Podcasts Solidarity Bankers: episode N.3

Interview with Veselina PETROVA, Accounting Standards Analyst, CACIB
and Ali LHAF, Credit Risk Analyst, CACIB
By: Mireille de Kerleau, Communications Manager, CACEIS

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A. in 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees in favour of microfinance institutions and impact businesses supported by the Foundation. Discover the 2nd episode of the series of podcasts dedicated to Solidarity Bankers, the skills volunteering scheme run by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Credit Agricole SA. The first episode covered Carolina Viguet, Communications and partnership Director of the Foundation and co-initiator of this programme, and the second Andreas Brunner, Inspection Supervisor at Amundi in Paris, Solidarity Banker who went on a mission to Kyrgyzstan. With this 3rd episode, we will share the experience of Veselina PETROVA, Accounting Standards Analyst, and Ali LHAF, Credit Risk Analyst, both at CACIB.

They carried out a field mission in pairs for Faten, a microfinance institution created in 1999 and which is supervised by the Palestinian monetary authority. Faten’s mission is to meet the financial services needs of low- and middle-income Palestinian entrepreneurs and individuals. It operates throughout Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, through a network of 37 branches and 277 employees.

Before giving the floor to our speakers, allow me to briefly review the economic and social situation in Palestine.

In a context marked by conflicts and geopolitical tensions, access to essential services in Palestine is a major problem. With a banked population rate just over 25% and an economy heavily dependent on agriculture, microfinance plays an essential role in supporting income-generating activities and rural development. Faten is a key player in financial inclusion in the Palestinian territories by financing economic and agricultural activities and improving housing with its some 26,000 customers. Now a large institution with nearly $140 million in portfolio, Faten is embarking on a process of structuring and transformation into a multi-channel and multi-product bank requiring cutting-edge expertise. That is why Veselina and Ali, specialists in risk assessment, reporting standards and accounting standardization at CACIB, support this transformation as part of a Solidarity Bankers mission.

Hello Veselina, hello Ali. So to start this interview, I would like you to introduce yourself to our listeners.

Veselina: My name is Veselina and I have been working in the accounting analysis team at CACIB for five years now. I am originally from Bulgaria and I come from Varna, which is a city on the shores of the Black Sea, where I did part of my studies. I finished my studies in France and since then I have been working here. In addition, I am the mother of two young boys. I like to learn and share and this mission is an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a new environment which is microfinance, with issues that have nothing to do with those of a bank such as CACIB.

Ali: My name is Ali Lhaf. I arrived in France in 2005 for my studies and since 2010 I have been working at CACIB where I have been a credit risk analyst since 2017. At the same time, I am also a professor. I teach finance at the CNAM in Paris. For my part, it is extremely important to reach out to others, to really try to share what we have and this type of mission allows me to use my technical skills to help others.

Did you know each other before the mission, given that you work in the same company, or did you meet on this occasion?

Ali: We actually met on this mission and, for this mission in particular, we needed someone who was a little expert in IFRS, this is the case of Veselina, and someone who had more of the profile of credit analyst and  who speaks Arabic, which is my case. Our work is complementary.

You are located in the same buildings, are you both in Paris, in Montrouge?

Yes, we are based in Montrouge

You met physically along the way.

Veselina: Yes we met during the presentation of the mission. Ali, I believe that you were the first one to have contacted the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation for the mission because when I contacted them they told me that there was already someone, an Arabic speaker who had proposed for the mission, and therefore they expected a person who had knowledge of IFRS accounting standards.

Ali: Indeed, I have a former colleague who is now on the communication side, and it was her who actually told me about this mission. She told me that the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation was looking for someone who spoke Arabic and who knew a little about credit. And here, I told her, if I can do something, it is with great pleasure, and it started like that.

And you Veselina, how did it go for you?

Veselina: So I had attended a videoconference presentation of the ongoing missions of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and so I saw that there was this mission for which they were looking for someone who matched my profile. This mission was the only one where the skills I have were required and I found it interesting. So I contacted the Foundation and that was it. It happened like this.

So you went through a selection process on your own and then you were selected.

Veselina: As far as I am concerned, when I contacted the Foundation and expressed my interest, they asked me to send my CV, with a brief description of what I could bring and then they confirmed to me that my CV corresponded to some of the skills sought. It could be complementary to Ali’s profile, and I met them. And I met Ali afterwards.

