I was almost about to think that Akiba’s corporate clients were all men until Agnes walked in on one of my focus group discussions with Akiba’s clients: “ I’m Agnes Chelangwa, of Tanzanian origin and most people in Dar es Salaam know me as Annabel’s mother or as the manager of Rosas Farm’. At Akiba Commercial Bank clients in the corporate category have a loan of 50 million TSH (Tanzanian Shilling; ~32,000 USD) or more, the type of loan size that is far beyond what you would associate with microfinance. Yet Agnes’ captivating story reveals how microfinance worked for her. Her big smile during most of the interview, her passion and focus when sharing business advice and her serious and honest look when she recalls more difficult moments work inspiring.
I was visiting Akiba’s upcountry branches in Moshi and Arusha to conduct client interviews, give training about the insurance-linked savings of a new product (watch out for a post) and to have a staff meeting to get insight in employee satisfaction at Akiba (another post to watch out for).
Upcountry, it is Kilimanjaro, Kiswahili for ‘white or shining hill’, dominating the landscape, the weather and the conversations. With its impressive 5,985 meters height, it is North-eastern Tanzania’s best known landmark. Many take on the challenge of the climb and get carried away by the stunning views on the beautiful fertile plains full of crops and … by the altitude.
But amidst the superlatives in my guidebook, a special paragraph highlights ‘Reduce your impact on the environment’. The flourishing tourism has benefitted the local industry tremendously but threatens Kili’s natural eco-system by tons of solid waste that have been left behind on its slopes. Estimates range between 87 tons in 2003 and more than 150 tons of solid waste in recent years.
A worrisome reality… Continue reading
Imagine having to carry all your money in your pocket or having to hide it in a sock under your pillow to keep it safe…
If you hold a bank account with Akiba that is past: as of next month banking services will be available 24/7 through mobile phone banking. That’s why we are currently sitting in a training room, our mobile phones in pole position. We are experimenting with how to top up airtime, transfer funds, check account balances, to mention only some of the 9 different services displaced on our phone screens. Initially mobile banking will require some extra explanation to the customer but the advantages in the long run outnumber that initial effort by far, as well for the bank as for the customers: lower transaction costs, no waiting queues, no time lost in traffic, no longer walking around with big stacks of money…The number of phone transactions is believed to take over the real banking transactions in no time.
And the mobile banking bustle has advantages that go beyond our top of mind… Continue reading
Three ladies of the Akiba promotion team and myself in a car on the ferry heading for a place, only ten minutes away from Dar-es-Salaam’s financial district and Akiba’s Head Office. To most tourists and residents, the Kigamboni ferry is a convenient way to escape the crowds of the city and to spend a relax weekend on the unexploited and white-sanded South Beach. That changed when the government decided to transform this unexploited stretch of paradise by 2012 into ‘The New City’ to meet the new land demands of Dar. For over half a million residents in search of the Tanzanian Dream, the ferry became a lifeline: industrial, education and business facilities are mushrooming. Each day commuting passengers, daladala’s (the local buses) use the ferry to go to work and back and transport tons of life products, water and consumer goods. Their numbers multiply each day. Continue reading
Thousands of Karibu (welcome) and Habarigani (what’s up) welcomed me warmly at the Nyrere airport. The friendly eyes and smiles, the eclectic smells and vibrant colors of Tanzania immediately absorbed and charmed me.
My ‘Wow what a well-maintained road’ quickly disappeared once Francis’ car hit the bumpy side roads. If golf has a challenge getting a ball in a small hole, here it is the opposite: avoiding to get your care in a pothole or a ditch is really an art. I cannot imagine you would even think of checking your cell at the same time but some are obviously of a different opinion. No surprise if you see the immense colorful billboards of Vodafone, Mpesa, Zantel, Airtel,…to name only some. The mobile hype has also hit this country and competition is fierce. The same goes for the bank adds trying to seduce the customers with Islamic microfinance, free ATM card transactions, innovative products such as Akiba’s Umeme (electricity) loans. Continue reading
D-day minus one: the ‘ last night’ before departure to the country with the motto ‘For Freedom and Unity’ (Uhura na Umoja). Kate’s and Melissa’s intro, Andrea’s and Alex’ lively descriptions and Jason’s enlightening blogs give me a glimpse and a promising appetizer but I’ll probably only fully grasp what is in store once I’m there.
Six weeks from now I’ll be in the same bed, just as always, but I’ll be shaped by new experiences that I cannot even imagine right now. That spot on the Eastern-African map will have a face, and become familiar with people, landscapes, adventures, emotions, … experiences like this surely get under your skin… Continue reading
Last week Robert De Niro, Woody Allen and other Hollywood icons were basking in the limelight in Cannes, France. One week later, a few thousands of miles across the ocean, quite a different event is taking place at the ACCION HQs in Boston, MA. Just like in Cannes however the ACCION organizing team can boast an excellent line-up: us, 14 ambassadors are gathering here, all with at least one eagerness in common: to share ideas and visions about microfinance before our plunge into the field realities of Tanzania, Mexico, Paraguay, India, China, Ghana and Nigeria.
In 50 years (ACCION 1961-2011) microfinance grew and saw numerous efforts, innovative breakthroughs and unprecedented funding and targeting of services for the unbanked. Currently 150 million people have access to microfinance.
Despite all attempts we are not yet there: an estimated 3 billion of people still could benefit of access to financial services. Meanwhile microfinance is no longer a cottage industry, it is coming of age as show the media, the risks perceived in the Microfinance Banana Skins and the need for consumer protection principles (Smart Campaign), regulation and vision.
Field stories from Melissa Baez (ACCION Program Manager for Africa) and Michael Schlein (ACCION CEO & President) aroused my curiosity even more to explore what microfinance means for people in Tanzania. Despite the fairy dust wiped off, I believe that microfinance can take an important place in working towards a financially inclusive world.
Oh and about Cannes and Microfinance: the red carpet! Only will ours be filled with the people at the centre stage of microfinance. Find out with us in the weeks to come. Join us in reading the blog, living it with us and contributing with your comments.
May this haiku poem inspire you:
Dialogue is on
Microfinance yin and yang
Spirits are moving