International charities boost business in Uganda

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Makeshift refugee camp at Bunagana near Kisoro town 521km southwest of Uganda capital Kampala.
Makeshift refugee camp at Bunagana near Kisoro town 521km southwest of Uganda capital Kampala. Photo: Reuters

I am in Uganda with CARE International UK, as an ambassador for the charity, looking at their remarkable Banking on Charge programme which they are jointly running with another charity - Plan International.

Worldwide, 2.5 billion people are excluded from financial security and the fruits of sound advice on how to better their material condition.

The partner is Barclays, beset by problems at home yet doing amazing work here and elsewhere.

The link is logical: small farmers group together into village savings and loans groups, from self-support and self-sufficiency, they progress to setting up a group bank account; as individuals progress they then create private and business accounts.

The amounts are modest - a few hundred pounds equivalent from the group - but the transformation, phenomenal. I met Suzan, a woman who had a tiny flock of chickens and now has hundreds. She sells her eggs widely and generates surplus income for herself and her family.

Hasan farmed his father's smallholding and now runs a successful mobile phone business in Iganga, the local market town. He is also putting himself through university doing, not surprisingly, a bachelors degree in Business Studies. And so it goes on.

Two thoughts are already drilled into my mind: having one's money secure, however much or little, is a universal good; coupling it with sound advice from the charity sector is truly transformational in a country like Uganda.

The second is this: whatever happened on LIBOR and in the esoteric derivatives markets, when banks stick to basics, with good people in control, they can change lives for the better. They have their commercial motives and I don't begrudge them those.

But for Suzan, Hasan and many others, it is an offer they are happy to embrace and, patently, for the better.

Without this programme, poverty and fear would remain enshrined. With it, there's a real chance of financial security, liberty and progress from a bleak condition to a better place.