The Power of One or Expansive Impact?

April 19, 2014

At this time, we estimate sponsoring a Savings Group costs about $50 per member. Tuition for students at Selam Awassa Technical and Vocational College runs $600-$1800 depending on which program they are enrolled in. The long-term benefits of Savings Groups and Vocational training are highly valuable. In January, while in Awassa, we were debriefing at a Pizza restaurant and our server happened to be a graduate of Selam. She did a fabulous job, spoke confidently with us, and was very happy to be earning money applying her new skills. Earlier that day, we had visited with Besha Adam, one our sponsored Selam students, at the open-air café she started with a loan following the completion of her studies. We’ve shared before how Besha employed her sister and was expressing an ambitious personality that blossomed during her term at Selam.

Besha Adam serving soft drinks at her outdoor cafe.
Besha Adam serving soft drinks at her outdoor cafe.

Stories of impact from the Savings Group program abound. Widows, orphans, wives, husbands, children, even police officers (!) have shared the difference learning how to save and lend with one another has had on their lives.

On paper, it’s clear we can fund many more Savings Group for the cost of sending a student to vocational school. But should we evaluate our investments this way? In our pursuit of helping Ethiopians embrace God’ design for abundant life, should we find the most cost-effective, highest return programs and encourage investment solely in this direction. Should we emphasize developing crucial skills needed to support technological innovation and sustainable employment? Discovering Light has labored over these questions and feel confident in the approach we’ve adopted.

Here, in the maze of cost/benefit/impact analysis, vision and principles are the key to deciding the way for our organization. From a materialistic perspective, the world’s resources are fixed: money spent on one initiative is money not spent on another. But from a Christian worldview, we see through a lens of abundance. We avoid making return on investment our only consideration while taking care to fund projects with a sustainable impact. In other words, while we could sponsor 30 Savings Group Members for every one vocational student, these ‘money’ stats don’t need to determine every decision.

Savings Group members from the village of Adje. West Arsi.
Savings Group members from the village of Adje. West Arsi.

Guiding Vision:

We’ve identified four Pillars of Life, areas God has designed for all men and women to experience abundance and flourishing. The Pillars aren’t recipe ingredients for perfect community development. Rather, they’re aspects of life that deserve unique attention in our pursuit of wholeness. Two of these are Personal/Family Well-being and Work/Vocation. Savings Groups build skills that foster well-being in individuals and families. They help people learn to provide for themselves and become resourceful, which translates into a confident and hopeful perspective instead of despair.

Training offered at Selam infuses students with the value of work, innovation, imagination, and productivity. It provides marketable skills such as welding, electrical, cooking, hospitality, and more. Students use this knowledge in factories in the city and repairing farming equipment in the country. This education requires a concentrated learning environment led by professionals.

If we didn’t see both personal well-being and work as essential components to flourishing families and communities, we may only look at what would give the ‘most bang for our buck’. We don’t see development this way. As an organization, we believe Jesus promised abundant life in every aspect to those who follow his truth. We want to partner with Ethiopians, and in particular, the Arsi Oromo, to help them discover this life. Programs and initiatives are evaluated for their effectiveness and impact. We will continue to sponsor vocational development and savings groups with this in mind.