WORTH in Malawi: Protecting lakes and empowering local entrepreneurs

May 13, 2018

By Judith Njikho

Anna Kankwalala has always worked to contribute income to her household, despite cultural norms here that say it is a man’s domain.

“I have never believed in staying idle and waiting for money from my husband’s fish business,” says Anna, who lives in Chiwalo, a village in lakeside Mangochi, in southern Malawi. “Instead I have been selling tomatoes and corn fritters to contribute to our family’s needs.”

For a long time, though, Anna wasn’t able to earn much. After her husband’s income dropped off, making ends meet became a struggle.  

“Unfortunately, my husband’s fish business has not been doing well lately since the catch has been unpredictable,” Anna explains. “There are a lot of fishermen along the lake and exploitation of the lake.”

Then early this year, Anna decided to join a local WORTH group. Around the world, Pact’s WORTH program has helped hundreds of thousands of women to save money, access credit and start and expand small businesses. The economic empowerment model brings women together in groups of about 25. At weekly meetings, they make small savings deposits, and when their funds grow large enough, members can begin taking loans to launch businesses. Through WORTH, members also receive training in literacy, numeracy and entrepreneurship.

With a WORTH loan of MK60,000 – about $80 – Anna started a small business raising and selling goats.

“Now I can ably pay yearly school fees for my 14-year-old,” she says.

Pact is using WORTH in Malawi as part of the Fisheries Integration of Society and Habitats project, or FISH, which is funded by USAID. The FISH project takes an integrated ecosystems approach to improve biodiversity and climate change adaptation. FISH builds community resilience to climate shocks and provides alternative livelihoods opportunities that don’t rely on fishing. WORTH equips community members seeking off-the-water livelihoods with training and skills to be local leaders and to launch new enterprises.

FISH is currently supporting 25 WORTH groups in communities along lakes Malawi, Malombe, Chiuta and Chilwa.

Gloria Stan is in the same WORTH group as Anna. She took a loan of MK100,000 – about $140 – and now runs a mobile restaurant where she sells local meals to fishermen and other business people along the lake. Because of the success of her small business, she plans to expand.

“I have now bought land where I want to have a static spot for my restaurant,” Gloria says.

Together, members of Anna and Gloria’s WORTH group are also piloting a collective grass mat weaving business. They’re also saving together to build a village bakery. Their goal is to have a sustainable support mechanism for new small-scale business ventures.

“We want to have a tangible group business, make big profits and reinvest,” Anna says.

Since January, the group has saved MK950,000, or about $1,300. Apart from the weaving business, individuals also save with the group at least MK1,000 per week, or $1.40.

Nine women in the group who did not know how to read or write took part in literacy and numeracy classes. After just three month, all learned to write and calculate profits from their respective businesses.

Their group also contributes to the development of their community. They have a nursery of trees they plan to plant along rivers flowing through their area into Lake Malawi to prevent siltation. They have also identified 12 orphans who they plan to support by paying for their school fees and materials.

Because of WORTH, women here understand that they have the tools and ability to invest in their communities and create their own financial solutions as challenges arise. Because communities manage and lead the WORTH groups themselves, they will continue long after the FISH project ends.

Lead photo: WORTH group members weaving grass mats for their new business.