Thursday, May 24, 2012

Passport Series: In Burkina Faso microfinance helps break down economic and social barriers

In February 2000, eight women in Burkina Faso got together to realize a dream. These were women who had managed, in spite of all odds, to start businesses. Each knew firsthand how difficult it is to become an entrepreneur with limited resources and cultural opposition -- but also how rewarding. Inspired by their collective experience, they pooled their funds and started their own microfinance institution: Micro Start.

Over a decade later, the institution operates five offices and has helped over 20,000 people start and expand their businesses. Driven by core values of solidarity, transparency, social justice and equality, Micro Start offers a range of loan products tailored to the specific needs of the country's most vulnerable borrowers.

Recognizing that the poorest members of any community need training and solidarity to help them get started, Micro Start established group loans for self-selecting groups of up to ten people. These loans start small in order to boost borrowers' confidence and teach them the fundamentals of finance and business.

As these entrepreneurs get comfortable borrowing and repaying funds, Micro Start introduces them to the concept of savings. Imagine the transformation from constantly worrying about feeding yourself and your family to having a consistent enough daily income to begin planning for the future and saving.

Now imagine the effect it would have on a child to always have a full belly and to see their parents succeeding. Micro Start couples this positive emotional impact with programs that help borrowers keep their children in school and access information on vaccines and healthcare. Empowering families goes a long way toward strengthening whole communities and future generations.

After listening extensively to the needs of its clients, Micro Start created loans that address two of their biggest concerns: clean stoves and transportation.

Pervasive poverty means that many families still use dirty and dangerous wood burning stoves to cook their food. Micro Start now offers information on the health risks of these stoves and provides loans to help families purchase cleaner gas-burning alternatives.

Burkina Faso's large rural community makes transportation a key factor in borrowers' ability to access higher-value markets, more customers and better inventory. Micro Start offers loans for entrepreneurs to purchase bikes and motorcycles to help improve their efficiency.

These comprehensive loan products address many of the barriers that stand between borrowers and financial independence. And by targeting women, Micro Start is also empowering 50% of the population to take control of their economic futures and model gender equality to their children.

This is the second of a three-part series taking a closer look at Burkina Faso, its history with microfinance, Kiva's role in expanding opportunities for Burkinabé households, and what it's like to participate in the country's economy as a borrower, lender and field worker.

photo courtesy of Rita Willaert, Adam Jones, Katherine Neumann, IRRI