Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lendwithcare microloans making big differences in Togo, West Africa

A couple of weeks ago, Ajaz (Lendwithcare's Microfinance Advisor) and I headed out to Togo and Benin in West Africa to conduct the annual evaluation of our microfinance partners. Whilst there we also met some of the entrepreneurs receiving Lendwithcare loans.

 - Nancy Thomas, Lendwithcare Executive

If you follow the debate on the impact of microfinance, you will be aware that one of the criticisms often put to microfinance practitioners is that microcredit only serves to support subsistence and/or unscaleable businesses. However the following two entrepreneurs I met on our recent visit to Togo showed me quite the contrary.

Meet Philippe Adanglo ...

Philippe in his workshop 
When we visited Philippe’s shop/training school on a hot and dusty day in February, it was an absolute hive of activity. In the main portion of his workshop, 15 young apprentices sat busily working away on clothes orders. Philippe currently owns six manual sewing machines (one of which he bought with a small loan funded by Lendwithcare lenders) so those who were not operating the sewing machines, assisted by tacking and preparing the material for sewing. At the side of his workshop, in an extended area, we were introduced to another 15 apprentices who were gluing, ironing and putting finishing touches to various items. 

Philippe welcomed us in with a big smile and open arms. We did not realise from his modest loan request quite how impressive his business actually was. He set-up his own tailoring business with three helpers about 14 years ago after learning the trade from his uncle and receiving a diploma as an apprentice. He now, with the help of 35 local apprentices, makes 100s of uniforms for schools and companies as well as the occasional bespoke item. And all of this on manual sewing machines! Philippe told us that he and his staff meet their current demand comfortably and he is planning on expanding operations in the near future. In fact, in the shorter term Philippe has plans to open a haberdashery next to his workshop so he can sell cloth and accessories alongside his tailoring services. 

Apart from building a successful business, what really impressed us about Philippe was the opportunity his business now provided for numerous young people from the local area through his apprenticeship programme. In total he has trained 80 people in the trade, all of whom received a diploma and graduation ceremony once they completed their apprenticeship and most of whom have gone on to set-up their own businesses. Philippe trains all of the apprentices himself and is helped by his more experienced apprentices as new people join. Philippe has now taken out a second small loan to buy more material in bulk so they can meet the growing demand of their customers and get a better price by buying in bulk.

Philippe & apprentices

And Akuwa Keke ...
Akuwa and I (Nancy)

We met Akuwa the day after we visited Philippe's tailoring shop and were very impressed by her obvious entrepreneurial skill and spirit. After her husband died ten years ago Akuwa knew she needed to find a way to adequately meet the needs of her two daughters so she started to consider different income-generating activities. She used to sell porridge from a stall on the street but this did not provide her with a sufficient or stable income so, with encouragement from her sister, Akuwa slowly started to expand and diversify her trade. She now buys a variety of goods from the port and grand market in Lome (the Togolese capital) in bulk and then sells them at retail to people in the local vicinity. These goods range from colourful cloth and children’s toys to furniture and pianos. Akuwa visits the port and sees what is being imported and which items she thinks will sell well in the area where she lives and buys these items in bulk. Akuwa told us the goods she sells come from all over the world, particularly China. 

And Akuwa's business ideas do not stop there. In addition to selling these goods, Akuwa also grinds corn to make a type of powder popularly used to make soup. She exports large bags of this corn powder via middlemen at the port to Europe and other parts of the world. Akuwa hires three people to help her with this activity since it can be a laborious task preparing the corn into the powder. The list of activities Akuwa is engaged in is extensive and before we were about to leave she also wanted us to try some of the frozen yoghurt she makes and sells on the street to passersby. She sells these for 2 cents a bag and they are delicious!

Ladies grinding corn at Akuwa's home
It was an absolute delight to meet both Philippe and Akuwa (and the 13 other lendwithcare entrepreneurs who welcomed us into their homes and their businesses) during our trip and although I am not suggesting these two examples represent all recipients of microcredit, I do think it extremely important we avoid viewing microcredit and all its recipients homogeneously. 

To learn more about lendwithcare entrepreneurs visit our website www.lendwithcare.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for latest news and discussion.

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