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Asking the Poor for Money: Creative Fundraising in Rural Villages

Emmanuel, Lamonte and their team Invincible Vision 2020 founded a literacy project in rural Rwanda where they knew their beneficiaries would be the neediest— but also the poorest. The program faces costs for chalk, books, transportation, cleaning supplies and teacher salaries. To make ends meet, students and teachers collected stray sticks and stones on their way to class. Once the piles grew big enough, Emmanuel sold them to a construction company to finance school supplies. When the stream of scrap material dried up, the school founders brainstormed new strategies and bought a few pigs and rabbits. They bred them and gave some of the litters to the poorest students. The students could improve their standard of living by raising the animals and selling the offspring, and even eating meat themselves occasionally. They now give half of each litter back to Invincible Vision to continue the program. Each month a portion are sold to restaurants*, and some community members who support the school decide to pay to join the program. As of now, the growing system generates $80-$100 each month. Some people raise an eyebrow when I explain that we encourage our change agents to raise local support for their project. “But the villages are too poor,” they argue. In our experience, the team leaders find creative ways for the villagers to contribute, and both the donation and its spirit make the project more sustainable than a stream of American dollars. A team fighting gender-based violence sells homemade lunch at construction sites. While serving the hungry workers, they explain their project and delicately describe the benefits of equal relationships. Other teams host theater performances or community talent shows, or use one of the village’s few television sets to screen a movie; ticket sales are quite profitable. Even so, team leaders often choose to forgo compensation, despite the fact that being a change agent prevents pursuit of full-time and more lucrative jobs. They insist on devoting the money to their project and may continue to live on less than two dollars per day. Similarly, the teachers at the literacy program have often gone months without salary, content that school supplies be given first priority until the full budget is raised. Patiently arranging their own schedules around the pace of social change, these leaders dedicate themselves to sustainable development. *This is an example of what Christina and I do. We met with Invincible Vision 2020 and reviewed their financial records and fundraising strategies. We helped them think about their resources and skills, then brainstormed new ideas. After our meeting, they began the local talent shows and selling pigs and rabbits directly to restaurants, which fetches a higher price than the market.

At our training program, we teach team leaders how to use whatever you have- a wheelbarrow, a ball, a rock, or just yourself- to fundraise. To practice, we give them an assortment of dollar-store items and an hour to raise money on the streets outside the classroom. The winner's earning are matched by Global Grassroots. Here, one woman prepares to do some sort of trick with a bouncy-ball for a small crowd after explaining her project and purpose. The winning team used the props to do a sort of comedy-music-dance routine and raised almost $10 performing in small bars.

I was digging for a picture for this post and came up with this. Pretty embarrassing, and no idea why it's floating in my photo library. Or why I'm publicly acknowledging that. One of the team leaders organized his poor, illiterate students to collects rocks and bits of brick from the dirt road on their way to literacy class each night. Eventually they had a large pile, which they sold to a construction company. The revenue paid for books and pens.


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