Meet Green Malata's Entrepreneurs

Co-authored by Nick Schonfeld.

There is a moment for everything. A moment to start, a moment to speed up and to slow down. A moment to stop. Aid organisations around the world face the same dilemma: at what point do you say till here and no further? The people who need help will continue to need it long after you’ve stopped supporting them. Obviously, these questions are of acute importance to the recipients of aid, but they are also crucial to an aid organisation’s mission. Do you help with an end in sight, and if so, when is that moment? During my time at Green Malata, an entrepreneurial training village in Southern Malawi built by the Children’s Fund of Malawi and whose work Nick and I documented in 2016, I came across this question time and time again.

Laston Segula, 24 years old, works on the beginnings of a sofa frame at his carpentry workshop, near Luchenza, southern Malaw
Laston Segula, 24 years old, works on the beginnings of a sofa frame at his carpentry workshop, near Luchenza, southern Malawi.

With the vast majority of the population living on less that US$ 2 a day, and a frighteningly low life expectancy of less than 55 years, Malawians, especially women and children, face an uncertain future, regardless of how old they are. They cannot afford to go to school, as adults, they cannot find work, and when they are elderly, there is little to support them. In other words, in Malawi, you can support someone for the entire duration of their lives. So, as an aid organisation, how do you shape your mission? What ‘part’ of someone’s life do you choose to support, and for how long?

Laston Segula, 24 years old, stands in his carpentry workshop. Each entrepreneur decorates their stall or shop with a colourf
Laston Segula, 24 years old, stands in his carpentry workshop. Each entrepreneur decorates their stall or shop with a colourful shop sign.

Many of the children at Green Malata have benefitted from the fund’s previous initiatives: school feeding programs, school fees support, and the renovation of local orphanages. Some have spent their entire lives under the charity’s wing, although most of Green Malata’s current students have joined later in life. Its staff quickly saw that a lack of a ‘support’ time frame would not be sustainable as it would require an endless starting of new projects and initiatives to cater the ever growing and ageing group of students.

Rather than trying to help everyone for as long as possible, Green Malata decided on a tailored approach: teach children a tangible skill to prepare them for the future. Train them to become welders, bakers, carpenters or farmers, show them how to start their own businesses, give them the tools and equipment they need, and give them micro loans. Provide them with all the education, training and preparation they need, and then let go.

23 year old Geoffrey Jackson (left), and 21 year old Raphael Bosa (right), work on a metal doorframe in the welding workshop
23 year old Geoffrey Jackson (left), and 21 year old Raphael Bosa (right), work on a metal doorframe in the welding workshop they jointly run, near Luchenza, southern Malawi. Both trained at Green Malata and received a starter pack. They rent the generator they are using in this picture from a local business man.
Raphael Bosa, 21 years old, wearing a pair of welding goggles, stands in the welding workshop he runs with his friend Geoffre
Raphael Bosa, 21 years old, wearing a pair of welding goggles, stands in the welding workshop he runs with his friend Geoffrey. The price list written on the wall behind him belongs to the hairdressers salon that previously rented the space.
Geoffrey Jackson, 23 years old, holds his hard hat, as he stands in the welding workshop he runs with his friend Raphael. Alt
Geoffrey Jackson, 23 years old, holds his hard hat, as he stands in the welding workshop he runs with his friend Raphael. Although business is good, they struggle due to the constant power cuts in the area.

The approach is working, and entrepreneurs, trained by Green Malata are popping up everywhere. Hairdressers are opening salons in nearby villages and towns, carpenters sell chairs and tables from stalls along the province’s main roads, and tailors have set up shop and are busy making school uniforms and re-useable sanitary pads.

However, Green Malata and the entrepreneurs they train, are being held back by the chronic lack of a functioning infrastructure. Malawi suffers from power cuts for more than half of the year, much of the country’s forests are chopped down and used as firewood for cooking or in kilns to make bricks or charcoal, and the Kwacha, Malawi’s currency, devalues on a regular basis. Until the government addresses some of the countries most pressing issues, the future of Green Malata’s entrepreneurs remains fragile.

Lexa Salani graduated from Green Malata in June of 2016. Here she sits behind her sowing machine near Luchenza, southern Mala
Lexa Salani graduated from Green Malata in June of 2016. Here she sits behind her sowing machine near Luchenza, southern Malawi. Lexa, like so many others, had no way of earning a living before training at Green Malata. Now she makes dresses and school uniforms which she sells in the surrounding towns and villages.
Felicity takes a break from working on a customer’s hair, in the salon of her teacher, Hilder Lapson. Felicity has taken over
Felicity takes a break from working on a customer’s hair, in the salon of her teacher, Hilder Lapson. Felicity has taken over managing the store while Hilder is at home, heavily pregnant.
28 year old Esnat (left) and her business partner, Memory (right), stand in their hairdressing salon, Nomec,  near Luchenza,
28 year old Esnat (left) and her business partner, Memory (right), stand in their hairdressing salon, Nomec, near Luchenza, southern Malawi. Esnat and Memory run their salon as a partnership with three other friends. Esnat: “I like the work very much. We have plans to grow and to move to a busier area so that we can have more customers. It is a little quite where we are located now.”
Blessings Kamanga, 23 years old, works on a chair, at his carpentry stall near Luchenza, southern Malawi. Blessings graduated
Blessings Kamanga, 23 years old, works on a chair, at his carpentry stall near Luchenza, southern Malawi. Blessings graduated from Green Malata in 2016 and opened his stall two weeks later, with the help of a starter pack consisting of basic tools.
Lex Segwa, 22 years old, works on one of his dress designs at his tailoring workshop near Luchenza, southern Malawi.
Lex Segwa, 22 years old, works on one of his dress designs at his tailoring workshop near Luchenza, southern Malawi.
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