Strikingly, 80% of the participants in Five Talents groups are women. The organization’s leaders did not intentionally target women, says Ha. They just wanted to reach areas of extreme poverty, and it was women who responded. “It grew organically into that,” she says.
There are those who leave the group after they realize they won’t get a loan right away, and not everyone who joins a group starts her own business. Some simply need a place to save money. They might not have a community bank, or their home life might be unsafe. Others prefer to stay in the group rather than start their own businesses so that they can invest in the attendees. Ha says the experience of being in a group fosters “incredibly deep…fellowship and community.”
Ha shared the story of a woman named Monica, who was from a remote town in Kenya that had no local diesel station. She grew up with an elementary education, but had to drop out of school because her parents could not afford it. Her family was so poor that Monica only had one dress growing up. She married and, with her husband, did subsistence farming to survive, but they and their four children were descending into poverty. Then Monica started attending a Five Talents group.
Through the group, Monica became literate and learned about numbers. When she received her first loan, she used it to buy diesel, which she would sell one jerry can at a time at the side of the road. As her business grew, she purchased more diesel and was able to hire another woman to help her. She opened a gas station and hired more women, as well as her husband. Through her business, Monica was able to send her daughter to university and now makes 20 times more than the average salary of a local farmer in her village. “When you lift up a woman, you lift up a family, you lift up a community, you impact the culture,” says Ha.
While Five Talents is a Christian organization, Ha says that the group does not proselytize. However, Five Talents does not go anywhere without partnering with a local church, and most trainers are women in the church’s ministry. Says Ha, “The aroma of Christ is just so fragrant, a lot of people end up at the church.”
Ha calls partnership with the global church “essential” to what Five Talents is doing, particularly when it comes to the organization’s credibility and need to build trust in unstable areas. Governments are often unable to help, and there is corruption at the local level. Even NGOs flee dangerous parts of the world, but not the church. “The church doesn’t flee,” says Ha. “The church is there.”