And from that moment, did you immediately start working on this mission?

Ali: Actually, the mission was remote. It’s not easy to start right away. So we took stock with Faten and they explained what they are doing. Afterwards we received a good part of their documents. We spent a lot of time with Veselina to really understand what the institution does and try to detail their mission so that we can really have a fairly global idea of ​​their accounts, their business model. And it started like that. And we also translated because there are documents in Arabic, in English, so we had to understand their documents. And then little by little we had two, three meetings with Faten and there we started to get into the technical IFRS / NAF part and there it was Veselina who brought her skills in this area.

Have you exchanged with several people from Faten or do you have a particular correspondent? Who are your correspondents there?

Veselina: We have two main correspondents at the moment. At the presentation meetings there were three or four people if I’m not mistaken. So we have the finance manager of the microfinance institution, one of her collaborators who is competent in the preparation of the accounts to IFRS standards and for the credit risk models that they want us to review. So here we are, two main interlocutors and then we will see if for the other subjects that we have to review we will exchange with other people.

Do these people mainly speak Arabic or do they also speak English?

Ali: They speak English too.

That way it also allows Veselina to follow I imagine.

Veselina: Yes in English it is easier for me indeed

I was wondering if you had any idea of ​​the culture of the country or not at all? Or are you learning as you go by relating to these people?

Ali: Personally, I know the culture a little. I come from Lebanon. Lebanon is not very far from the Palestinian territories, indeed. It’s not 100% identical, but there is a lot in common. It is the Orient, … I know a little bit. This simplifies communication. Frankly, for the moment, things have gone well with them. They were very available… I don’t know Veselina what your feeling is but…

Veselina: Yes, yes, they are reactive. In my case, I don’t really know the cultural or other environment there. They are very responsive, they communicate in a natural and professional way like us, so I don’t see any obstacle in that regard.

I see that the mission will take place one day a week for 15 weeks. Is that more or less the idea?

Veselina: Yes, that is a general framework, it is indicative. And then we also modulate according to our own workload every day at CACIB.

Ali: Indeed. I note that this is quite a technical mission, honestly, which requires a bit of personal work on our side as well. These are not necessarily 100% subjects of our daily life because we work in an investment bank. We are really talking about microfinance here, so it is not the same kind of job. On our side it takes a little time.

Veselina: Yes, that is it. We have our knowledge, the general framework, well not just general. We also have specific knowledge that can be useful for the mission. But on the other hand, due to the activity of the entity, in fact there are very specific points which require other additional expertise. And for example, we are trying now to find someone from Crédit Agricole more on the retail banking sector. Finally, we need additional expertise. So there are pluses and minuses. The minus is that we cannot directly work on the subject 100% from the start. But afterwards, the advantage is that it will allow us to learn other things and then also to exchange with other teams at Crédit Agricole and we hope that people will be able to bring us what we lack.

Ali: The first part is really the technical part on accounting standards and the second part is more the organisation between their holding company in Ramallah and the subsidiaries around. So it is the communication between the holding company and the small subsidiaries. So I think those are the two big topics on which we have to work with Faten.

And when you have meetings with them, you are systematically the two of you or sometimes you alternate, once one and then the other?

Veselina: Up to now, we tried to be both. Afterwards, there is no obligation in itself but at the beginning it is important that we attend together, in case there is a need to switch to Arabic, Ali can do it, not me.

When the mission is complete, I imagine you’ll do a bit of follow-up on what’s going on and how it is implemented?

Veselina: Yes, yes. That’s what the Foundation told us. That generally the mission ends with a meeting which concludes precisely on the achievement of the objectives. And on the achievement of goals, we can always keep in touch.

And maybe one last question that comes to me. I wanted to talk in a more general way about the skill donation mission. Do you already feel that it is a gift of your skills and that you will be useful, that it makes you happy? What does this bring you to do that?

Veselina: Already we hope that we will be useful. But again, we’re not even halfway through the mission yet. So we strongly hope that we can achieve a result that will be useful to Faten. As far as I’m concerned, I was initially interested in being able to participate in a mission like that, volunteering. I think it will be really rewarding in the end, once we have seen that the result of what we have been able to produce corresponds to the expectations, I hope, of our interlocutors.

Ali, maybe you have a feeling about that too?

