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Currently a Master of Public Administration (MPA) student at Bowling Green State. University in Bowling Green, Ohio, USA. Specializing in International Development with focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
I work in Advertising Operations at Zillow, but LOVE microfinance. I'm always interested in startups, especially non-profits, reach out to me if you're working on anything cool!
Published By Drew Meyers on January 1, 2011
As some of you may know, I spent most of the month of November in Ghana visiting Lumana Credit in the Volta Region. I’ve known the founder of Lumana, Sammie Rayner, for several years as a result of both being active participants in the Seattle microfinance scene. So traveling to Africa gave me the perfect opportunity to spend some time in Ghana with an organization I was already familiar with. Unfortunately, Sammie and I couldn’t quite coordinate our trips to overlap (she is in Ghana now until sometime in March). However, I got to spend a bunch of time with the awesome Lumana volunteer staff currently on the ground – Chad, Duffy, Maggie, and Abbey.
Here are a few of my learnings:
1. It was fascinating seeing the operational side of a younger microfinance organization (Lumana has only been around about 2 years) since my only prior first hand experience with microfinance was with an organization (Esperanza International in the Dominican Republic) that had been around a decade and had thousands of clients. While in Ghana, I spent a morning visiting CRAN, an MFI with about 8,000 clients, with Sloane and Taylor, which gives me another microfinance comparable. There are a number of similarities between MFI’s like Lumana in high growth stages versus more mature MFI’s like Esperanza and CRAN, but also some differences. While they both conduct group meetings where they disperse and collect loan repayments, the largest overall difference is admin costs and structure. In CRAN’s case, with 8,000 clients, it takes a number of full time staff to manage the finances, IT, risk, marketing, accounting, and client relationships. In Lumana’s case, with about 200 clients, the volunteer staff handles everything from coordinating client meetings to entering data into MIFOS to emptying the garbage. There is no budget for someone to oversee the finances. There is no budget for a risk manager. But they still manage to get everything done while still growing their client base. Another difference is group size – Lumana cooperatives were 4-8 people, while CRAN and Esperanza could be up to 14.
A CRAN cooperative after a group meeting
2. Ewe, the local language spoken by about 5 million people across Ghana, Togo, and Benin, is a fascinating language. Never have I heard so many people spend so much time saying the phrases “Are you fine?” “Yes, I am fine. Are you fine?” “Yes, I am fine”. Chad Skeers put together a introductory Ewe lesson here, complete with a few mp3s, if you want to experience a taste of Ewe yourself. At the same time, the focus on the importance of common everyday interactions was quite refreshing compared to the United States where often times people you pass on the street are too worried about sending that next email on their Blackberry or iPhone to bother to say hi, much less even look up at you to smile. I can honestly say the locals in the Volta region were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever come across (though Cambodia and Kenya are high on that list too).
3. I’m not a fan at all of extremely humid climate, but am a huge huge fan of Africa as a whole.
4. Loan officers are a critical critical part of the microfinance process. It’s quite an undertaking for an MFI, particularly in a growth phase, to replace a loan officer. As in business and life, it comes down to relationships — and the loan officers are the ones with the closest relationships with an MFI’s clients. If a loan officer moves on, it requires significant time to re-establish trust with a client and get a cooperative back on track.
5. “Material Stuff” has virtually zero correlation to happiness in life.
6. My month got me even more hooked on the power of microfinance. Yes, there has been some controversy in the media recently regarding Andhra Pradesh, but as with most things, it’s just an example of the media blowing the bad out of proportion and under reporting the positive side of things. Microfinance is not a fad. In my opinion, empowering individuals to break themselves free of poverty on their own accord via getting access to credit is one of the best things you can do with your philanthropic dollars — I’d urge you to support organizations such as Lumana, Kiva, Esperanza, Wokai, and United Prosperity that are helping entrepreneurs around the world do this on a daily basis.
If you want to learn more about what life is like as a volunteer in Ghana, head over to Ghana Make You Sweat. Whether it be with Lumana or another organization working in Ghana, I’d highly highly recommend the experience (especially if you enjoy humid climates).
And yes, I know I need to improve my lag time between my actual microfinance trips and posting recaps of those trips here on myKRO.org.