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Thoughts from May 2008

visiting an MLF loan group

andrew in malawi

On Friday we went out with Alfred and one of the loan officers, Marknevius, to the "Titikuke" group. This means "Let us Develop" in Malawian and is typical of the type of group that the Microloan Foundation works with.

We arrived in the village to lots of singing which made me feel incredibly welcome.

Here is a picture of the ladies who all took time out of their businesses to be there to meet me.

Titikuke

First of all we explained where I was from and all about innocent and the innocent foundation. Then, I wanted to find out all about the ladies' different businesses and how the MLF had impacted on their lives. We filmed everything (with their consent) so hopefully I'll be able to get it up on the blog when I get back.

In the mean time, here's a few examples of what some of these ladies do:


Sophlet - Runs a second hand clothes business as well as buying and selling tobacco.
Tocozani - Buys and sells fresh fish from Lake Malawi (about 100km away).
Batoma - Has a grocery shop mainly selling soap and detergent as well as other items.
Gertrude - Has a small restaurant in the middle of Kasungu.
Regine - Buys tomatoes, onions and beans in a market 90km away and sells them in Kasungu.

All of these women will be running these businesses on top of harvesting the land that will feed them and their families. The loans have helped them go into new things or develop their existing businesses which brings extra income into their families. Apart from the obvious benefits, one of the woman, Ester, mentioned how she has now been able to buy a bed rather than sleeping on the floor. Emy told us about how she has been able to buy her own plot of land to build a house for her family.

By starting their own businesses, these women have more diversified incomes which helps protect them if the harvest is bad or extra, unexpected income is needed, for say, medical expenses or funerals.

I haven't talked about it much but Malawi has a terrible HIV/AIDS problem with over 14% of the population affected. The woman also talked about how they need to support orphans that are often left behind when their parents die. When you consider these types of difficulties, along with the natural risk that a maize crop might fail on top of the extra responsibilities of running their own businesses, it is clear that these woman want to get out of the poverty trap and are doing everything they possibly can to do so.

I really felt that I could see the benefit the Microloan Foundation was having on these woman and it was brilliant to meet all of them.

At the end I was quite sad to go - it was awesome to see all these happy faces.

Sad_to_say_goodbye


Andrew D

how does microloan work?

andrew in malawi

On Friday I went into the MLF Malawi head office in a town called Kasungu. Alfred gave me a quick tour of the office and I met all the lovely support staff. He then helped answer all my questions about how the MLF works here in Malawi. You can find out loads more on the website but here is a simple version for people who can only browse the innocent blog.

Lets start with the mission.

The mission of MLF is to significantly reduce the depth and breadth of poverty in the communities in which it operates. It does this by lending money to groups of women to help them build sustainable businesses and by providing meaningful training and ongoing mentoring support. It focuses on women primarily because they have fewer opportunities and because the men (I'm allowed to say this because I am one) aren't as good at saving for their families, especially their children.

Why lend money?

Very simply, helping the poor get out of poverty through their own efforts is likely to be more sustainable than handouts.

The other thing to note here is that banks generally won't lend to anyone who doesn't have collateral so immediately this puts a huge majority of Malawians outside of the normal financial system.

So how does MLF work?

1. MLF have offices in 15 of the 26 districts in Malawi*. They have a huge list of clients in each of these districts but are always looking for new people to help. To do this, they go into rural villages and explain about how the MLF system works, the structure of the loans and benefits of the program. One loan officer from the MLF looks after 10-15 groups of ladies. Each loan officer reports into a branch manager who then reports into the support team in the head office.

2. Women who are interested in receiving a loan must then form groups by themselves and gain the village elders' approval, before coming back with their proposals. The groups are generally made up of 15-20 women and the money is loaned to the collective of all of those people. By taking the loan as a group, all members have to support each other in the repayment and also have to work together rather than starting businesses that compete with each other.

3. Once the application is received, MLF organise a training session to explain in more detail about how everything works. Not everyone can read so it's really important that the rules are clear before the loan starts to avoid problems later on. The training also covers the basics in business, including feasibility and market research as well as how all the Microloan paperwork works.

