Before I came to Ghana and during my first month here, a lot of questions about microfinance had been going through my mind.
One of the biggest questions and probably the main reason I chose to apply to become a Kiva Fellow was that I wanted to see for myself whether microfinance was able to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Making a difference is really important to me and the concept of microfinance almost seemed too good to be true- if it really works, then surely this can be the biggest key to reducing widespread poverty?
Whenever I choose a not for profit to support, I always carry out in depth research before I commit. I read through their financial accounts to see how their money is spent, I search for stories that I think have a long term benefit- I’m a natural sceptic and I want the organisation to prove to me that the money will be spent well, I dislike waste. For me, the opportunity of being a Kiva fellow would allow me to be the ultimate investigator into microfinance and hopefully prove my sceptic side totally wrong.
Being in the thick of it has been really interesting but even here many of the questions are unanswered. I think I naively thought that it would be clear if I saw it with my own eyes, but it’s not. In some cases, I can find it difficult to work out the difference the loan has made on their lives (Is their business viable and how is it coping with the competition when there are 10 banana sellers in the same village? Does an increased loan value in a new cycle actually help or is it too much to handle?).
Last week, however, I met one Kiva borrower who was inspiring and wonderful- and she left me in no doubt that for her, receiving a loan from CRAN was extremely beneficial to her and her family.
We had an unexpected visit into the field to a group where we were to interview 9 borrowers for journal updates. As soon as we arrived in the group, it was bursting full of character- the ladies played off each other and laughed and joked with one another and the loan officer- it was a joy to see.
I sat down with Florence to interview her. She was fluent in English (which made my life easier!) and she had a business selling used clothing alongside a few of her own creations. She travels to Accra 2 times per month to buy two large bundles of clothes which she sells in her local villages- carrying the clothing on her head and looking for custom as well as having a small store as a base. This isn’t an unusual business, but Florence seemed to have a little spark about her. When I asked her what she dreamed for in the future, she told me she wanted to grow her business to be able to get enough profit to go to University once her children had finished their education. Florence wants to study professional dressmaking and have her own full time tailors shop- she clearly has a passion for clothes!
She had a simple story, but I think a savvy one. She knew what she wanted for the future and was aiming for it (and planning and scheduling isn’t a natural Ghanaian trait- even the locals will tell us “meet at 11am- Ghanaian time”!). She told me that every week she writes down how much she spent on her stock, how much she sold and how much profit she made that week. She also told me she only uses profit for her household expenditure and that she is really careful to keep her capital separate for investing into her business. Florence is also a teacher on the side, and is using this additional money to invest in her own children’s education (she has 4 children, one of whom was a pupil of hers who she adopted when she was orphaned). I talked with her for about 20 minutes and throughout that time she was enthusiastic about her prospects for the future and was excited to be able to have access to this capital which otherwise would not be possible. When I asked her if she had a message for her lenders, she asked me to thank them, and she wanted me to tell everyone to keep their dreams in sight, and “don’t be lazy” in trying to achieve them!
I later spoke with her loan officer, Aisha, and asked her what her favourite thing about her job was. She told me that she loves going to her loan meetings and spending time with the borrowers who are repaying their loans. She said it makes her pleased that she can see that they are happy and improving their lives. If a loan officer says this, it’s difficult to dispute!
I have no doubt that Florence will go to University and will open her dressmaking shop, and when my sceptical side comes out again I will make sure that I remember Florence’s dream, and all of the other dreams that you see every day on kiva.org.
Help make dreams come true by lending to an entrepreneur on Kiva.org this Christmas.
by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13, currently enjoying investigating microfinance and looking forward to Christmas, Cape Coast, Ghana.