Seed Grants

Headquartered down the road in San Carlos, Village Enterprise has been alleviating poverty in rural East Africa since 1987.

Sub-Saharan Africans live in the most impoverished region on Earth, beyond the reach of most poverty-reduction and microfinance initiatives. In rural eastern Uganda, entire communities remain displaced by the Lord’s
Resistance Army, a terrorist group known for atrocious human rights violations. Market day is once a week; there are no banks to be found.

Ellen Metzger ’10 works as director of programs and field finance for Village Enterprise, a microenterprise development organization serving the extreme poor in parts of Uganda and Kenya. Lucy Wurtz ’84 serves as director of marketing and development.

The organization provides $150 seed grants, along with mentoring and other support, to help groups of villagers start businesses. Since 1987, participants (75 percent of whom are women) have launched in excess of 30,000 private, self-supporting ventures, lifting more than 500,000 fellow East Africans out of extreme poverty.

“Most groups start with livestock rearing,” says Metzger. “They buy goats and sheep and raise them to sell to the community for consumption.” For people with little business experience, she says, raising goats is the least risky operation.

“Once the group establishes a reliable income source, they’re able to pay for food, education, and health care,” she says. A mother who has opened her own street café no longer worries about her son being chased from school for failing to pay his fees. Women who never saw economic opportunity are now supporting their families by selling produce door to door, owning vegetable stands, or trading flowers on market day.

The organization can also boast of being a catalyst to other development efforts. After witnessing Village Enterprise’s impact firsthand while working with staff in 2004, U.S. entrepreneur Jessica Jackley co-founded Kiva, the world’s first peer-to-peer online microlending website. (Fellow Kiva co-founder Matt Flannery then participated in SCU’s Global Social Benefit Institute in 2006.)

Metzger credits service work on various international immersion trips as the impetus for this vocation. At the end of her senior year, she interned in Ghana through SCU’s Global Fellows Program. “Here is where I fell in love with Africa. Here is where I realized I wanted a career helping people start businesses and develop their economies,” she says. After completing her bachelor’s in finance and her Certificate of Advanced Accounting Proficiency, she joined Village Enterprise. She’s spent the last three years working out of a small field office in the town of Soroti, in eastern Uganda.

post-image Separating millet casing from the "meat" to make flour in Uganda. View full image. Photo courtesy of Ellen Metzger
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