The words thoughts and actions of the MicroLoan Foundation team in London.
The words thoughts and actions of the MicroLoan Foundation team in London.
The Mwaiwathu (“our fortune”) group was one of the first credit groups established in the Mulanje district. When the branch was opening, one of the Loan Officers came to the Nkando trading center, which is the largest in the district, for an information meeting. Ten women got together and formed the Mwaiwathu group. Even though there are several other lending organisations in the area, MicroLoan was the first to establish a presence.
The good reputation that MicroLoan has, along with the positive experiences these women have had with their loans keep the women loyal. There are two other MicroLoan groups in the Nkando village – they formed when they saw the successes that the women in the Mwaiwathu group were having. They have a variety of businesses, including selling fish, donuts, and chickens and running shops in the trading center. While they had the businesses before taking the loan, they have been able to increase the size and through the training, “have been able to develop our businesses.”
The Timvetserane (“let’s listen to each other”) group has been taking loans from MicroLoan Foundation since 2011. The group consists of ten clients, whose businesses include selling donuts, beans, sweet peas, tomatoes, cooking oil and vegetables. They formed after a Loan Officer gave an informational meeting at the local trading center, gathering women from five different villages to hear about the organisation. While these women knew each other through social activities prior to taking loans with MicroLoan Foundation, they have become close friends as a result of the group. They trust each other in order to ensure that everyone repays each fortnight. They are also able to rely on each other in case someone has been sick and cannot make a meeting – the trust goes both ways, knowing that the group will be able to cover the loan during that period, but also the group knows that the individual will be able to repay.
These women chose to take their loans through MicroLoan Foundation, instead of competing organizations, not only because of the biweekly payment periods, but also because the Loan Officers are always willing to listen to their problems and help them come up with a solution. According to the women in the group, MicroLoan has very good customer care and they work at building relationships with the clients.
The loans have helped these women with their businesses. While they all had similar businesses prior to taking their first loan, they have since been able to increase the size of their business, not only by providing extra capital to produce more goods, but also with the business training they were given. Most of them had not had any savings before, nor were they always able to purchase what they needed when they needed it. As a result of the training they are given with MicroLoan, they now know how to anticipate their costs, budget for both personal and business expenses, and save money. As a result of these savings, their children are able to go to school and they can buy the basic items they need for daily life. Their standard of living has increased since they have been taking loans, by being able to provide for their families every day, and as a result are very happy with the experience they have had with MicroLoan Foundation.
Patuma has worked with MicroLoan Foundation since 2009, when she started at the Kasungu branch as an office assistant. She had previously attended college at SofTec Solutions in Kasungu, where she studied Information Technology, and continued to work there after she graduated.
Patuma had heard about MicroLoan Foundation, so when the Kasungu Branch Manager told her about the vacancy, she thought it would be a very good career move.
Patuma has also worked in the Head Office, in Zomba as an Office Assistant, and has been in Mulanje as a Loan Officer since June 2012. Patuma has the unique perspective of having worked in both the branch offices and the head office, which has given her more insight into MicroLoan, but she prefers working as a Loan Officer because she can visit clients in the field.
One thing Patuma particularly has liked about working with MicroLoan Foundation has been the ability for her career to progress. She hopes that someday she will become a Senior Loan Officer. Patuma says that the impact MicroLoan Foundation has on its clients is quite visible – one of her clients was so poor when she joined that her community did not think she would be able to repay the loans, but she has proved them wrong by succeeding in her business and she now has a big house with iron sheets.
She has many other clients with similar success stories, and Patuma knows that MicroLoan is having a very large impact in the district of Mulanje. Everyday she visits clients she can see how their lives have changed. This is her favourite part of the job – getting to visit with the clients and being able to discuss their business ideas. Patuma enjoys teaching the clients, but also being able to learn from them.
Lydia has been a member of the Mwaiwathu (“our fortune”) group since it formed in 2011, taking loans for her donut business. She uses the loans to buy baking flour, sugar, yeast, cooking oil and firewood – all the necessary items to run her business.
Because of the loans, she is able to make the donuts more often and increase the yield of each production, resulting in higher profits. With her profits, she is able to hire people to help her with her farm.
Lydia wants to increase the size of her business, including being able to buy the whole 50kg bag of flour (twice what she buys now) so she can make and sell more donuts. Thanks to MicroLoan’s financial training, Lydia has discovered the importance of saving: “At first I used to do business without saving anything, but now I know how to save, which helps me expand my business and make my life better.”
She is able to use the money from her profits to help pay for daily needs for herself and her two grown sons who still live with her.
