Sara’s first visit to Malawi

In the middle of January, Sara, our Head of Fundraising, travelled to Malawi for the first time. Here is an account of her time there, and some of the fantastic women she met…

In January this year I went on my first trip to Malawi to visit some of MicroLoan’s projects, get to know our
local staff and most importantly meet some of the 28,000 women we work with each year.

Arriving into Lilongwe from a very snowy London was a bit of a shock – a nice one! It was warm and sunny and so green from the rains. I spent my first 2 days and nights in Malawi in Kasungu where our Head Office is. It was brilliant to see our training centre and meet all of our Malawian colleagues in person. I had meetings with both Vinny (who manages our Solar project) and Mary – our Training Officer to find out in more detail what these areas entail.

Mary trains all MicroLoan staff on our social mission and how to deliver our work. She’s been extremely busy recently rolling out 13 new training modules covering everything from time management, to presenting skills
and IT to give our staff the skills they need. It’s great to see the importance placed on training our staff and the emphasis on why we’re doing this – we’re not a bank, we’re a charity and all of our staff are trained on the importance of this.

Loan Officers meet groups of women 8 times every 4 months. They understand the importance of our social mission and are responsible for collecting our Social Performance data – meaning they collect information about
the impact our training and loans are having on the clients.

I also met with Vinny who manages our Solar project.

We are currently piloting a project where we give solar panels as “loans” to clients who have been with us for 3 or more cycles and who are doing well so far. These are on top of normal cash loans and the aim is to add value
to businesses and give the women a sustainable business model. This also supports our poverty outreach and our aim of working with women in very rural areas. When I visited the office we’d just had a delivery of solar panels and the room was full of them!

These were new panels (the old ones weren’t working as well and Vinny had found that they didn’t light homes properly – whereas the new ones do). They cost around $72 each and are being piloted in 6 branches with 100
clients using them.

Vinny explained that they can be used for a number of things:

  • Charging phones
  • Lighting homes of the women (as the pack includes 2 lamps)
  • Listening to the radio

After a couple of days with the team in Head Office we headed across the central region to Nkhotakota and Salima – on the banks of Lake Malawi to visit my first groups!

Over the next 2 days I met a number of groups and more than 50 of our clients and was so impressed and humbled by what I saw and so grateful they let me join in their meetings.

Each group starts their meeting with a lively song and dance which of course I joined in on! It was amazing to be dancing in the sun, under a tree – so different from my usual working day in London!

Once the meetings start MicroLoan’s staff begin a training module. I saw a number of these covering topics like overcoming issues as a group, some role plays to understand how they could address someone not being able to make a repayment and how the training and repayment meetings would work. I was also lucky enough to see groups at different stages of their MicroLoan journey – some were just starting out, others had graduated to multiple businesses. Either way the impact was clear and they were so happy to talk to me about this.

I was very keen to ask the women questions about their lives and the impact working with MicroLoan is having on them. I wanted to know the kinds of businesses they’re setting up, how they work within their groups and what
they think about our training. I spoke to so many women and was just blown away by how excited they were about their new enterprises and so many of them had plans and ideas of how they could expand. One woman told me she dreams of owning a car so she can travel further to sell her products. Another told me that she and a fellow group member take it in turns to man a stall at their local market – they’re selling the same product and don’t want to compete with one-another.

I also met one village chief who had attended the meeting and told me he was so thankful to MicroLoan for coming to his village.  He said “Our village has been ignored by other micro finance organisations because we are far away from any town. But Microloan has come here and is now supporting these women. This is helping us all”.

I also met Fatuma who has 5 children to care for on her own with no-husband to help her. Fatuma has been with MicroLoan for 7 cycles (on standard loans) and is part of a successful group who have now chosen to take
an additional farming loan to help them start farming rice.

Fatuma, below, has taken her farming loan and now rents 3 plots on which to farm her rice.