Ali: While waiting for the result, I hope we will bring good things to Faten. But on a personal level, giving and sharing is something that touches me a lot, so I really try, on quite a few levels, to do it, either as a teacher if I give lessons, or else I do interpreting for refugees here in Paris, … I think that if you have something, you must above all share it with others.

Veselina: Yes and then we too will surely learn a lot.

Ali: Actually personally and also technically, yes really.

Well thank you very much for this exchange. Thank you for listening to this podcast and  I invite you to join us for the fourth episode, which this time will focus on a field mission in Senegal, a mission carried out by two Solidarity Bankers from Crédit Agricole SA and EFL in Poland. See you soon !

Listen to the podcast here

Technical assistance: building the strategic plan of MLF Zambia

© Peter CATON

THE ORGANISATION AND THE FOUNDATION

Under the African Facility, MLF Zambia has received a €49,000 grant from the Agence Française de Développement [French Development Agency] for the implementation of 10 technical assistance missions in various fields (risk management, digitalization, staff training, etc.), including the development of a new business plan. The Foundation also granted a loan to MLF Zambia in 2020 for a total amount of €250,000.

CONTEXT OF THE MISSION

Given the robust development of its activities, MLF Zambia wanted to benefit from an external viewpoint and the support of an expert so as to position itself more clearly on the market and strengthen its competitiveness. The institution thus benefited from the support of a local technical assistance provider to develop a new five-year strategic plan (2021-2025), an action plan and financial forecasts.

RESULTS

Thanks to this mission, MLF Zambia was able to gain a better understanding of the local microfinance sector, as well as to define with precision its objectives and medium-term growth forecasts. The institution is now equipped to face competition, prioritise its actions and make forecasts. The development of the business plan also enabled MLF Zambia to communicate more clearly about its organisational goals to its staff and to potential new investors.

OUTLOOK

MLF Zambia is targeting significant business growth aspiring to serve 80,000 active clients within five years. The institution also aims to increase its operational efficiency through refined lending methodologies and smart technology, and to boost staff motivation, develop products dedicated to financing agricultural activities, and build client loyalty – all with the ultimate goal of improving women’s lives.

This article was published in “Our technical assistance offer”, accessible here

Technical assistance: the risk management improvement of ACFIME (Burkina Faso)

© Fondation Grameen Crédit Agricole/Didier GENTILHOMME

ACFIME is a Burkinabe microfinance institution that targets very vulnerable populations excluded from the large microfinance institutions operating throughout the country. The loans granted by ACFIME therefore have a very high potential for social impact.

THE ORGANISATION AND THE FOUNDATION

Under the African Facility, ACFIME has received a €131,000 grant from the Agence Française de Développement for the implementation of 16 technical assistance missions in various fields (business plan, human resources management, risk management, training, etc.), including the mapping of risks and training of the Internal Audit Department The Foundation has also granted three loans to ACFIME for a total amount of €732,000 since 2014.

CONTEXT OF THE MISSION

The structuring of procedures and risk management are determining factors in consolidating and ensuring the sustainability of an institution. In the first phase of the African Facility programme, ACFIME benefitted from an upgrade of most of its procedures. As a follow-up to this mission, ACFIME was given another technical assistance mission to strengthen risk management further. The organisation was assisted by a local technical assistance provider in mapping operational, financial and strategic risks and in training the Internal Audit Department.

RESULTS

Thanks to the participatory approach of the technical assistance provider and the training of the Internal Audit Department, ACFIME has gained autonomy in identifying the internal and external risks it faces in order to measure them and implement mitigation measures where necessary. A risk management committee is now in charge of updating the mapping and mitigation plans of the related risks.

OUTLOOK

Following these first positive results, ACFIME now wishes to map all the risks for each agency and point of service so as to be able to identify and prevent them, at each level of the institution. ACFIME also wants to develop a business continuity plan.

This article was published in “Our technical assistance offer”, accessible here

New Solidarity Bankers mission in Benin

© In Venture

At the initiative of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A, skills volunteering missions Solidarity Bankers are offered to employees of the Crédit Agricole Group on behalf of organisations supported by the Foundation. A new Solidarity Bankers mission is to be filled in favour of the  Association des Caisses de Financement à la Base (ACFB) in Benin. The microfinance institution was created in 1995 as a project of the local NGO GRAPAD.

ACFB aims at offering quality financial and non-financial services to the active, economically weak, and mainly female populations with a view to their promotion. ACFB offers its clients loan and savings services through group and individual methodologies.