Esthere is the chairlady of the Timvetserane (“let’s listen to each other”) group, and has been with the group since late 2011. While she is not an original member of the group, she has the charisma to ensure the group’s success. She sells “the very best beans in Mulanje,” and has used her loans to help increase the size of her business. She is now able to buy the beans daily, before she was only able to purchase them two days a week. She purchases the beans from a market about 5km away, and sells them at the Chitakala trading center, about 10 km away, two days a week, and in more local markets the other days. “With my loans, I am able to buy more beans, so I sell more and make more money.” In addition to beans, she will also buy and sell rice and peas with her next loan. One thing she learned from training is the ability to buy products that are relevant to the seasons, which is why she will be expanding her business soon.
According the Esthere, “because of the loans, there are daily basic commodities that I can now buy such as salt, sugar, and oil.” Additionally, she uses her loans to help support her seven grandchildren and her mother. She lives her with mother and one grandchild, who is in standard 6 of primary school. “I want to help support her go to secondary school, to be able to have the money saved to pay her school fees.” Additionally, she said that when she is sick, she is “now able to go to the hospital in town and buy medicine, which I would not have been able to do before.”
Overall, Esthere has enjoyed her experience with MicroLoan Foundation and would recommend it to any of her friends, especially because the loan officers are so helpful and she thinks MicroLoan has one of the better loan repayment options.
Juliana has worked with MicroLoan Foundation since 2008, as a loan officer in Salima, a senior loan officer in Mzuzu and currently as a branch manager in Mulanje.
Prior to working with MicroLoan, she studied Rural and Community Development at Mzuzu Polytechnic College, and also worked at Obima Ministries as a relief aid loan officer. She knew she wanted to work with the poor and liked the idea of providing microfinances in order to improve their standard of life, which is why she chose to work with the MicroLoan Foundation.
She says that in Mulanje, the MicroLoan Foundation has earned a very good reputation among the people who live here, and people often chose to take their loans from MicroLoan over other competing MFIs. She likes being able to see the impact that MicroLoan has on her client’s lives, for instance seeing them construct bigger houses, expanding their businesses, and establishig better food security for their families, being able to buy food for everybody.
Her favorite part of working with MicroLoan is being able to travel to visit the clients, help them with training, and working with them to help improve their lives. The hands-on approach that MicroLoan provides is one of the main things that sets MicroLoan apart from other microfinance organizations.
Dorothy is the chairlady of the Tayamba (“we have begun”) group, and has been a member since its inception in 2011. She is currently using her loan for selling firewood that she collects from local sources and will travel to Blantyre, 80 km away, to sell the wood. She runs different businesses depending on the season, including rice and second-hand clothing. The second-hand clothing is what she normally takes her loans for, buying clothes in Phalombe and then selling them at various markets up to 20 km away.
However, with the business skills she learned through her training from MicroLoan Foundation, she anticipated the slow profits of the rainy season, which is why she took her loan for firewood, which would be more profitable at this time. After the harvests, when villagers have more money, she will go back to selling clothing. According to Dorothy, a widow, “with the loans I have been able to support my family, pay school fees, clothe my children, and always have food in the house.” She no longer has to sell her excess crops to feed her family – the extra income ensures they will always have food at every meal.
She wants to be able to continue to grow her business because she is building a more permanent house for her family. It is almost finished, and she just needs to buy the cement for the floor. With the training from MicroLoan, “I have learned how to budget my money, both business and personal, and I can calculate how much I have put into the business.” Her profits always go toward the business first, then for personal use. Because she is able to have enough capital, she is at liberty to run any business, as can be seen by changing her businesses depending on the season.
Every time she takes a loan, she has extra money, which she can use to support her family. Before taking the loans, she was not always able to provide her family with enough food. She takes care of her four children, two of whom are in secondary school, one is in primary school, and the youngest is in nursery school. While she “would have been able to afford school fees, it would have made life very difficult.” She was educated through primary school, and sees the importance of her children completing secondary school, especially because she would like them to go on to become civil servants or work in the medical profession.
Annie is the secretary for the Tayamba (“we have begun”) group, and she has been a member since its formation in 2011. She takes her loans for buying fish. She rides her bicycle 40 km to Lake Chilwa to purchase the fish two or three times a month. She sells the fish in the Phalombe market, which is about 5 km from her village, although she would like to expand her business to selling in the Chitakale market, which is 35 km away. Her business has grown since taking the loans, because initially she could only get fish once a month, but now she has more capital so can buy fish more often and bring back larger quantities. Hoping to expand to the larger market, she would be able to increase her profits further because she could charge more for fish sold there.
“I have benefitted a lot [from MicroLoan Foundation], especially with savings; I have been able to save money, withdraw the money, and buy things for my family I would not have otherwise been able to afford.” With her profits, she has been able to buy fertilizer, along with being able to pay laborers to help farm her maize and pea crops. Additionally, the family now has ducks and turkeys, which they keep, but could sell if they ever found themselves in an emergency. Annie is no longer reliant on her husband for their income and takes pride in being self-sustainable. If she needs to buy something for the household, she doesn’t need to go to him for money. Her husband, Loti, is very encouraging of her business. He has seen how the loans and training have helped improve their every day lives.
