After decades of photographing and participating in social development work, Guy Stubbs has learnt an important lesson—for a project to be successful it’s impossible to do everything on your own.
“Lots of stakeholders are necessary and they must be the right kind. That’s why this partnership with SaveAct is critical,” says Stubbs, who was once a globe-trotting photographer and now calls himself a Christian social entrepreneur.
In 2013 he started a social enterprise called African Honey Bee that promotes advancement through beekeeping and other activities. Operating in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, African Honey Bee has trained 1500 families and more than 600 of them are now actively keeping bees. Beekeepers sell their honey to the NGO, which then sells it to consumers via pharmacies. When there is profit, it is shared with the producers.
In September the organisation kick-started a formal collaboration with SaveAct that will see African Honey Bee staff mentored as they help their beekeepers set up savings groups in northern Zululand. Those who came to the meetings were introduced to the savings methodology and about 10 groups of approximately 15 members each have been established. The organisation hopes to build up the number of savings groups to about 20.
Stubbs, who started beekeeping when he was 10, wrote a thesis for his MBA a few years ago on building a model for reducing poverty, based on helping poor rural families produce honey. The model is cleverly structured so that participants select themselves in the first workshop.
“We offer free training in a location,” he explains. “People come and we say we don’t give you anything. You have to make your own equipment. If they stay for the three days of training, where they learn how to make protective clothing and tools from what’s available at home, we give them materials to make a beehive.
“They can go away and start beekeeping. Most of the youth who come expect a handout and when they hear there’s nothing except training, they leave. That’s why the average age of our groups is 25-35 years.”
Participants are taken through a series of workshops where they make their hives and learn about beekeeping, harvesting honey, food safety, how to make a business plan and how to run a business. They’re also taught chicken production, vegetable gardening and how to care for fruit trees. After progressing through six levels they emerge with a certificate and an arsenal of livelihood skills.
Sustainability is key for Stubbs, who says he’s seen many projects fail. Inspired by Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, Stubbs says he’s studied the concept of small-scale loans and what makes them work. This brought him to the work of SaveAct.
“Yunus’ model was developed with groups, not individuals. The groups act as banks; this is similar to the stokvel system,” he says. SaveAct’s model takes the stokvel and makes it safer for members by adding rules and processes. For Stubbs, what is especially appealing is that this model has been developed and tested over a number of years with measureable success.
“SaveAct stands out as industry leader in South Africa. It works here, it’s an obvious first-choice partner. We could start savings groups on our own but we could never do it as well as SaveAct, because they focus on that,” he says.
He lists other benefits. “SaveAct is teaching people to manage resources, to be responsible with money, to come to meetings and function as an organisation. They learn how to set up rules for meetings and how to be an efficient and constructive group.”
The monthly meetings of the groups are particularly appealing because they will also provide an opportunity for African Honey Bee to address other peripheral matters, such as the buying and selling of day-old chicks, seeds and vegetables that the beekeeping groups are also involved in. Ultimately, Stubbs believes this will all lead to greater efficiency for the organisation.
One of the main benefits of belonging to a savings group is that the process of saving and the opportunity to borrow money from it leads to members being able to stabilise their household finances and become more resilient during hard times. Their financial security increases and it becomes possible for them to embark on small enterprises that can multiply wealth.
With beekeeping, raising chickens and growing vegetables, African Honey Bee’s groups are already well resourced. In addition, many families also grow trees for Sappi, who then buy them back. A big drawback, however, is that the trees only reach an optimal size after seven years and many growers are forced by circumstances to fell and sell them when they are four years old.
“Belonging to a savings group will mean that members have more income streams, which will make it easier for them to leave their trees to grow for seven years. That means they’ll make 40% more on them,” says Stubbs.
That’s an outcome so sweet even bees might approve of it.
Photo: African Honey Bee