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.