14
Dec
10

Work Details

So what exactly am I doing here in Burkina? Good question – I finally can explain a lot more specifics about my work now that I’ve met my counterpart and have had a chance to speak with some other PCVs and my boss a little more. I’m essentially a management consultant for 25 borrowers in and around my city. Each borrower (called a promoter) has received a loan of up to 2,000 US dollars with a low interest rate of only 2-4 percent (2% for handicapped, 3.5% for women, and 4% for men). How did these promoters get in on these amazing low interest rates you ask?

The Burkinabe government created the FAIJ (Fonds d’Appui aux Initiatives des Jeunes) program to help Burkinabe youth (ages 20-35) start small businesses. Each year, FAIJ sets up a week-long training session in Ouaga where basic business skills are taught. Each prospective borrower has to poney up a few US dollars as an attendance fee, plus all of their expenses to get to and stay in Ouaga for the week. Those that complete the training then submit a business plan and request a specific dollar amount for a loan. FAIJ then evaluates each business plan and then decides whether to fund the businesses or not, and if so, at what funding level.

There is a FAIJ agent in each region (my counterpart is the FAIJ agent for the eastern region). His job is to make sure the promoters repay their loans. If there are repayment difficulties, he is there to help the individuals figure out how to make business improvements so that they can get back on track. However, each FAIJ agent has a big job – while there are 25 promoters in and around my city, there are 94 promoters in the entire region, and he is responsible for them all. Some are over 5 hours away by transport. Throw in the requirement that he is must meet each promoter at least once per month and you begin to quickly realize that there isn’t a lot of time available for each promoter.

I am going to just focus on the nearby promoters – which essentially means I can devote one day per month to each. Peace Corps and FAIJ are in the early stages of our partnership, which means that my exact role is for me to define. Perhaps I want to shoot to eventually take over full responsibility for the 25 promoters in my city? Or perhaps I want to maintain my independence from FAIJ and act strictly as a consultant? Or perhaps I’ll act as a business trainer and conduct business classes that local promoters can attend? As you can see, I have a lot of options.

But for these first few months my goal is to get to know FAIJ itself, the nearby promoters, and the local market for the goods/services my promoters work with, and of course my city (plus improve my French of course). There are four other PCVs working with FAIJ as well in other regions, so I imagine as time goes on we’ll establish some sort of best practices and perhaps some more structure.

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4 Responses to “Work Details”


  1. December 14, 2010 at 17:35

    Hey Scott,
    Do you know about the Grameen Bank model? Micro loans to low income folks to start businesses. This is from their website:

    **
    The origin of Grameen Bank can be traced back to 1976 when Professor Muhammad Yunus, Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong, launched an action research project to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted at the rural poor. The Grameen Bank Project (Grameen means “rural” or “village” in Bangla language) came into operation with the following objectives:

    extend banking facilities to poor men and women;

    eliminate the exploitation of the poor by money lenders;

    create opportunities for self-employment for the vast multitude of unemployed people in rural Bangladesh;

    bring the disadvantaged, mostly the women from the poorest households, within the fold of an organizational format which they can understand and manage by themselves; and

    reverse the age-old vicious circle of “low income, low saving & low investment”, into virtuous circle of “low income, injection of credit, investment, more income, more savings, more investment, more income”.

    The action research demonstrated its strength in Jobra (a village adjacent to Chittagong University) and some of the neighboring villages during 1976-1979. With the sponsorship of the central bank of the country and support of the nationalized commercial banks, the project was extended to Tangail district (a district north of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh) in 1979. With the success in Tangail, the project was extended to several other districts in the country. In October 1983, the Grameen Bank Project was transformed into an independent bank by government legislation. Today Grameen Bank is owned by the rural poor whom it serves. Borrowers of the Bank own 90% of its shares, while the remaining 10% is owned by the government.

    http://www.grameen-info.org
    **

    Part of the model is that the borrowers form groups and are able to support and encourage each other and hold each other accountable, as the next person in the group doesn’t get their loan until the previous loan is repaid. The founder won the Nobel Prize in 2006. Anyway, I wanted to pass that along if you were not aware of it and encourage you to consider ways for the borrowers to link up and help each other, build a network, learning community, support group, etc.

    Keep up the good work!

    Peter

    • 2 Scott
      December 16, 2010 at 05:08

      Thanks Peter for passing along the info! The promoters I’ll be working with have already received their loans, but I really like the idea of somehow grouping together the promoters to help as you say to support and encourage each other.

      One thing the Peace Corps really focuses on is sustainability, and one good way to do that is to have my role be more of a facilitator, rather than coming in and trying to solve their problems myself. Perhaps a good strategy would be to find “positive deviants” in the group – those promoters who are already doing an exceptional job and trying to have them instruct others in the group on best practices.

      Once I get the lay of the land I’m sure I’ll have plenty of questions for you – thanks for reading!

  2. 3 Kareen Poku
    December 15, 2010 at 10:29

    Interesting work! Wish you all the best and Happy Holidays!

  3. 4 Kristin
    December 17, 2010 at 03:57

    Hey Scott!! Thanks for the update. Great to read a bit more about the work you’ll be doing and I cant wait to hear more about your experiences, perhaps you can change my mind about microfinance :D Kristof wrote an interesting op-ed in the Times a bit back about “microsaving.” Their is a development campaign in Haiti right now being promoted by MercyCorps and one of the Haitian cell phone companies to send people “money” via their cell phones rather than giving them the money (which of course those shiftless Haitians tend to “squander”). Right now its very common for people to transfer minutes from one phone to another as a form of payment so its building off that. I would imagine the same is happening in BF so just thought would pass it along as a potential topic of interest, though a bit unrelated. I agree with Peter, networking folks has some remarkable potential. It might be worthwhile to spend some time figuring out how money lending works outside the somewhat more formal setting you are operating in so you can have a more holistic view as to how money, assistance, obligation, etc. circulate- in other words get a bit anthy and figure out what “networks” already exist and how folks can call on them for financial assistance. sorry, cant take the anthropologist hat off :-) But seriously so excited to read your updates. Sounds like you are doing great and keep at the languages. And thanks for taking care of the stache- but perhaps the mustache doesnt carry the same meanings in BF as in the States… still, its demise is for the best.

    p.s. Im still waiting for the hipster pics to commence so we can begin the coloring book.


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The opinions on this blog are only those of the author, and and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.