A Look at Economic Empowerment with TCF’s Microfinance Director, Grace Mmassy

For the past 12 years, TCF has been working in an impoverished area of northern Tanzania called Oldeani. For generations, local families have depended on subsistence farming and seasonal day labor at the three surrounding coffee plantations. Over the years, the population has grown substantially, while employment on the coffee plantations has dramatically declined. Community members working as coffee pickers receive roughly $150 per year in salary, well below the poverty line. Low wages and a lack of alternative employment have taken a severe toll on Oldeani’s community, families, and children.

Realizing that economic empowerment is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, in 2008 TCF created a microfinance program designed to give local entrepreneurs the training, support, and resources needed to operate small businesses. The program currently serves almost 600 clients – over half of whom are women. In addition to gaining valuable business skills, our participants earn on average $700 USD per year, more than double the average annual income for our area ($300).

Training - Candle Making

Grace (far right) with microfinance clients after a candle-making training.

TCF’s Microfinance Director, Grace Mmassy, talks to us about the successes, struggles and hopes for TCF’s microfinance program going forward.

Ali: When did you arrive at Rift Valley Children’s Village (RVCV) and what made you interested in working in the microfinance program?

Grace: I moved to the Rift Valley Children’s Village in 2007 after I married Peter (Peter Leon Mmassy, TCF’s Tanzanian Managing Director), and I began working in the Microfinance Program in 2013. What interested me about the Microfinance Program is that it involves creating and inspiring businesses. I have always been interested in business: I worked at a bank before coming to RVCV, so the idea and process of helping others start their own is exciting.

Mmassy family

Peter and Grace Mmassy with their three daughters

Ali: How has the program changed since you began in 2013?

Grace: The program has changed dramatically, but one step at a time. When I started working with the microfinance clients, there was a lot of struggle and a lot of push back when we encouraged them to pursue various businesses. The introduction of the handicrafts program has dramatically improved our success, particularly with our female clients.

Ali: Tell me more about the handicrafts program and the women you work with.

Grace: The handicrafts program teaches, trains and supports women in making crafts that they can sell in both local shops and tourist lodges, providing them with a new source of income. These women are strong and hardworking. What I love about working with women in microfinance is that when you educate a woman, you educate their family. In Tanzania, women are the ones often running the home and serving as the ever-present figure in their children’s lives. They can teach their children both the technical skills of making the crafts, as well as pass along the basics of running a business. It truly feels as though we can create change across generations, even though we’re starting with a single individual.

Training - basket weaving

Grace (on left) with Sally Scott and microfinance clients during a basket-weaving training.

Ali: In what ways have you seen the microfinance make an impact on the community?

Grace: The changes we have seen in personal livelihood have been dramatic. I have pictures of some of our clients from when we first started working together. They were suffering from extreme malnutrition, they couldn’t afford to send their kids to school, some couldn’t even afford a home. Now, because of the money they have made through our program, they have three meals a day, their kids are in school, they have a home and land with chickens and cattle. It is amazing to see.

Ali: That’s so wonderful! Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about the microfinance program or its effect on the community?

Grace: That the growth we have seen hasn’t been only in personal wealth. Our clients have become more confident, thoughtful and positive people since we began working together, and I think a lot of that has to do with them knowing that there are people across the world who are interested in them experiencing success. They know that others are invested in them, and our clients want to make them proud.