Collaboration – the winning formula for a step change in success

ECC has been supporting MicroLoan Foundation for the last two years, with Geraldine Gallacher recently undertaking a gruelling 4-day hike up Malawi’s highest mountain, helping to raise over 5,000 for their work. 

Collaboration is at the heart of MicroLoan Foundation’s innovative African operation, so we were very excited to be asked to contribute to this newsletter.

For those of you who don’t know, MicroLoan Foundation is a small microfinance charity providing loans and training to women in sub-Saharan Africa to enable them to set up small businesses. The profits they make from these businesses transform lives by enabling increased spending on food, education and health care, amongst other things.

The women we support at MicroLoan Foundation are like many of the women (and men!) I know in London, and, I’m sure, are like many of you; entrepreneurial, ambitious and passionate. The only difference is that they don’t have the opportunities that we do.

The women MicroLoan supports in Malawi and Zambia are mostly illiterate and unemployed; living on less than 1 per day. They are consistently discriminated against in terms of access to education, employment and finance.

So, the opportunity to make a living to support themselves and their families is incredibly rare. MicroLoan Foundation gives this opportunity, and, combined with our client’s entrepreneurial spirits, we see amazing results. At MicroLoan, we like to say that we offer a hand up, not a hand out.

Unlike many other microfinance institutions (MFIs), MicroLoan exclusively lends money to women. I could go into the numerous (and very convincing!) reasons for this, but there is one quote that I think sufficiently summarises our reasoning; “If you provide a woman with the opportunity to generate her own income, she will reinvest approximately 90% of her profits into her family and community”.

Investing in women results in community-wide economic development. Investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it is the sensible thing to do!

Another unique aspect of MicroLoan’s model is that we only lend to women in groups. Whilst all clients receive their own individual loan for their business, each are members of self-governing “loan groups” that are collectively responsible for repaying loans.

The group acts as the communication channel between MicroLoan and its clients, and provides a support network whereby group members collaboratively share business problems and suggest strategies to overcome them. This collaboration creates a real sense of empowerment and community, and is responsible for much of the business success our clients experience.

Our clients range from young women of 18 years old to grandmothers of 80 years +. Seeing them come together in their small groups of 15 women, of all ages (often plus children!), and share their knowledge and experience to help one another develop and prosper, is a real sight to behold.

The impact of MicroLoan’s support, and the importance of collaboration, is best demonstrated by hearing directly from one of our clients. On a recent trip to Malawi, our Social Performance Manager, Daniella Hawkins, met Rebecca Jere.

Rebecca has been supported by MicroLoan for the last two years and has taken a succession of small loans and accessed a number of training sessions during this time. With our support, Rebecca set up a small shop selling mobile phones and accessories. Her husband helps her run her business and is incredibly proud of all she is achieving.

Thanks to our training and loans, Rebecca has seen her business profits increase considerably in the last 18 months, and has even purchased a computer to manage her business accounts. Despite her success, Rebecca, like so many of our clients, still faces many challenges in running her business. Recently, one of her three children fell very sick, meaning her and her husband had to care for him and couldn’t run the business.

Rebecca was really worried about how she would repay her loan at this time as she wasn’t making enough profits, but her loyal and supportive group members all contributed to repay Rebecca’s loan for her. In the difficult environments our clients operate, this kind of collaboration and support is vital to the success of their businesses.

Collaboration not only results in, but is built upon, honesty, interdependency, and empathy – without any of this, our work at MicroLoan would not be possible.

Collaboration unifies people and strengthens resilience. Whether you work for a FTSE100 in London, or a small enterprise in rural Malawi, the value of collaboration and co-learning should not be underestimated.

From humble beginnings in 2002, the Chiswick-based MicroLoan Foundation now recycles around 4 million in loans to over 30,000 of the world’s poorest women, providing them with the means to work their own way out of poverty.

Unlike most micro-finance organisations, MicroLoan Foundation is pro-poor, working only with the hardest to reach, most isolated women, providing them with tailored support and training before, during and post loan, enabling them to maximise the success rates for their businesses.

The MicroLoan Foundation’s innovative model of only loaning money to groups of supportive women has meant 99% of clients are able to repay their loan, enabling it to be recycled to other women who need it.

For more information about Microloan contact: Paul Abbott, Director of Fundraising and Marketing on 020 8996 1730 or www.microloanfoundation.org.uk.

This article was originally published on Executive Coaching Newsletter.