Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Welcoming ACEP Cameroun, Kiva's Newest Field Partner

Please join me in bidding a warm welcome to Kiva’s newest field partner, ACEP Cameroun!

The Agence de Crédit pour l’Entreprise Privée au Cameroun (ACEP Cameroun) works to "contribute in an efficient way towards the fight against poverty through microcredit loans to micro-enterprises." In 2005, ACEP began operating independently of its co-founding organizations, the Cameroon Ministry of Industry & Economics and the French Agency for Development, and has since grown to serve over 8,500 entrepreneurs in Cameroon’s bustling urban areas.

ACEP is determined, now more than ever, to reach a particularly marginalized group of Cameroonians. Thanks to its partnership with Kiva, ACEP is able to offer a new loan product with a smaller balance, no up-front service charges and reduced penalties for late repayment.

As a Kiva Fellow, who is working directly with ACEP Cameroun’s staff in Yaoundé (Kiva team pictured above, management team pictured below), I’ve had the great honor of seeing in person all that is necessary to make such an extensive microfinance operation succeed. Walking into the headquarters office, one gets the impression that ACEP functions very much like a traditional bank, but after a short while, formalness fades away and ACEP’s underlying social objectives become all the more clear. From Loan Officer to Receptionist to Executive Director to Accountant, ACEP’s staff is a hardworking bunch, all of whom have openly welcomed the Kiva partnership and new practices that it brings.

Meeting new clients especially reinforces the way in which ACEP works towards its mission, and during my first borrower visits I began to understand just what it means to be a micro-entrepreneur in Cameroon.

Laure, for instance, rents a tiny concrete stall, making beignets in bulk to sell to pastry shops and other vendors (who in turn sell the beignets at school cafeterias, etc). She's requesting a small loan to purchase a new machine that will increase her production significantly. Ultimately, once she's made enough profit, she hopes to open her own store and sell beignets and other pastries directly to consumers. She is 38 years old and single mother raising 3 children who all attend school. Her brother has previously been a customer of ACEP, and she's particularly grateful that with the bank's new Kiva partnership she, too, can take out a loan. Since there are no other local institutions providing loans of the size that Laure requires—small enough as to not be a financial burden but large enough to actually help grow her business—access to ACEP's new Kiva loan provides her a new and promising opportunity.

Hearing Laure’s hopes for the future, along with her plans of how to achieve them, is nothing short of inspiring. The fact that Kiva lenders from across the world can help to make this future possible puts an extra spring in my step and makes me all the more grateful to welcome ACEP Cameroun to the Kiva Partner family. To learn more about ACEP, visit their ACEP's Kiva Partner Page, or their first Kiva loans.

This post was written by Natalie Sherman, Kiva Fellow currently serving with ACEP Cameroun in Yaoundé, Cameroon.