Sometimes the end is the best beginning. And, by the end of my first repayment day, a group of four women marched past me, through the hallway and onto the red dirt path outside the house where they had just completed their repayments. As they passed, some were shaking their heads, others were raising their voices in frustration, but they were all unified by their goal – to make a visit on a member of their group who was absent from the repayment meeting and failed to make another repayment again. The rest of the group covered her payment for her. Now it was time to collect.
When I first learned about microfinance, I like so many before me had read about the Grameen Bank and group loans. For me, the concept of converting something as instinctive as peer pressure into social collateral was brilliant in its simplicity. But, I wanted to see it first hand. Well, thanks to Kiva and Sinapi Aba Trust I got my first chance this past week.
As I entered the courtyard with the loan officer, there were several groups huddled in different corners. Within each group, a leader was busy collecting payments from members. The loan officer was seated in a corner in front of a simple desk. On the desk was a stapler, a notebook , an office calculator and some space to collect large wads of cash and piles of coins. As the payment officer called the groups up, they assembled around him and he started his counting.
For most of the groups, this process went smooth. But, there were exceptions. There was a woman who was claiming she didn’t have enough to make this week’s repayment. She opened her purse and paid all she could. The loan officer looked at her with disappointment. The other members in her group – particularly an elderly member – said to her, “you should pay to avoid disgrace.” After some silence and some pleading, she reached into various pockets and like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, soon found enough bills and change.
In another case, a member said she couldn’t pay this week as she was waiting for some customers to pay her. She pled her case, but as the members paid for her, she slowly moved to the outside of the group. She sat in a chair - her arms crossed, her eyes staring at the floor. I didn’t get a complete translation, but I sensed and felt her dejection.
But, nothing compared to those women who rallied their group and marched passed me with such determination. I could not stay around to find out if they convinced the defaulting member to pay. I can only say I wouldn’t have wanted to be in her shoes as the battalion marched towards me.