5 USD is enough

written by Rebecca Rempel

Is 5 USD enough to start a small business? Yes, it is, according to Jacob (Zambia).

Jacob and his wife Esther (Switzerland) are part of a team that conducts micro-business training across Africa. The training consists of four days in the classroom followed by ten days of practicals and concludes with three more days of learning. Each student receives a 5 USD loan to start a business during the practical. At the end of the ten days, they pay back the loan—with interest—and share their experience.

“Often we hear that it is not possible; it’s too small. What can we do with 5 USD?” said Esther. “But generally, when the people come back, it is exciting to see what they achieve.”

One sceptical participant returned at the end of the practical “smiling because he was able to make more than what he thought from the little money,” Jacob shared. Seeing people put into practice what they’ve learnt to start their own businesses and then “at the end of the day, they’re actually able to be self-sustainable and provide for their families” is one of Jacob’s favourite aspects of the training.

From selling sweets to bread to beauty products to airtime, participants are encouraged to look around them for examples of what people are interested in purchasing. Starting with a small amount helps participants realise they do not need a big capital to begin. If the business fails or isn’t profitable, they can “go back to the drawing board and start all over,” said Jacob. “[The training teaches] people to start small and then grow what they’ve started.”

All the stories used in the training are real-life examples “just to show [participants] that it is possible, it can happen,” Jacob explained. “We say, ‘It brought about transformation to this [person]; it can happen to you.’”

A life transformed

Chloe*, from central Africa, attended a micro-business training, and it completely transformed her life. A widow, she used to beg for food to provide for her five children and was completely reliant on the generosity of others. With the start-up loan, she purchased small food items that could quickly resell. The high turnover rate allowed her to generate a small income, and soon she could feed her children. She did not stop there, however.

Keeping in mind what she had learnt in the training, Chloe set aside money until she had enough to rent, and later buy, a field and plant sweet potatoes, a staple food in her country. Chloe sold what the family did not eat, using the funds to purchase other necessities and pay for her children’s school fees.

“The business training brought back dignity because she’s able to provide for her children herself and doesn’t need to beg anymore,” said Esther. Seeing and discussing values like honesty and integrity impacted Chloe and how she interacted with others. “It was exciting to see how her whole attitude, her whole life, changed through that.”

Opening doors

Though the training is built on biblical values, the participants are not always Jesus followers. Many people are eager to receive business training, and “we want to engage with whoever needs it,” said Esther. They found that discussing the need for principles like honesty and trustworthiness in business invites further conversation. Some people acknowledge that they did not act with those values in mind and make it a point to do the right thing going forward, Jacob recalled.

In a few places, government officials and other leaders witnessed the impact of the training and asked for the programme to be repeated. “[People] open up their homes, and they open up their communities because of the micro-business training,” Jacob said. It also gives the couple credibility and an opportunity to travel to far-flung places.

Recently, the couple shifted their focus to the Sahel—a geographical transition zone in Africa between the Sahara Desert in the north and the Savannah in the south. The Sahel stretches approximately 5,400km through more than ten countries and faces many natural and man-made challenges.

“Most of the people that we reach out to, you cannot actually reach out to them with your Bible under your arms,” Jacob explained. “Meaning that you need to have other ways through which you can reach them, and the business training is one of the tools.”

“It’s not that we are special or super-spiritual,” he added. “It’s just that we have decided to be obedient in doing what God has given each and every one of us to do. And this is our responsibility; it is each and everyone’s responsibility to reach out to the last.”

Merging his passions

Growing up going to Sunday School, Jacob thought that was enough until his aunt told him attending church did not mean he was a Christian; he needed a relationship with the Lord. That same day, Jacob said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation and never looked back.

Having travelled to various places to share Christ’s love with others, his aunt told Jacob stories of what God was doing around the world. This influenced Jacob, and he decided to get involved in “making disciples of all nations.”

Jacob became a pastor with a heart for sharing the Gospel of Christ, all the while running a small business. When the opportunity came for him to merge all his passions, he was excited about it. “The business training gave me a platform to continue what I was doing before, in terms of ministry, discipleship and church planting [and merge it with] the business side,” he explained.

*name changed

Sierra Leone: A business training takes place in West Africa. The training is based on biblical values – though the participants are often not Jesus followers. Photo by Rebecca Rempel.