My name is Dan Strack and for the next 2 months I will be living in Cape Coast, Ghana and working with the Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN).
CRAN has 7 branches located throughout the central region of Ghana with its main office in Cape Coast. Cape Coast is a very poor area with some of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered. The first thing you notice in Ghana and especially Cape Coast, is how extremely religious everyone is. Many road-side businesses have names such as “God is Great: Hair Salon” or “Jesus is the Savior: Food Stand”. Cars, buses, telephone poles, you name it, have similar signs.
The staff at CRAN is extremely grateful for Kiva and is doing everything they can to run a smooth partnership. Every time I get a free moment at the office to sit down and do some writing, someone will come up and ask if I would like to go see some aspect of CRAN. I went with Abraham, who’s in charge of posting profiles and journals on Kiva, to the 4 branch offices located in Cape Coast. Each branch is strategically located so it can maximize its client base. One office is located directly across from a large auto repair yard, so the dozens of individual entrepreneurs who work there can get access to the capital they need. Two more offices are located right by fishing markets so all the fishermen can easily take out loans and repay them. The last office is in the middle of town and primarily serves those who run small road-side businesses.
Yesterday I was taken to a training session for 1st time borrowers. CRAN makes all new borrowers go through a 5 week training period, where they attend 1 class a week for one hour and go over basic finance principles and discuss individually how much they should take out for a loan. Many times after going through this training, the loan officer will determine that the entrepreneur does not need the amount of money they are requesting so the amount loaned out will be reduced to cut out excessive capital which would increase the burden on the borrower. After being introduced to the 7 borrowers in the group, I got to ask a few questions. After a few basic questions I asked the group, “What would you change about microfinance as a whole?” This caused everyone in the group to laugh and caused a bit of uneasiness because they didn’t want to upset the loan officer. One lady raised her hand and said she thought the groups should be smaller, instead of having to have 10 borrowers apply for the loan together, it should be smaller, around 5-7. CRAN (as most MFIs) require borrowers to apply for loans in groups so each member is responsible for everyone else in the group to improve repayment rates. After this one lady broke the ice, a whole flood of suggestions came forward from the borrowers about how to improve the overall microfinance process. I don’t know if the loan officer was as happy about this as I was, but I was absolutely thrilled to receive this kind of advice. Microfinance is still very new and isn’t a perfect system, so who better to get advice from than the people who depend on it.
This morning as I stopped at a road-side shop to buy a couple bananas for breakfast, an older gentleman introduced himself to me and asked what I was doing in Cape Coast. I told him I was working with the Christian Rural Aid Network just up the street. He wasn’t familiar with the organization, so he asked what kind of business they were. I responded that it’s a microfinance institution and that I will be working there for the next 2 months. His eyes opened in curiosity and asked if I was with Kiva. I was completely shocked he knew of Kiva and not the MFI just up the road. I replied that I was and he said, “Oh my!! I thought they were only working in East Africa!!” I told him that Kiva has recently experience tremendous growth and have expanded to new areas and actually have 2 MFIs in Ghana. He then thanked me for my time and walked down the street to his work. I didn’t have time to ask him where he heard of Kiva, but if an ordinary local man in Cape Coast, Ghana has heard of Kiva; they have to be doing something right./>