How we work

The Zimele model works to:

  • empower women by unlocking skills, resources, support systems and networks, and
  • create new opportunities such as local and international markets and links to government programmes.

The very first step is for the women to meet with the Zimele team, who then ask what they can contribute, what they are able to do. This question is often met with surprise – many women simply don’t believe they have any skills worth sharing or using to generate income for their families. Once the seed is sown, the Zimele team waits to see what the women will come up with in terms of ideas for income-generating projects. The whole process is one of guidance, of opening people’s eyes to their true potential, of connecting on a personal level with individuals. The outcome is the formation of Self-Help Groups, the first stage of the Zimele programme.

The first stage: the Self-Help Group (SHG)

These are small groups of 10-20 women who come together in the familiarity and security of each other’s homes to build self-confidence and a mutual support network. During this stage, the women are guided towards developing life and business skills. The objective is to enable them to start and improve their own enterprise, based on self-defined personal strengths and goals, and generate income to support their families. The start-up and operating costs of these enterprises are funded through the SHG saving programme where each member contributes a very small amount of money (often just a few rands) to the group fund each week. As the fund grows, the women are able to take out loans from the fund to purchase materials and equipment for their fledgling businesses. Every loan has to be paid back at the end of each month with 10% interest to ensure fund growth.

The second stage: Cluster Level Association (CLA)

This second stage sees localised SHGs form a CLA with a minimum of two members from 6 to 12 participating SHGs. The CLA meets once a month to discuss how to develop larger business opportunities and devise helpful collective efforts (such as sharing transport to urban markets), as well as implementing vital social service projects that benefit the wider community. These include home-based care for the elderly/disabled/frail and those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and childcare services for orphaned and vulnerable households. These projects are funded by loans from the CLA savings account and must be paid back with interest to ensure the fund’s continued growth.

The third stage: Federation

Zimele is working towards creating its first third stage Federation in 2014. It will consist of two representatives from each of the 8-10 CLAs. The objective is that it will act as a leadership council to guide economic, social and healthcare programmes on a wider scale. The aim is also to work towards creating partnerships with banks to provide low-interest revolving loans for the various social services projects. The Federation stage is envisaged as taking over the management of the SHG and CLA programmes as part of Zimele’s long-term exit strategy from its current communities.

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Zimele Community mentioned in the Meander Chronicle

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