Christian Aid’s innovative funding scheme really can be just like honey

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Despite ‘aid’ being part of our name, at Christian Aid we long for the day when it is not necessary. Our long-term vision is an end to poverty, and we take different routes, sometimes bold ones towards achieving that goal.

There remain many cases where traditional grant support is necessary, vital and effective. Yet some of the most interesting support for the world’s poor communities can be found where grants are combined with loans to support flourishing, long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty. Development is complex, its processes rarely following a linear approach and some of its most innovative work make it hard to measure success. At Christian Aid, we have an innovation fund called In their Lifetime (ITL) whichpushes the boundaries of development work by pioneering new approaches to see an end to poverty for people deprived of life’s most basic necessities in their lifetime.

In Their Lifetime brings together philanthropists, technical experts, grassroots organisations and social venture capitalists together to, not only devise radical solutions to entrenched problems but to also empower smallholders to build sustainable livelihoods through grants and eventually affordable loans.

Most of the ITL projects still require traditional grants, usually at start-up. However, the way we are giving and the way those grants are being delivered are changing. In Scotland, most of our ITL supporters are individual donors who wish to support specific projects, hence regarding their giving as venture philanthropy – a movement that creates new partnerships between social investors and NGOs respecting local capacities whilst strengthening them.

So how does Christian Aid’s innovative fund pave the way for communities to be less dependent on aid? The projects start as pilots and typically last from two to four years. Grants which consist of donations made by our supporters in Scotland and UK-wide are bestowed to our in-country partners and communities. These grants serve as investments for launching these projects which aim to be small enterprises, thereby giving the communities the opportunity to run a small enterprise, engage in successful marketing of their produce and establishing a robust market through fair pricing. The Kenya honey project illustrates those key stages in the In Their Lifetime programme which leads to greater sustainability for smallholders. Currently, Kenya’s honey comes from Tanzania, yet 80 per cent of land in Kenya is suitable for beekeeping.

Kenyan honey yields were at only 25 per cent of capacity due to the use of traditional log hives, the quality of the honey produced was low and generally poor organisation and uncoordinated flow of information or financing across the whole honey sector. Working in partnership with the Kenya Honey Council, this project worked to address the sectoral challenges so that all beekeepers across Kenya could benefit from the improvements. Partnering with a corporate partner, The Hive, it also established four ‘honey hubs’ in different parts of the country to help organise farmers so they can benefit from economies of scale, provide training and improve access to markets and fair pricing. Farmers were also given grants to purchase new and more efficient hives and as expected, there has been a net increase in the volume and value of honey traded by the hubs.

One farmer, Jackson Ole Leiyo, successfully supplied the hub with nearly a tonne and a half of honey worth £2,936 from his hives and from 25 beekeepers around his village. This accounted for 40 per cent of his income. With the new hives, farmers like Jackson can generate more income from the pollen bread, royal jelly, bee propolis and the venom for pharmaceutical purposes – by-products they never obtained with traditional log hives. The Bank of Kenya and several philanthropists have expressed an interest in helping these communities realise this potential by merging philanthropic giving and finance. Using innovative funding models such as ITL enables Christian Aid to take risks, to innovate and to push boundaries further than would otherwise be the case. Scotland has many inspiring examples of social entrepreneurship, and we hope to see more entrepreneurs – and others – joining us on this journey to continue pushing the boundaries ‘in their lifetime’.

Nadia Cunden, Philanthropy and Partnerships, Christian Aid Scotland