to trust others with their money and “equally powerful” to get such support from a group of peers.
Also, “Gender inequity is such a driver in the countries that we work in,” says Ha, that most women would never qualify for a loan without this opportunity. Five Talents groups average 95% loan repayment rate, and in some countries, such as Burundi, the rate is even higher.