4. Following this, the ladies then all submit their joint loan application. This gets checked by the Branch Manager and the loan is then approved. The loan is then disbursed so that it can be used according to each business plan of the individuals in the group. Then, every two weeks, the group meets with the loan officer from the MLF to see how things are going. Depending on the setup of the loan, repayments will start after a few weeks and will generally payback within 4-6 months. If people are late with the payments, it is noted but the repayments don't increase and everyone gets together to understand why and how they can get back on track. As the loans are all paid back, the money is available for another set of people (or the same people again for another round). Interest is paid on the loan this helps towards growing the total pot of money available for others, and also helps to pay for the support team who provide the training and manage all the financial paperwork and systems.

So hope that explains things a little better. Please do read more on the website of the MLF - Microcredit is such an interesting area and has been around for ages. One of the pioneers of it is a super intelligent man called Muhammed Yunus who setup one of the first micro-credit instituitions called the Grameen ("Village") Bank in Bangladesh. The bank is owned by the 7 million people who it lends to. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1996 to both Mr. Yunus and all the people who own his bank for its innovative approaches to poverty reduction.

Pretty inspiring stuff if you ask me.

Sorry there aren't any pictures in this blog but hopefully, it was worth the read.

Andrew D

* They're expanding all the time with 2 new districts this year. What's great is that there is scope to keep growing and helping more people.

alfred

andrew in malawi

Hello.

Let me introduce you to Alfred, who heads up the Microloans project team in Malawi (which is known as Microventures out here).

Alfred will be my key contact for the juice project up in Nkhotakota and he's a bit of a legend. As well as having a degree in agriculture and another in education, he also has loads of experience designing and implementing development projects in Malawi. He has even been asked by his local village to run as their MP which he thankfully turned down so he could work with the Microloan Foundation.

Alfred

He also has one of the best smiles and most infectious laughs in the business.

Alfred, we salute you.

Andrew D

crops in Malawi

andrew in malawi

The main food in Malawi is maize or corn. This is the staple food of people who live off the land as subsistence farmers but it finds its way into most dishes here in a variety of formats.

Maize

One such typical dish is Nsima which is made of ground corn. You can see it below on the right next to some chicken stew and nut and lettuce salad. It tastes like a mixture of potatoes and porridge and is quite filling.

Nsima


Spot the loser taking a photo of his food in a restaurant.

Other big industries in Malawi across both agriculture and manufacture are:
1. Tobacco
2. Cotton
3. Fish (Edible and Tropical ones from the lake)
4. Ceramics & Handicrafts
5. Nuts, spices & Dhalis
6. Beer & Soft Drinks (Carlsberg and Coca Cola share a huge factory here)

Thought you might like to know.

Andrew D

how do you make baobab juice?

andrew in malawi

1. Get out to somewhere Baobabs grow. See last blog for more detail.

2. Pick the fruit, open them up and take out all the white bits (these are actually seeds coated in powder which is what we use). Send the bags back to your factory*.

3. Grind the powder off the seeds and separate. Send the seeds to a refinery where they can crush them to make oil. This can then be used to make soap, skin creams, cooking products, jam, medicines - the list goes on. One 70kg bag of powder takes the guys in the country about an hour to pick and makes about 2000 bottles of juice.

4. Bring in a juice expert (Towera and her mini-team). Mix the powder to a special recipe with some clean water, some sugar (10%) . . . and because we don't have fridges over here some sodium benzoate to make sure any nasties are killed off.

Towera_2



Juice expert and her trusty factory equipment.

5. Heat the juice till it is roughly about 60 degrees C.

6. Leave it to cool overnight. Then filter the juice again, just in case.

7. Buy some bottles, clean them with hot water and label them.

8. Pour the juice into the bottles, making sure not to spill them from the garden hose filler tube.

9. Pop some foil caps on the bottles, iron them on and store them in a cool place.

10. Get into your truck the next morning and and head out to stores to see if anyone is running low on juice.

Juice

The finished article - transported in big plastic tubs on the back of a van - there aren't too many refrigerated lorries over here.


Field_sales

Chris, Peaches and I doing some sales and merchandising - these guys have amazing banter and taught me some new lessons in field sales.

Incidentally, Peaches comes from a tribe called the Yawo who like their names unusual. Spoon, Memory, Bulb, Spider (you will meet him soon); I'm getting a list together.

I'm now in Kasunga starting to work with the Microloan Foundation. More soon.

Andrew D

*I'm bringing some back for the products team to try