5 November 2021
Solidarity Banker – OXUS Tajikistan ©Olivier Mancini

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole SA in June 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme aimed at all Crédit Agricole group employees for the benefit of microfinance institutions or impact businesses supported by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation. Olivier Mancini, Crédit Agricole du Languedoc’s Solidarity Banker, carried out a field mission in favour of Oxus Tajikistan (OTJ) in September 2021.

Testimony of Olivier Mancini, Head of Collection Processes, Crédit Agricole du Languedoc.

An unfailing motivation

I discovered the Solidarity Banker programme through a call for applications launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation at the end of 2019 on the creditagricole.info website. The offered mission, in favor of Oxus, a microfinance institution in Tajikistan, caught my attention and motivated an initial contact.

After a rewarding experience in Zimbabwe in 2018 as part of a solidarity leave I wanted to invest myself again in volunteer assignments or training missions with adults, preferably abroad. Immersion in a new context, the discovery of a different culture and the opportunity to practice a foreign language strengthened my motivation as much as the desire to share my knowledge.

When the mission in favor of Oxus was launched early 2020, I did not hesitate to apply! As the objective of the mission matched with my activity, my application caught their attention. I then carried out several interviews with the Foundation’s teams before being definitively selected. That was without taking Covid-19 into account: impossible to avoid the postponement of the mission. Never mind, it would leave me plenty of time to prepare the field mission upstream.

Mission preparation

Created in 2006, at the initiative of ACTED and following the adoption in Tajikistan of laws on microfinance, Oxus Tajikistan (OTJ) is a microcredit organization which grants loans mainly to micro entrepreneurs and farmers in rural areas. Partner of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation since 2012, OTJ aims to improve the economic and social conditions of low-income populations excluded from the traditional banking system.

The objective of the mission was to review the valuation process for different types of guarantees and to consider the introduction of additional valuation methods in order to be as close as possible to best practices in this area. To achieve this result, the mission had to be well framed and prepared before joining the teams in the field. So I learned about the principles of microfinance and I studied the internal documentation of the institution in order to acquaint myself with their procedures. I have also spoken many times with OTJ and the Foundation to best formulate the expectations of the mission.

Once the terms of reference were finalised and the health situation improved, I only had 5,000 km to go and 18 hours of flight left to achieve the mission!

In the direction of Tajikistan

I arrived at 3:00 am in Dushanbe and was welcomed by Bakhtyior. I immediately had to cope with the language barrier: I don’t speak (unfortunately) Russian nor Tajik, but thanks to a few words shared in English, we managed to communicate on the essentials.

The next morning, meeting with Vantasho, Chief Executive Officer, then with the managers of the various divisions to get a better understanding of the conduct of activities. I was also able to speak with beneficiaries to discuss with them the requests for financing and the characteristics of the goods offered as collateral. The documentation and information collected on site, in addition to the documents studied previously, enabled me to construct and submit my recommendations to Vatansho. With its validation, I continued the work started with Umedjon, Chief Risk Officer, and Shurhat, Chief Financial Officer, to establish the foundations of a new methodology for valuing guarantees and then providing the elements supporting this new method to be implemented.

The mission in the field lasted 10 days, which was sufficient to meet the terms of reference of the mission and develop the supports necessary for the implementation of the recommendations planned a few weeks after my departure. In this perspective, the mission will continue remotely for a few days of support in order to provide additional insight and vision on the implementation modalities and assessment of the relevance of the methodology.

An unforgettable experience

This experience undoubtedly exceeded my expectations, both on a human and professional level.

Confronted, over a short period, with the expressed desire to fulfill the objectives of the mission in order to provide concrete and appropriate responses, I was able to count on the great availability of all OTJ employees regardless of their function. I was also able to rely on the expression of a mutual critical look in a real spirit of openness by my main interlocutors. The co-construction of the offered solutions was very rewarding, especially since it was necessary to achieve the same requirement in terms of consistency and solidity of the recommendations as in my professional activity, but with clearly fewer external facilitating tools. It is thus a real satisfaction to have been able to contribute to the evolution of the organization’s practices with OTJ team.

Obviously, and despite the short stay, the human experience is unforgettable thanks to their hospitality. The (many) moments of conviviality were real opportunities for sharing. It allowed me to learn more about the history of Central Asia, Tajikistan and even their personal history. I would do it all over again with great pleasure. I keep the precious memory of people who greet with their hand on their heart but who also are big-hearted.

I would particularly like to thank the people of Crédit Agricole du Languedoc who supported my project; to Caroline Brandt, Carolina Viguet, Cécile Delhomme from the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation who made this mission possible; to Aurélie Cacciotti of Crédit Agricole SA for logistical support; and of course to Vatansho Vatanshoev, CEO of OTJ, and Umedjon shodiev, Head of Risks, Shurhat Zoidoc,CFO, as well as to all the OTJ teams for their help and welcome, with a special greeting to Bakhtyior and Yosuman.