Today, ACFB has a Human Resources Department, within the General Administration Service, composed of two agents: an HR Monitoring Officer, promoted in 2019 to prepare the retirement of the former Monitoring Officer, and an Assistant. The institution also has a human resources management manual, HR management tools and software to manage salaries. However, ACFB lacks a formalized staff evaluation system and a career management plan to harness the skills and potential of its staff, while identifying and meeting their expectations.

To discover the details of this mission click here.

How to apply

To apply send your CV as well as one or two paragraphs explaining your motivation and expertise to carolina.viguet@credit-agricole-sa.fr

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Created in 2008, under the joint impetus of the directors of Crédit Agricole S.A. and Professor Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Grameen Bank, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is a cross-business actor that contributes to the fight against poverty through financial inclusion and entrepreneurship with a social impact. As an investor, lender, technical assistance coordinator and fund advisor, the Foundation supports microfinance institutions and social enterprises in nearly 40 countries.

72 Microfinance Institutions Join Inaugural Financial Inclusion Index

Impact performance measurement of microfinance institutions in 41 countries will launch in Q2 2022 with support from sector leaders.

April 13, 2022 – In a global effort to promote standard, comparable impact outcomes data for the microfinance industry, 60 Decibels will release the first microfinance index driven entirely by end customer voices later this quarter. This groundbreaking initiative will include aggregated data from the customers of 72 participating microfinance institutions (MFIs), supported by 19 Founding Partners. Collected through phone surveys, the data and resulting insights will be shared in a public report and dashboard to establish performance benchmarks for ongoing impact measurement and management by MFIs and their funders.

Global MFI participation has been made possible by 19 Founding Partners supporting and collaborating on this initiative: Accion, Advans, BRAC, ECLOF, FMO, Fundación Netri, Global Partnerships, Grameen Foundation, Kiva, LeapFrog Investments, MCE Social Capital, Nordic Microfinance Initiative, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, ResponsAbility, SPTF, Symbiotics, WaterEquity, and Women’s World Banking. Catalytic, field-building sponsorship for this inaugural effort came from the Tipping Point Foundation on Impact Investing and Ceniarth. Together, these sponsors and founding partners have provided project funding and engaged their portfolios to include MFIs from 41 countries in this research.

“As an investor in microfinance for 14 years, the Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation is really excited to participate in this initiative and to support its partners in gathering this outcome data. When issuing its impact model in 2020, the Foundation committed to further monitor its impact, so we’re happy for our team to have comparable impact outcome data for the first time” said Alice Rullier, Impact Analyst at the Foundation.

For each participating MFI, 60 Decibels researchers survey a representative sample (200 – 250 respondents) of MFI customers and conduct a standardized phone survey to gather quantitative and qualitative data along five key dimensions of impact. The survey, developed by 60 Decibels and based on its experience working with hundreds of companies in the financial inclusion space, utilizes questions proven to assess and compare social outcomes across five impact themes: Access, Business Impact, Household Impact, Financial Management, and Resilience. The aggregated data from all participating MFIs will establish benchmarks to be shared in the public report, providing essential insight into the range of performance on these key outcomes to be utilized across the MFI industry.

“We started listening to end customers eight years ago because the standard of practice—things like counting the number of customers reached—wasn’t telling us if people’s lives were improving,” said Sasha Dichter, CEO and co-founder of 60 Decibels. “We’re thrilled at the response to this initiative and the collaboration of so many industry leaders to listen better and set a new standard in understanding social outcomes. This Index brings the value of our impact benchmarks to a new level and helps MFIs and investors understand customer outcomes with 100% comparability for each and every metric.”

In addition to providing insights that will be directly applicable for impact management in the microfinance sector, the index signals and demonstrates the value of rigorous outcomes data from end stakeholders for understanding impact performance. In the coming year, 60 Decibels will produce sector-level benchmarks through similar index efforts in other sectors to elevate the importance of listening to end stakeholders to drive greater impact.

The index is designed to complement and integrate with existing frameworks and standards in microfinance, impact investing, and international development. Participation in the MFI Index to conduct surveys with clients provides MFIs and investors with feedback on the practices recommended by SPTF and CERISE in the Universal Standards and the Client Protection Principles, as well as the SDG Impact Standards, and provides data aligned to IRIS+ metrics and the five dimensions of impact guidance established by the Impact Management Project.

