A Bakery For Good
I’m an avid baker – I love that moment when all the ingredients blend together and knowing they are about to transform into something impressively new and, if all goes well, delicious. Baking doesn’t always come up in my work except for when I bring cupcakes into the office, but this year when I read a grant application from Imvani Women’s AIDS Support Group in Malawi, two of my favorite things – baking and community development - were in one place, a perfect match. A small group of women who had been diagnosed HIV-positive started Imvani Women’s AIDS Support Group to offer support to one another as they faced the challenges of living with HIV. The group started small in 2002, meeting under a tree and providing care and support to one another. As more and more women joined, men started to join the group too and they now have over 300 members. Imvani, which means “to listen and take action” in Chichewa, the national language of Malawi, consistently pursues methods to build the livelihoods of its members. They have initiated many income-generating projects including a piggery that has become the leading supplier of pigs in their area, to small-scale farming operations, to microloans that make small businesses possible. Each project enables Imvani to support more families, empowering caregivers to provide for their children.
In an effort to sustain their own work, last year Imvani requested Firelight funds to establish a bakery business. The bakery would help them to expand their support to vulnerable children in the community while also creating the means for economic empowerment for women and their families. Imvani collaborated with the government vocational training program to train women in the bakery business and used Firelight funds to purchase the initial inputs into the bakery.
Imvani uses efficient ovens that burn 70% less firewood than their previous equipment to bake their goods. They’ve also collaborated with the Malawi Department of Forestry to establish a new area to plant trees so that the firewood used for the bakery does not deplete the wood needed by the rest of the community.
Nine months later, when Firelight’s Country Consultant, Howard Kasiya, visited Imvani he was amazed to see what a success the bakery had become. Howard told us, "every visit to Imvani has its own surprises and the management of the bakery business was the surprise for this visit." The bakery has become “the talk of the town” and Imvani can barely keep up with demand.
When Howard asked the staff how they are able to run their nine community programs so well, ranging from several income-generating activities, vocational training for women and youth, and providing early childhood education to young children to name a few, they answered, "by planning." This simple response is the heart of Imvani's thoughtful and methodical approach to supporting vulnerable children and families in their community.
Because of Imvani's success, families are now able to pay their children’s school fees and provide their basic needs. Profits from the bakery are re-invested back into the business so they can continue to support more children and families in the future.
Now Imvani is planning to open a second bakery in a neighboring village. Women from the village will take the lead on starting the bakery, being mentored by the women who started the first bakery. They are now holding meetings and trainings in the community, mobilizing volunteers who will spread the word about the bakery and help make decisions on how best to use the profits to benefit children in the community. It came naturally to Imvani staff to start with the community as they develop the second bakery because, “everybody is somebody and they are valued equally” as Flossy Simango, Imvani’s Coordinator tells us. The bakery belongs not just to the bakers - it belongs to the community. That’s truly baking for good.