It’s not often you get to know how the money you donate to charity is actually spent but today I was able to meet Jun Perez, President of SEED Finance, the Filipino partner of lendwithcare.org. I’ve always thought the whole concept of lendwithcare.org is fantastic and was keen to find out more about how the scheme actually operates on the ground.
I didn’t think when I emailed the general email address that they’d actually be able to arrange the visit, but within a couple of days they’d put me in touch with Jun. It’s always a concern that when you learn more about an organisation you find out about the issues and problems but nothing was further from the truth with SEED Finance. At the risk that I’m beginning to sound like this is written by their PR company I can assure you that I’m fairly cynical generally and have this week been accused of cross examining the Chairmen of the Quezon City Red Cross in a manner that was apparently more like an interrogation than a Q&A session.
So, at the SEED offices we were shown to the small meeting room and given a history of their involvement with CARE International. Jun was friendly, well informed and enthusiastic as well as keen to talk about their work. Photos on the wall have the caption ‘Micro no more’ underneath and a map has pins showing their coverage of the country.
For anyone else who lends with lendwithcare.org I can assure you from what I’ve heard that your money is being well spent. The individuals we see on the website are all members of co-operatives in the provinces and this is how their loans are administered. Jun made it clear that their loans were not the cheapest in the market but that they offer an extensive support service that extends beyond the loans themselves. This includes technical assistance and training so not only are the loans protected but a sustainable business is created. It seems like these measures are helping contribute to their 97% overall repayment rate, up 57%.
Loans are targeted in the most deprived regions and in places where mainstream banking is difficult to access. Practicalities such as having to get a boat to another island can mean entrepreneurs have to take time away from their business to carry out simple administrative tasks. Mobile banking has been utilised incredibly effectively to address this issue and people can now order supplies, pay utility bills and send money to kids overseas all through their mobile phone and the co-op money card. This is backed by Mastercard and linked to their phone account.
Having introduced this scheme in a fishing village a complaint was made by an entrepreneur that he was unable to access his money one weekend when the cash desk was closed and the ATM wasn’t working. SEED and the co-operative decided to address this by installing mobile card swipe machines in small businesses on the island. This meant there was no need for people to withdraw cash in order to buy materials for their business. Simple solutions like this and utilising the latest technology are great for making the lives of the beneficiaries easier and allowing them to maximise productivity.
Another example of this is how it allows the organisation itself to work more efficiently. At a conference a request was made for funds for a co-op to Jun. He text someone in the office, they made the necessary approvals and the money was available in around 2 hours.
The governance of the organisation reflects the client focus and on the Executive Committee two out of the five members represent clients. There is regular dialogue with area, regional and national conferences to share ideas and best practice.
One of the clever engagement tools used by lendwithcare.org is the updates from the entrepreneurs. Being of a sceptical nature I’m not sure I quite believed before that these were so accurate as to be about your money. Having heard about their systems and the fact that each beneficiary is visited monthly I’ll now be much more interested in these updates.
Currently only 5% of their income is from individuals with the majority of investment coming from companies. I know after visiting SEED I’ll be happy to put more money in and be confident it’s being well spent.
By Amy Lythgoe
(Posted originally in the author’s blog on 11.04.2013)