Learn more and sign up to receive the 60 Decibels Financial Inclusion Index here.

About 60 Decibels

60 Decibels is a global, tech-enabled impact measurement company that brings speed and repeatability to social impact measurement and customer insights. We provide genuine benchmarks of impact performance, enabling organizations to understand impact relative to peers and set performance targets. We have a network of 850+ researchers in 70+ countries, and have worked with more than 800 of the world’s leading impact investors, companies, foundations, corporations, NGOs, and public sector organisations. 60 Decibels makes it easy to listen to the people who matter most.

About the Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation

Created in 2008 under the joint leadership of Crédit Agricole S.A. executives and Professor Yunus, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation supports microfinance institutions and social enterprises in 37 countries at the end of 2021. As a recognized player in the sector, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation aims to work in countries where poverty and financial exclusion are the most significant. As an investor, lender, technical assistance coordinator and funds advisor, the Foundation supports 81 partners in 37 countries with more than €78 million in commitments.

Solidarity Bankers: a strong impact lever for Crédit Agricole

Launched by Crédit Agricole S.A. and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation in June 2018, the Solidarity Bankers sponsorship and skills volunteering programme has enabled some 30 Group employees to carry out technical assistance missions with impact enterprises and microfinance institutions in more than a dozen countries. Three questions for Bénédicte Chrétien, Group Human Resources Director at Crédit Agricole S.A.

How would you assess the Solidarity Bankers initiative for the Group’s employees and for Crédit Agricole as an employer brand?

Since 2018, this programme has enabled 39 employees to carry out 357 days of missions in 21 countries for 29 organisations. For each mission, our Solidarity Bankers are present for one to two weeks in the field or accessible remotely to bring their expertise (marketing strategy, logistics, financial reporting, fundraising support, purchasing, HR, etc.) to the operational teams.

The feedback is very positive, and both parties benefit. Beneficiary organisations greatly appreciate the technical expertise provided to secure the deployment of their project. The managers consider the commitment of their employees as a real lever for the development of their skills, especially their soft skills. Employee volunteers are proud to take part in solidarity projects initiated by the Group, to live a unique human experience and to enhance their professional experience.

Recent studies have confirmed that the commitment of employees to solidarity, whether on their own initiative or that of the company, is strongly correlated with their professional commitment. By responding to their search for meaning and social utility, these missions are a powerful driver of appeal, motivation and cohesion for our employees.

Do you think that this programme meets your employees’ demand for social commitment?

The Group has set itself the goal of being a responsible employer in a citizen enterprise. Usefulness is the hallmark of our raison d’être and education is a key aspect of our social and societal contribution, as perfectly illustrated by this programme which is a strong symbol of our commitment to society. The health crisis has amplified the expectations of civil society, which are increasingly focused on developing the human capital of our companies. Commitment to solidarity is no longer the prerogative of millennials. It is therefore legitimate and essential for the Group to support such volunteer programmes, which are a strong symbol of its social commitment.

Is inclusive finance part of the Bank’s strategic plan?

Crédit Agricole is committed to being a trusted partner to all its customers. It aspires to serve both the most modest and the most affluent households, local professionals and large international companies. Its solidity and the diversity of its expertise enable it to provide long-term support to each of its clients in their day-to-day lives and their journey through life, helping them to protect themselves against unforeseen events and to plan for the long term. Inclusive finance is therefore at the heart of Crédit Agricole’s raison d’être and is an integral part of our strategic objectives, in France and abroad.

This article was published in “Our technical assistance offer”, accessible here

Technical Assistance : COOPEC-SIFA (Togo), partner of the African Facility since 2013

© Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation/GODONG

In addition to the financial support provided by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, Coopec-Sifa has benefitted from the support of the African Facility programme. Philippe Fori, Managing Director of the MFI, looks back on this relationship of trust with the Foundation.

Could you introduce us to Coopec-Sifa?

Founded in 1997, Coopec-Sifa is a Tier 3 microfinance institution that provides financial and non-financial services to vulnerable populations. At the end of December 2020, the institution had 43,232 clients for an outstanding loan portfolio of €5.37 million. Approved in 2011 by the Togolese Ministry of Economy and Finance, Coopec-Sifa operates in the Savanes region in northern Togo. Our clients are organised individually or collectively and are mostly women (72%) living in rural areas (70%).

How did the various technical assistance missions you benefited from go?