The rest of her family has also seen the impact of MicroLoan’s support. Her three daughters, aged twelve, ten and five, are now able to have an education. The oldest two are in primary school and the youngest is in nursery school, but will start in primary school next term. Annie herself only got through standard 6 in primary school, but she said that undoubtedly her daughters will all go to secondary school. Without MicroLoan, she would not have been able to afford the primary school fees, let alone the secondary school fees. “Knowing I need to save money so they can go to school will ensure that I work very hard at my business.” In fact, she wants her children to be able to go to university so they will be able to support their families too. “Possibly, one of them could become a doctor or a nurse.” She has also been able to help her family out with their health. “I am now able to buy medicine if someone is sick before they are referred to the hospital.” In fact, recently she was able to provide transportation to Lilongwe, about four hours away, for her cousin who needed serious medical treatment.
Annie has enjoyed receiving loans and training from MicroLoan, and she knows that her life has changed for the better since taking the loans. However, even though the past few months have been difficult for business, she credits her Loan Officer for being able to give her the skills to get through tough times.
Joyce is a MicroLoan beginner, in the middle of her second loan. Until the MicroLoan Foundation entered their lives, she and her husband Hashim were subsistence farmers, getting by on his patch of land where he grew maize and cassava while she looked after their four children.
After discovering MicroLoan, she applied for a loan to start a tea shop for the village and to sell bread. Hashim would buy the bread in the market in the town five miles away, bringing back twenty loaves each day on his bicycle. Joyce would make sure the tea was always brewed and kept a watchful eye over the shop’s day-to-day business.
Joyce stayed on in her primary school until she was nearly 18 so that she could read, write and count properly. Because of this, today, she is an eager participant in the group training sessions led by Richard, the local MicroLoan Branch Manager. These group sessions are joyous occasions, starting and ending with singing and dancing. Work has never seemed so jolly.
It is early days for Joyce and her husband. It will be interesting to see how they develop their business. Maybe she will think of baking her own bread, or expanding the range of products in the shop.
They would love to have a larger house if they are able to save enough money. Whatever they do they can count on the support of the group and of the MicroLoan Foundation.
Tissie Sandra Mboyo runs a grocery shop in Mponela. It’s just set-back from the M1, the main road which runs north from the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe. Business is good she says, and plenty of drivers going from Lilongwe to Kasungu stop en-route. She sells everything you can possibly think of including soft drinks, bread, popcorn, salt, sugar, shoe polish, toiletries, freshly-made samosas, even smart office shirts for men.
She’s taken out 6 loans from MicroLoan, the latest for KW 150,000 which she’s repaying over 4 months. She thinks it’s a good organisation especially when it listens to your problems. “I’ve had this business for 12 years,” she says, “but last year thieves broke in, stealing shirts, phone credit and money. That pushed me back, and I’ve just started again. That was tough.”
She spent her loan on stock, buying 20 crates of soft drink and big quantities of sugar, but that’s just a fraction of her monthly expenditure: she spends KW 1 million to fill her shop plus KW8000 on rent. She makes KW 200,000 profit a month at the most. A lot of that goes towards feeding the 7 people who depend on her at any one time, including unemployed grown-up children and some nieces and nephews. “It’s very hard,” says the 50 year old.
“These days prices have gone up and profits are small. Soft drinks and mobile phone credit sell quickly but don’t make much profit… I want another business like a restaurant…. I’d also like to build my own house and not rent anymore.”
MicroLoan’s support is helping make her dreams a reality.
Times used to be very hard for Margret, lacking food and unable to find a permanent job, she would do short-term labour jobs to enable her to buy basic supplies. Living in poverty, her future looked quite bleak.
After using various other microfinance institutions, where she encountered problems with them misusing her savings, she came to find MicroLoan. When asked why she chose MicroLoan as opposed to other MFIs, she said: “My savings are safe as there is a specific time to withdraw savings. Secondly, I like the 2 week repayment as it keeps me busy with my business.”
Margret has been loyal to MicroLoan, and MicroLoan to her. She has now passed her 13th loan cycle and has grown her business into a small enterprise! “I now have 5 houses for rent, 4 pigs and my own house. I was a poor person, I didn’t do well at school and my parents passed away so I had nobody to assist me. But MicroLoan came to my rescue, and I am now better off”
Margret is now in a position where she is not only able to help her own 3 children, but is also able to look after two more children whose parents are very poor. She has high hopes for her children, wanting her daughter to become a doctor, one son to be a driver and her other son to be a policeman or a pastor. With the help of MicroLoan she is able to pay her children’s school fees and uniforms so that her dream can hopefully become a reality.
As well as her business, Margret speaks publicly about her struggle with HIV. The increased profits from her business have enabled Margret to access ARVs, drugs which help to keep the effects of HIV at bay. This has transformed her life. We’re very proud of Margret, she truly is a shining example of how our loans and training can help turn poverty into prosperity.