Resilience in action
In a year when many businesses closed around the world, 99% of BOMA’s women entrepreneurs grew their income and profits. Their businesses diversified and evolved, while the women learned the power of their own resilience. More on BOMA’s #unexpected.
Humanitarian aid and relief assistance are powerful tools in the face of war, famine, and disease, but have proven ineffective in helping people build financial resilience in the long term or strengthen their ability to respond to shocks.
BOMA’s poverty graduation programme has been building resilience among extremely poor women in the drylands of Africa since 2009. Providing sequenced interventions – including seed capital, financial training, gender-focused life skills and human rights coaching, plus two years of mentoring – the programme supports its participants to start and build businesses and saving groups, increase their financial and food security, invest in their children’s health and education and gain increased voice, choice and agency.
“The Covid-19 pandemic presented a moment of truth like no other” observed John T. Stephens CEO of BOMA. “We felt compelled to ask ourselves: ‘Does our model truly build resilience? Is it really fit for the purpose of alleviating poverty and providing secure and dignified lives and livelihoods in some of the world’s most persistent pockets of extreme poverty?’ We had a proven track record and measurable results, of course, but with the coronavirus crisis in all its global severity and unknown evolution… could our model still deliver on its promises? ”
The answer was a resounding “Yes!”
In a year when many businesses closed around the world, 99% of BOMA’s women entrepreneurs grew their income and profits. Their businesses diversified and evolved, while the women learned the power of their own resilience.
“All the livestock markets closed when COVID-19 struck,” explains Mercy Lekolo, a BOMA entrepreneur living in Samburu County, Kenya. “We were unable to buy and sell goats. I had no income.”
BOMA’s mentors reached out to Mercy’s business group by phone. They discovered Mercy was trained in sewing. BOMA’s mentors encouraged Mercy’s business group to buy a sewing machine with their savings. The group began to make and sell masks at the nearby livestock markets. They made enough money to make up the lost income — and more. They were even able to donate masks to the elderly in their village.
“I now know my business skills can be applied to many situations,” says Mercy. “This knowledge has worked wonders for my confidence.”
The pandemic also forced BOMA to remodel its adaptability as organization. Much of BOMA’s direct implementation – such as mentoring and business support services - had been carried out person-to-person. In response to the challenges of the pandemic, BOMA launched a pilot scheme using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to deliver remote training and mentorship. IVR allows participants to receive recorded trainings on their “non-smart” mobile phones. Complementing this, BOMA tested solar/crank radios that can also play custom audio content from a USB stick to serve participants in areas without mobile coverage.
While in-person mentoring resumed in October 2020, IVR technology is here to stay and will now be used to supplement — but not replace — mentoring.
The same technology will also be integrated in BOMA’s Performance Insights platform, which provides real-time information on programme activities for faster feedback loops and data-driven decision making.
“Ultimately,” John T. Stephens concluded, “the Covid-19 pandemic has proven the resilient power of women like Mercy Lekolo in the face of unparalleled challenges. Given the right resources, women have the power, strength and determination to pull their families out of poverty and withstand shocks as they come. If Covid-19 has revealed and amplified anything, it is that. It’s not exactly new, but Covid put it in lights as never before.”