Under the African Facility programme, Coopec-Sifa has benefitted since 2013 from 16 technical assistance missions aimed at the institutional strengthening of our organisation. Most of these missions were conducted by local experts, always with rigour and in close cooperation with our teams. Dedicated to strategy, organisational strengthening, human resources or information systems, each mission has helped us progress.

Among the missions carried out, the relevant analysis of our environment has allowed the development of the 2014-2018 and 2019-2021 business plans, integrating our strategic objectives, detailed financial projections and an action plan. A mission to strengthen risk management also led to the creation of an internal control procedures manual and training for internal controllers and members of the Supervisory Board, to enable them to play their roles satisfactorily. Finally, another essential project was the improvement of the information system and the interconnection of the databases of each agency with the headquarters.

How have these missions helped you strengthen your institutional and operational capacities?

Managing an MFI requires real know-how. The partnership with the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has enabled us to integrate the best practices and knowledge necessary for the proper functioning of our institution. The development of business plans has laid the foundations for controlled growth, better risk management and better governance. Furthermore, the interconnection of databases is real added value internally and externally. We now have reliable, real-time financial and operational information, enhanced control of field activities, and professionalised institutional management. Our clients can carry out operations without having to travel, which is a real competitive advantage.

What do you think of the overall guidance and support provided by the Foundation?

The tools deployed to help Coopec-Sifa get off the ground have proven to be extremely effective. Despite our limited geographical coverage, we are often cited by the authorities as a model of cooperative management. Our institution would never have reached its current position without the guidance and support of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation. Beyond technical assistance, the Foundation promotes meetings and the sharing of experiences among peers. The annual African Facility Forums bring together all programme partners and are excellent opportunities for exchange and learning.

This article was published in “Our technical assistance offer”, accessible here

Podcasts Solidarity Bankers: episode N.2

Interview with Andreas BRUNNER, Inspection Supervisor, Amundi
By: Mireille de Kerleau, Internal Communication Manager, CACEIS

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A. in 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees in favour of microfinance institutions and impact businesses supported by the Foundation. Discover the 2nd episode of the series of podcasts dedicated to Solidarity Bankers, the skills volunteering scheme run by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Credit Agricole SA. The first episode covered Carolina Viguet, Communications and partnership Director of the Foundation and co-initiator of this programme. Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Andreas Brunner, Inspection Supervisor at Amundi in Paris. Andreas is a Solidarity Banker. He carried out a field missions for OXUS Kyrgyzstan in October 2021, when he worked at Credit Agricole Assurances.

First, some financial data concerning Kyrgyizstan. It is a former republic of the USSR and one of the poorest countries of Central Asia. With more than 12% of its GDP dedicated to the agricultural sector and a strong dependence on mining, the Kyrgyz economy is not very diversified and relies largely on money transfers from abroad. Although significant progress has been made in recent years in terms of financial inclusion, according to the latest figures available, barely 40% of the population over the age of 15 has an account with a formal financial institution. Microfinance institutions are trying to make up for these lack of progress by targeting rural populations excluded from the traditional banking sector, institutions like OXUS Kyrgyzstan, which Andreas supported in 2021 as part of a Solidarity Bankers mission.

Can you, Andreas, tell us about the institution and the objective of your mission?

Yes of course. OXUS Kyrgyzstan is a microfinance institution with approximately 10,000 clients. It operates in the various regions of the country, through a network of about fifteen agencies. It employs 130 people with about 30 people at the headquarters in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Regarding the mission, there were two objectives. The first is to establish a marketing plan for the year 2022 and also a loyalty programme for their customers.

Going back a bit, how did you hear about the mission and what prompted you to apply for it?

It is a while ago now. In 2019, I had the chance to meet a former Solidarity Banker who told me about his own mission and told me that there were going to be other missions offered by Grameen. He told me about his own experience and I told him that I was also interested too. So I contacted the Grameen Foundation which had, at that time, several missions to offer. I looked at the terms of reference, we call it, it is a small description of what had to be done. And I immediately said, ok I’m interested and, in addition, it’s in a country in Central Asia that I absolutely did not know. It was therefore a good opportunity to go and help this entity, to immerse myself in the subject of microfinance, and at the same time, discover another country.

After that, you were selected. How was the preparation stage of the mission and the in-the-field part of the mission?

