FINCA - Small loans, big changes

I had the pleasure of doing a conference call with a number of our supporters last week. We dubbed it our inaugural “FINCA Talks” series. Thanks to all of you who participated, and thanks especially for giving me the opportunity to reflect on how we’ve grown since our humble start 30 years ago.

One of my favorite questions was “How is FINCA different from the nearly 10,000 organizations worldwide that are engaged in microfinance?” It boils down to one word, which all our team members embody: integrity. This is a trait that I firmly believe distinguishes us from the rest.

Listen for yourself here on FINCA’s website and stay tuned for the next edition when we will hear from some of our team in the field.

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It’s been a banner week for FINCA! On Tuesday night we celebrated FINCA’s 30th Anniversary at Parliament; gathering together all who bring their skills, expertise, and enthusiasm in support of our organization’s groundbreaking initiatives. FINCA’s Executive Leadership Team with all our subsidiary CEOs were joined by an unprecedented gathering of 150 social enterprise supporters and thought leaders.

Richard Kennedy, the Managing Director of FINCA UK, opened the event by highlighting how FINCA has demonstrated the ability to engage the donor and private sectors to fuel our growth. He also mentioned the growing partnerships which FINCA is developing in the UK with corporations, foundations and social investors to promote our shared social and economic goals.

Laura Hemrika of Credit Suisse described their six year strategic relationship with FINCA which involved the development of ground-breaking local currency bond funds in excess of $60 million, grants for training and development of agricultural products, and opportunities for CS employees to work shoulder-to-shoulder with FINCA subsidiary employees on various products in the field.

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FMH board member Rachel Robbins talked about the role of the board in providing strategic guidance management in the development of future plans.

In my own remarks, I described the future strategy of FINCA, which involves the development of social enterprises in the non-financial sectors of healthcare, renewable energy, water and sanitation, education, and agriculture.

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The next morning, we held a roundtable discussion at The Ivy Club with senior journalists representing the BBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg, Channel 4, Arise TV, The Economist, New African, the Times, the Independent, Ten Alps, Responsible Investor, and Xinhua News Agency. In addition to these esteemed members of the press, we were honored to have with us Lord Collins of Highbury, Shadow DFID Spokesperson, Michael Mercieca of Young Enterprise, Carolyn Clarke of PwC,  Jonathan Tanner of Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, Amanda Mann and Laura Hemrika of Credit Suisse, and Rachel Robbins.

The full video blog will be online next week.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who has been a part of FINCA’s remarkable journey!

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Photographs taken by Garry Samuels of Get Shot Photography

At last, everything coming up roses in Afghanistan

At last, everything coming up roses in Afghanistan

I left Afghanistan this afternoon, just ahead of the transfer of power, scheduled to take place tomorrow as Karzai peacefully —   Inshallah!  — hands over the reins to Ashraf Gani, the new President.   Kabul was relatively quiet during the two days I was there, except for a minor explosion in the center of town, caused by a magnetic bomb someone affixed to the car of some army officers.   We had passed through the intersection several minutes before, generating a frantic call from our security officer.   But the real action was down South in the Ghazni Province, where ISIS was holding a beheading workshop for its Taliban acolytes, murdering 15 family members of local police officers in their signature gruesome fashion.

As prolonged, messy and frustrating as the electoral process was (extirpating painful recovered memories of the Bush-Gore election) the mood in Kabul today was, if South of ebullient, definitely optimistic.   Everyone I spoke to is hopeful that the new government can bring more stability to this war-torn country, which certainly deserves a break after almost five decades of war and instability.

My own involvement in Afghanistan was tangential, initially, but like a far off comet it has slowly drawn me in tighter into its orbit. One of my friends at the U of Wisconsin had been a Peace Corps volunteer in the early seventies in Afghanistan.   Afghanistan’s ordeal began in 1979 with the Russian invasion.   Probably few people remember that Adolf Dubs, the American Ambassador, was killed in that year in a botched kidnapping.  The only reason I remember is I used to play tennis doubles with his widow, Maryann.

After nine eleven, it was I who told our board that FINCA needed to be involved in the rebuilding of the country.   I knew the World Bank and USAID would be rushing in with big infrastructure and privatization projects, but I knew microfinance would be a perfect way to build a grassroots economy that would bring employment and income to the people at the bottom of society.

The task proved more difficult than I had anticipated.   Due to the distraction of Iraq, the Bush Administration and the rest of the world took its eye off the ball, the reconstruction efforts were plagued with incompetence and corruption, and the Taliban began to regroup.  A climate of insecurity made business-as-usual impossible.  Our director had to be evacuated due to a kidnapping threat, and in the ensuing supervisory vacuum we nearly lost the whole program.

But FINCA Afghanistan has recovered, and is today poised to play a role in what we hope will be new era of growth and prosperity in Afghanistan.   Today, we signed an $6.8 million dollar loan agreement with the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MIFSA) which will allow us to greatly expand our outreach beyond our current 28,000 client base.

I’m still haunted by the words of one of our clients, a woman I spoke with two years ago, who, thanks to the fall of the Taliban, had been able to send her daughters to school and building a thriving clothing business.   “All we need now is peace,” she told me.

Afghanistan’s new leadership holds the fate of the nation in their hands.   If they can establish a government free of corruption that puts the interests of the people first, then nothing will stop Afghanistan from becoming the next “economic miracle” with double digit growth and, Inshallah, social justice for all.

 

 

Watch my recent Tanzania visit video blog, where I meet local people benefiting from FINCA Tanzania. For more information visit the FINCA website.

Episode two of my Social Enterprise Podcast features John Hatch, founder of FINCA, and Jeff Ashe, microfinance pioneer, educator, and author of “In Their Own Hands: How Savings Groups are Revolutionizing Development”.

Through stories of first-hand experience, we explore the evolution of the microfinance, its controversies, and its remarkable impact as a tool to help alleviate global poverty. As this was such a special episode, as well as the regular audio version, we filmed it too. Enjoy!

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