What connects a 70-year-old entrepreneurial refugee in Uganda, the means to change hundreds of thousands of lives and Stokes Croft? Copyright meets the team behind, Deki, the UK’s first ethical crowdfunding organisation
Deki has changed the lives of over 25,000 people previously living in poverty. It has empowered them to become more financially independent, but it hasn’t given them a single penny.
Deki is a charity that doesn’t directly donate to the people it hopes to help. It runs the UK’s first person-to-person micro lending system. Essentially the Deki team uses its expertise to enable progressive people in countries blessed with thriving economies to lend money to progressive people in countries where this is not the case. The loan recipients in Ghana, South Sudan, Uganda, South Africa and Malawi use the money to establish a business, create their own income, and ultimately pay the loan back and continue to earn. The entirety of each individual loan goes directly to people in the developing world.
Deki was founded in 2008 when the idea of online crowdfunding was barely a twinkle in the Internet’s eye. So far Deki has facilitated over £646,140 of loans from over 3,540 different lenders.
Copyright met up with Deki’s founder and CEO Vashti Seth. She reflects on how far the charity has come and how much further still it can go, ‘Then it was just me on a laptop and now we’ve got a whole team with much clearer goals,’ she says. ‘By 2020 we want to have changed 100,000 lives and need to be lending £2 million in order to do that.’
Vashti and the Bristol team rely on local partners to distribute the loans to the beneficiaries, ‘We work with partners who administer the loans on our behalf.’ She says. ‘Local knowledge is key to finding the right people to lend to, and collecting repayments. ‘Most of the work we do is looking at their policies and processes.’ It’s this detailed and personal approach to such an expansive operation that makes Deki so effective.
Despite Deki’s scrupulous dedication, nothing is guaranteed. After all, business is a risk whether you’re in Budadiri or Bristol. There are seemingly unavoidable factors that can mean in some instances a loan isn’t paid back, but this is remarkably rare —the success rate of the loans currently stands at staggering 95 per cent.
While the loans themselves are made directly from person to person, the logistics of Deki’s system requires funding too. Some local businesses have already recognised the value of what Deki does—Ocean Estate Agents, Marshfield Bakery, Friska and Simplweb are all on board. But there is much more that can be done.
A lot has changed for Vashti since she started Deki. Having previously done the media thing working in film and TV, she was inspired by her late father’s sponsorship of a Tibetan girl called Deki Dolkha to change course. Because women are so marginalised in many of the countries that Deki operates in, they tend to benefit more from the loans. ‘In South Sudan a woman can’t own anything, they can’t have any property or a bank account,’ Vashti explains. Currently around 70 per cent of Deki loans go to women.
By far the biggest and most common success stories that Deki hear are people being able to send their children to school for longer. A closer look at individual cases—like Modester Banda’s—shows exactly how this happens.
Malawian Modester Banda is a 36-year-old widow and the sole provider for her four children. The potatoes, rapeseed and cabbages she grew didn’t flourish, so neither did her income, or her children, who were excluded fromschool when she couldn’t pay their tuition fees. In 2014, Modester applied for a Deki loan and invested in more vegetables, some fertiliser, a watering can and a hoe, plus two more people to help her cultivate the land.
Modester has repaid the loan, provided an opportunity for others in her village and her children are back in school. She acknowledges the loan is a much-welcomed business agreement, ‘The Deki loan is profitable if well managed but the person has to observe repayments and reinvest’, she tells the Deki team. ‘As a widow with all the responsibilities I have, it is through these loans that I am able to support my family.’
Deki’s success stories are as heart-warming as they are plentiful, but some really do stand out. Enter 70-year-old entrepreneur Josephine Atoo Otema. Josephine was made a refugee during Sudan’s brutal civil war and has lived in Palabek, Uganda for the last 20 years. She looks after her children, ten grandchildren and husband, and in part, the rest of her village, who come to her for business and domestic advice. She is also a group leader for Deki microloans, and miraculously seems to find time to run her own market business too.
Having recently recieved a £130 Deki loan to bulk buy stock, Josephine has paid it back and her youngest daughter is about to become the first ever family member to go university. Josephine told Deki how the loans could have a wide-reaching impact in her village, ‘I want to see all refugee women in Palabek have success in their struggle against extreme poverty, to support their children until they finish their studies, and to save to secure their future.’
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