I had a few interviews before being selected and selection was not at all a certainty because it is true that there were other people who also wanted to do this mission. Once selected, I was really happy. I was supposed to leave at the beginning of 2020 but you all know what happened afterwards, so I could not leave in March. I left only at the end of 2021 but the preparation yes…. First of all, I did not know about microfinance at all. I had to make some research by myself, I had to read. There were a lot of elements on internet to understand the challenges of microfinance. Of course, there is aid for financial inclusion, that is kind of the overall objective, and then you had to understand how it works, how credits are distributed to people who need them. And then, the mission itself. It was also necessary to prepare it, therefore to understand the entity. I asked them to send me a certain number of documents so that I could learn about the entity, its operation, its positioning, its products, its customers, etc. I analysed all that and defined a work plan. I also defined a consulting approach, which was my consulting approach with this entity. Then I presented that and I did more research again before leaving.

How was your arrival in the country and the meetings? How was the mission on the ground?

Little anecdote: arriving at 2 am after a 12-hour flight, with a short stop-over in Turkey, I finally arrived quite tired and, a great surprise, normally there should have been a driver so I was a little worried because I didn’t see anyone. But it was the general manager himself who came to pick me up at the airport. Already, with this reception, I think we got off to a good start with a two-week collaboration and I was in good hands.

We started the mission the same day after a little rest at the hotel. The first week passed very quickly. There were a number of interviews that were already scheduled. I met the various directors, the financial director, the commercial director, a person in charge of marketing, so I was able to learn about a certain number of elements. I was able to ask all my questions that I needed to establish a structured document on the marketing approach that I wanted to bring to this entity. So the field mission is above all a lot of interviews, it is also a bit of evening work to put it all on paper, to draft a deliverable, several deliverables for that matter.

As I said before, there were two objectives. The first objective was to build a marketing plan and the second a loyalty approach, a loyalty programme. So there were two key deliverables. These deliverables had to be built, produced. I built them in English. At the end of the first week, I presented my first learnings by saying I am working on this. Is it ok with you, are we going in the right direction? They were very happy with it and it needed to be refined in the second week.

The question we ask ourselves when we listen at you is that we wonder how the exchanges went with the people working at the institution and the customers, knowing that the language and the culture are very different from ours.

Yes, quite! At headquarters, I was lucky to have people who spoke English, so it was easier. On the other hand, the second week I had a few interviews in agencies. I was also able to meet with one or two clients and there, indeed, it is more complicated. Fortunately, a translator accompanied me during these exchanges throughout the day, because even to go to lunch, for example, you had to speak either Russian or Kyrgyz. So luckily, I had this person with me, because otherwise, it is difficult to communicate, and it is also true that the people at headquarters who speak English, even sometimes for them, it was easier to answer to me in Russian and then the person translates. As a result, it added a little time to the exchanges, it was a little slower than during regular communication when you master the language, but it was very very interesting.

So you have travelled a bit around the country. You have been to visit other towns and villages I imagine. Did you have some time to visit this beautiful country?

Yes it is true that the main work was in and around the capital. And between the two weeks of work, I was able to take two days on the weekend to discover the country. There is a very large lake called Issyk-Koul, which is a lake that is almost 200 km long and 60 km wide, so it is almost like a sea.

Is it almost as big as Luxembourg!

These two days I went around the lake. So this huge lake, when you look to the left you see a mountain range, when you look to the right, there is the other mountain range. So it is true that by doing the whole route, quite a small circuit around the lake, I was able to discover this country. I was even able to sleep in a yurt. That, too, is an unforgettable experience. In addition, I met someone who makes the yurts. So he explained to me how it works. There I also had a guide with me. I was able to talk a little bit in Russian too, because I have some basic knowledge of Russian. When I was in high school, I learned a little bit so it was nice to get back into it too. As we said earlier, it is a human experience.

If you wanted to know, what I remember from all this, it is above all also these experiences, these human relationships, these encounters. With the different people, not only through the mission, with the teams, but also with the people we were able to meet over the weekend, spanning the country. Very warm people.

Even without the language, there is always a way to understand each other, with gestures, smiles, expressions, I imagine.

