Measuring Facts ~ For more than a decade of my career, I have been a nonprofit fundraiser. So, when I was presented the opportunity to join Street Business School (SBS) in Uganda this year, I came with the critical eye of a development professional. I wanted to see the program in action; I wanted to know the numbers; I wanted to see the deliverables; I wanted to hear the stories; I wanted to know the impact. And as I reflect on this I realize that’s how I approach most things – give me the facts.
When I arrived, the facts were apparent. SBS alumni had powerful stories of how the skills they learned and the confidence they gained helped them start businesses – yes, multiple – and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Farida, a single mom of three, knew how to cook; she had pots and pans; she had a place for people to sit so she started a restaurant. I liked this approach. SBS asked their students to ask themselves – what could you do today? With the resources and skills that you have at this moment what could you do to start earning money today? The success of Farida’s restaurant helped her buy a refrigerator and start selling bottled water – business number two.
Within five years, Farida had a restaurant, a bottled water business, and owned three rental properties. She earned enough money to move her family out of the slum and send her school-aged children to school. She earned $90 a month. These are excellent facts. But it wasn’t the facts that convinced me SBS was a strong donor investment. It was the smile on Farida’s face; it was the pride that radiated from her eyes; it was the way her son spoke of her. He said, “no one works harder than my mom.”
Measuring Confidence, Social Capital and Community Power
As it turns out, it is the things that are harder to measure – confidence, social capital, community power – that make me most proud of being an SBS supporter. How do you measure the FACT that before SBS a woman didn’t speak up for herself, didn’t believe in herself, didn’t expect more of her life than to live in the slum and didn’t expect that her children would do any better? How do you measure the FACT that because of SBS that is no longer true?
How do you measure that because Farida has successfully started three businesses that her peers look to her for advice and confidence boosting as they are emboldened to redirect their lives with their own businesses? How do you measure that seeing Farida work at her businesses every day impacts the belief they have in themselves to accomplish the same?
How do you measure the FACT that these networks of small business women create such strong communities that there is political power among them? Women who were, just eight months ago, seemingly powerless are now on fire for each other and their new lives. They are reimagining their entire lives and the lives of their children.
As I boarded the plane for the 17-hour flight back to Houston, I too reimagined. I tried to envision the new lives of these brave women. I tried to envision the new direction their children’s lives would take. I tried to find a word that matched the generational impact SBS has made on these families. What these women have done for themselves and their families is immeasurable, though I can give you the numbers on how many alumni run successful businesses. I can tell you how much money they make. I can tell you what SBS does; I can tell you about curriculum; I can tell you about the retention rate. What I can’t tell you, what I don’t have words for, what is indescribable is the look on Farida’s face. And that’s a fact.
By Cristina Gomez, Street Business School Advisory Board