Fund Builds Members, Their Communities, and the Church
Contributed By Philip M. Volmar, Church News and Events
David Figueroa is a returned missionary in Ecuador who had to close his baked goods business when it failed. But after receiving business training and mentoring, he started a successful gardening venture.
Felicia Ama Mensah is a retired schoolteacher in Ghana who needed continuing income. Now she makes and sells peanut butter and corn dough and is learning how to promote her products using labels and other basic marketing skills.
When the government built a highway through the small village of Nakazzi, Uganda, residents didn’t know how to take advantage of the situation and grow small businesses accessible to travelers. Now, however, villagers are receiving business training in their language.
Brother Figueroa, Sister Mensah, and the people of Nakazzi, all of whom had stumbling blocks hindering income sustainability, are now better equipped to practice self-reliance thanks to Interweave Solutions, a not-for-profit organization that provides business training and mentoring in developing countries.
And Interweave is one of many organizations around the world that can expand their services through the International Resource Development Fund (IRDF), a welfare initiative managed by LDS Employment Resource Services (ERS). Started in 2001, the fund has assisted approximately 66 initiatives like Interweave to serve more people and help them become increasingly self-reliant.
“Employment Resource Services helps people find jobs,” said Robert Hokanson, manager of field operations for ERS, “but sometimes it’s also necessary to strengthen other organizations that provide self-reliance opportunities for those that they serve as well.”
Through the IRDF, Employment Resource Services works with organizations that help individuals build self-reliance through vocational training, business training, or other opportunities. The fund provides grants or in-kind goods to organizations that directly assist Church members and others.
For instance, last year the fund enabled campuses of the University of the West Indies in the Caribbean to purchase much-needed computer equipment for classrooms. The university offers specialized vocational training in 15 countries in the region.
How the IRDF Works
- LDS Employment Resource Center identifies a need.
- Organizations identified that meet the need.
- IRDF and organization develop project.
- Church members and others use the resources.
In developing countries, LDS Employment Resource Centers, which are localized job-search and training hubs, tap into the IRDF after pinpointing specific organizations that meet the needs of those trying to enter the job market. The fund sponsors six or seven such projects a year.
Interweave—which offers training in seven countries and has helped nearly 1,300 people start, grow, and sustain their small businesses—is just one of these beneficiaries.
“The IRDF opens the doors to resources to people as they strive to become self-reliant,” Brother Hokanson said, “but it also assists organizations that help people become self-reliant, allowing them to provide better services to more people.”
Consequently, the fund produces a “multiplier effect,” Brother Hokanson said, by strengthening organizations that provide training and other services that an Employment Resource Center doesn’t.
Another important Church initiative also established in 2001 is the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), which provides loans to returned missionaries and others to assist them in paying for their educations. While the PEF assists individuals to pay for education, the IRDF assists the organizations that provide the training or education and often also facilitates discounts and scholarships that reduce students’ costs.
For instance, Brother Figueroa, who operates a gardening business, received business training and mentoring from Interweave to start his business, whereas PEF would have funded his education in horticulture or landscaping.
“If we can strengthen the capacity of an organization while giving Church members and other community members better opportunities, we feel like we have made a good investment,” Brother Hokanson said.
The IRDF is an example of a Church-sponsored welfare initiative, like Mormon Helping Hands or Latter-day Saint Charities, that has the double effect of both blessing members’ lives and raising awareness of the Church at the same time.
Philip Artadi Tan, manager of the LDS Employment Resource Center in Davao in the Philippines, said that the IRDF has opened doors in areas where members receive assistance from the fund through local entities.
“We donated welding machines to a local government-sponsored school in one of our districts,” Brother Tan said. “That allowed us to connect with the city mayor and other relevant personnel who can help our members.”
The goodwill created by the donation resulted in the school providing scholarship slots for Church members in its training program.
“The IRDF has helped us bring the Church out of obscurity in the area,” Brother Tan said.
In addition to fostering goodwill, the fund also provides opportunities to teach gospel-related work principles, principles that Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, taught are important to developing self-reliance.
“Providing for ourselves and others is evidence that we are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Sister Beck said during the 2009 Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast, which focused on welfare principles. “Each of us has a responsibility to try to avoid problems before they happen and to learn to overcome challenges when they occur.”
Vivien Roberts, manager of the employment resource center in Johannesburg, South Africa, said that recipient organizations like Interweave teach gospel principles like accountability and agency.
“Interweave teaches self-reliance by expecting its patrons to save money and apply the principles they learn,” she said, adding that participants have to demonstrate they are committed to their business by taking action, setting and reaching goals, and creating a budget and business plan. “Recipients have hope and are learning, through application, the gospel in action.”
To learn more about training and other resources that help individuals develop self-reliance, visit LDSjobs.org or locate one of the more than 300 LDS Employment Resource Centers worldwide that is nearest you.