It is true. We were able to do a little local dance one evening in a yurt, in a big yurt by the way. It was the yurt where we had dinner and in fact there were only locals and it was very difficult to be understood but there was the telephone, the applications and we put music on and immediately it gave us confidence and it allowed us to communicate also through music because we found songs that they knew and …

Such a great event! Listening to all this, my last question is, would you go back on a mission? I imagine so…

Absolutely, absolutely, yes. Right away! Maybe not tomorrow because there is quite a bit of preparation involved but anyway yes, with great pleasure. The skills sponsorship is about applying the knowledge we have and sharing it with others and not being paid for it because there, every day, we work, we are paid, it is our job. There, to be able to share it with others is gratifying; it gives meaning to what you do.

Thank you, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this interview. I, for sure, invite our listeners to the next edition of this podcast series, focusing this time not on one banker, but two, who are currently preparing a remote mission in favour of a microfinance institution in Palestine. Goodbye.

Listen to the podcast here

The Foundation publishes the 2nd edition of “Taking the Floor”

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The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has been promoting financial inclusion and social entrepreneurship for thirteen years now and continues to work in favour of the development of rural areas and female entrepreneurs. At the end of 2021, the Foundation had accumulated nearly €300 million in funding, 379 technical assistance missions in progress or completed and 136 organisations funded.

We are pleased to share with you this second edition of “Taking the floor”. It presents our daily support for entrepreneurs, rural communities, refugees and farmers. Enabling refugees from the Nakivale camp to access credit in Uganda, modernising agricultural practices in Moldova, financing access to water and ensuring the pay of breeders in Senegal, these are some of the actions highlighted in this second edition.

These stories demonstrate the resilience of the microfinance sector, this ability to cope with the health context, the economic difficulties and the effects of global warming. Resilience also refers to the ability to transform obstacles into opportunities to strengthen oneself. The digital transformation, the coordination between stakeholders and the innovation demonstrated by our partners throughout these last difficult months are a clear proof of it.

Download the publication

New Solidarity Bankers missions in Cambodia and Kenya

At the initiative of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A, skills volunteering missions labeled “Solidarity Bankers” are offered to employees of the Crédit Agricole Group on behalf of organisations supported by the Foundation. Two new Solidarity Bankers missions are to be filled in favor of PPSE in Cambodia and ACRE Africa in Kenya. Two new Solidarity Bankers missions are to be filled in favor of PPSE in Cambodia and ACRE Africa in Kenya.

PPSE is a social enterprise that employs young artists from disadvantaged backgrounds to whom it offers career opportunities in circus professions by combining the best of Cambodian cultural traditions and contemporary circus. PPSE extends and amplifies the work of the NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak by offering real career prospects to professional artists from the Phare School, while providing additional financial resources to the NGO.

PPSE now needs to develop and expand its digital community and position its new range of services and activities. The organisation wishes to explore and maximize the use of social and traditional media, train its staff and extend its scope of action as much as possible. The Solidarity Banker will be responsible for supporting PPSE, particularly in the diagnosis and implementation of a new marketing and communication strategy.

ACRE Africa is a social enterprise operating in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. The organisation makes agricultural insurance accessible for small farms and for very low insured amounts, thanks to a triple innovation: index insurance; distribution by aggregators; payment by mobile money. ACRE thus enables small farms to access credit on more favorable terms.

After having decided to diversify its activities to offer consulting services, ACRE now needs to expand its clientele and mark its new range of services and activities. The organisation wants to, among other things, explore and maximize the use of social and traditional media, and train its staff. The Solidarity Banker will be responsible for supporting ACRE Africa in the diagnosis of the organisation’s marketing and communication strategy and tools in order to propose a new strategy and appropriate tools.

Other missions are still to be filled:

  • Risk and compliance mission on behalf of the microfinance institution SEF (South Africa)
  • Digital strategy mission to support the microfinance institution OXUS Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyzstan)
  • Risk and compliance mission in favour of the microfinance institution Bimas Ltd (Kenya).

HOW TO APPLY

To discover the details of the missions:

  • Go to the CA Solidaires website “Find a project”
  • Enter the search bar: “Grameen”. All the Solidarity Bankers missions will appear!
  • Click on the offer of your choice, you will find all the information you need to apply.

More information: carolina.viguet@credit-agricole-sa.fr

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Created in 2008, under the joint impetus of the directors of Crédit Agricole S.A. and Professor Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Grameen Bank, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is a cross-business actor that contributes to the fight against poverty through financial inclusion and entrepreneurship with a social impact. As an investor, lender, technical assistance coordinator and fund advisor, the Foundation supports microfinance institutions and social enterprises in nearly 40 countries.