Capacity Development in Malawi


Over the course of a series of small-group meetings between January-June 2016, it became apparent that our immediate staff (n=83) see themselves as part of a large, stable organization. Terrie has always seen our entity, the Blantyre Malaria Project, as a series of projects — but the staff view is reasonable (they never see the effort involved in grant writing, etc).

They have expectations of an organization that one wouldn’t have of a short-term project.  We would like to honor those expectations, both to reward their loyalty and because they have become a well-trained and effective group of workers.

Their expectations are in two categories:  career development (additional training) and the capacity to take out loans large enough to buy cars and homes.

Career Development

riegles-and-scholarship6Career development takes two forms:

1. Ongoing, continuous professional development, required to maintain one’s license. We can pay for these from grants.

2.  Short courses and degree courses, which are required to move up a level or two, in a given career path.  These cannot be justified on grants. Over the past three years, through the generosity of various donors, we have been able to make $10,000 available each year, through a competitive process, to members of staff who have been accepted into a training program and who have made a significant financial contribution to their own training.

See what just one family’s donation can do.

This has been highly motivational and successful (judged by the completion rate). We would like to be able to expand this approach.

Large loans

In this area, the modus operandi in Malawi is distinctly different from the U.S.  Many employers act as bankers, in effect, and offer their staff large loans — which are then deducted from their salaries.  We (BMP) do this, but because we are entirely funded by grants, and we only ever receive six months’ worth of support per grant at any one time, the most we can ever provide is 30% of an employee’s annual salary, paid back over six months. Virtually everyone takes advantage of this – meaning that they are can get by on half of their salary (after tax).

“Why,” you ask, “don’t people just bank half of their salary each month and build up their own nest egg?”

The answer to that question is the first big difference between the U.S. and Malawi, in this general arena, and the answer is “escalating costs of living” and “the extended family.”  Virtually no one can amass a large amount of capital in Malawi because of high inflation rates, rampant devaluations and sporadic price increments resulting in unbearable costs of living. Culturally, many employees are continuously besieged by their extended family members and it would be unthinkable NOT to help someone out, if one has the means.

For the same reason, no one can go to the bank and borrow a large sum — one reason is that the interest rates, 36%-42% per year, are so high — the other is that no one has enough collateral.

We would like to kill two birds with one stone by developing our own collateral of $250,000 which would convert into Malawi Kwacha and sit in a fixed deposit account account in Malawi, accruing interest (~$62,500 per year). We would use the equivalent of $250,000 as collateral for our staff — thus allowing them to borrow larger sums of money than we could manage on the basis of our grant funds. A proportion of the interest would be used to provide staff loans, and those loans, once repaid, would increase our corpus in the bank. The rest of the interest would be awarded, based on a competition, for staff development efforts, and to support members of staff to attend international scientific meetings (but only if they’ve submitted an abstract which has been accepted for an oral presentation or a poster presentation).

MSU will not be responsible in any way for these employee loans; everything will go through Terrie and staff and be managed separately from the university. If this is an area you would like to contribute, please let Terrie know.