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Business Development and Cooperative Training a Focus in Next Phase of Project

The second phase of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) was launched on Monday, October 3rd , by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Professor Jeffrey Sachs. With up to $20 million dollars in business loans pledged by long-term MVP supporter George Soros, phase two of the project will focus on boosting local businesses to help communities achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline and to empower them with sustainable incomes to support their own needs far beyond this date.

To implement this strategy, MVP staff will work on strengthening farmer groups and businesses in the Millennium Villages into formal cooperatives. The cooperative is an essential tool which communities are using to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and to ensure that gains made can be sustained by the villagers themselves. By grouping members into a formal legal entity, the cooperative enables them to work together, improves their bargaining position at market, achieves economies of scale, and enables access to finance, credit and other resources.

To this end, The MDG Centre recently commissioned a tailor made in-house training at the Cooperative College of Kenya, the leading school of its kind in the region, to provide appropriate managerial skills that will enable cooperative managers and community organizers to contribute effectively to the cooperatives development in the Millennium Villages. From Sept 5th to Sept 23rd 2011, twenty cooperative professional staff, business development, cooperative and community facilitators and coordinators, from all East and Southern Africa MVPs completed an intensive three week course in cooperative management. The course focused on applying modern business practices to rural cooperatives, focusing particularly on market access, financial management, value addition, and the legal framework of cooperatives in the countries where the MVP operates. The training is expected to help synchronize their efforts across the region as part of an overall strategy for sustaining the gains achieved in the first five-year phase of the program at the Millennium Village level.

“The course has given me so many new ideas about which businesses could be successful in my village, everything from poultry to crop farming,” said Mrs. Safia Guhad Ali, Women Group Facilitator from Dertu Millennium Village in the dry lands of northern Kenya. “I learnt a lot about cooperative formation, and this will help me to train and facilitate the new irrigation based agricultural scheme that we have coming up in Dertu, involving 240 community members.”

Millennium Village enterprises now number approximately 45 and include fish farmers, dairy farmers and beekeepers in Sauri, Kenya; banana farmers, coffee farmers, jewelry and handcraft artisans in Ruhiira, Uganda; cassava farmers, basket weavers and pig farmers in Mayange, Rwanda and maize, bean and cassava farmers in Mwandama, Malawi. Approximately 11 of these enterprises are now legally registered cooperatives in the formative stage and other fledgling cooperatives are starting up fast in the climate of optimism and entrepreneurship fostered by Millennium Village interventions. To improve their operations and establish new businesses, course graduates will return to the villages and train local cooperative managers, community members, and other MVP staff.

Mayange Millennium Village in Rwanda already boasts several successful cooperatives including knitting, tourism, and cassava processing. Delphin Muhizi, Business Development Coordinator at the site, is confident he can help them to grow further. “The key is that cooperatives become self-sustaining,” Muhizi said. “ I want to start immediately on improving the development of business plans for each of our enterprises to make this happen, and to assist them with access to funding from banks and other financial institutions so that they can expand.”

Already, the income generated by cooperatives has achieved tangible results in several villages. Members have been able to invest back into their businesses and contribute to gains in health, education and infrastructure maintenance. The second phase of the Millennium Villages Project will build on this success.

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