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Doing honest business

Posted by on 12:14 pm in Community Bankers, Fiji, From the Field, Responsible Microfinance | 0 comments

Doing honest business

I was recently asked how it is that we at SPBD reach out to new clients, and what these clients biggest concerns are. These are important questions, because it is essential that clients do not take out loans they will struggle to repay, otherwise they can drive themselves further into debt and poverty.

This means that whilst I have to manage the quality of my portfolio to make sure I meet my targets, I do not push the ladies to take loans or become clients of SPBD. We usually expand through word of mouth, for example, when ladies in the village see how well SPBD clients are doing and they want to join, we ask the new ladies to join the weekly centre meetings. If there are more than 10 potential new clients, I go through the new members training with them during the centre meetings in the village. If there are less than 10, we ask them to go to the branch office to attend the training there. The training explains SPBD’s services, what they’re signing up for and the like.

The biggest concern of the ladies in the centre is trying to cover for members who can’t meet their loan payments (SPBD uses the Grameen group lending methodology, whereby centre members agree to act as guarantors for each other). What really holds them back is if one member leaves the village without completing her repayments, then the whole centre has to put in to pay it back for her. It is quite a hard situation for the members, but I always encourage them not give to up hope, and keep coming to the centre meetings to get through the difficult period. Once they finish the payments, the centre will continue to grow and improve, as they have proven they can overcome challenges.

In order to pay for the extra repayments, we encourage the centres to fundraise. We ask the centre to initiate the fundraising, although sometimes I have to help them to organise it. Often it is in the form of ‘kaci’ (card raffles), or they will sell cakes or pies in the village. They put the profits into their group funds so they can pay off the defaulting member’s loans. This often works in paying back the ladies’ loan. The other Centre Managers ad I also try to contribute to their fundraising.

One thing this has taught me is that I always need to be honest with my members! Sometimes there are delays with the loan approvals, and it is tempting to start blaming others for the delays, rather than admitting that it has not yet been assessed and passed it on for approval. Giving bad news with the right reasons is important.

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Vaseva (third from right) with her fellow Centre Managers at the staff teambuilding event

Vaseva is a community banker in Fiji with Good Returns partner SPBD. Read more from Vaseva here.

 

Community banking in the Philippines

Posted by on 12:08 pm in Community Bankers, From the Field, Philippines, Responsible Microfinance, Skills Development | 1 comment

Community banking in the Philippines

Hello, kumusta? My name is Fanie Guarnes and I am a community banker with Good Return’s partner, SECDEP, in the Philippines.  There are many things that I love about my job. I love to serve clients and experience other municipalities, I find it very rewarding when problems are overcome, and I enjoy the level of flexibility my job gives me.

I am also excited to repay my own loan ($1,228.50 AUD) which was used for house repair for my mother, so that I can get another loan from SECDEP to buy a house for my own family. I am the oldest in my family and my father died when I was 15, so I am responsible for supporting my sisters’ education, and my mother.

Although most days pass pretty smoothly at the centre, occasionally we can get a bit of a fright.  The other day, when attending one centre to collect payments, a client couldn’t make a repayment as the town had their largest fiesta of the year. Normally, the other members would cover for her but everyone was low on finances. I explained that she would need some form of collateral for the loan and suggested the television. When the husband walked into the house everyone thought he would be bringing the television out but he actually walked out with a knife tucked into his shorts. Apparently there had been a prior disagreement between the husband and some of the members in the centre. It was quite a scary day for everyone.

Luckily, incidents like this are very rare. And when they do occur, SECDEP has processes in place to ensure everyone’s safety. I feel very privileged to be able to work for SECDP and Good Return. My mother was a client of SECDEP and my sister received an educational scholarship from SECDEP, so I saw the positive effects of their work on my own family at a young age. It made me want to work for them so that I too could help contribute to the lives of others, and I am very pleased to now be able to help my community.

Fanie July

SPBD Tonga Staff Offsite 2014

Posted by on 2:54 pm in Field Support Officers, From the Field, Tonga | 0 comments

SPBD Tonga Staff Offsite 2014

The 2014 SPBD Tonga staff offsite was a huge success. We had all the staff from the 4 island groups come together, form teams and get involved in numerous team building activities and discussions across 2 days. We stayed overnight at Vakaloa beach resort and were treated to beautiful weather, LOTS of food and traditional evening entertainment. There was lots of laughter throughout the weekend, and silly outfits were definitely encouraged.

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The offsite soon became the SPBD staff ‘offside’ as the T-shirts we had printed were misspelled, which was ironic since the theme of the weekend was communication. Despite this, everyone got really involved in all the activities and some of the staff (including ‘Ofa and Fua) couldn’t wait to get up on stage and dance once the music got going in the evening!

 

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Building the tallest tower with straws

 

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Fua and ‘Ofa dancing

It was great to spend time with the staff from the outer islands and get to know them a little better. The weekend was one I will never forget, and I am proud to be a part of this organisation and amazing team of people.

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Zac is one of our fantastic FSO’s. Read more about his adventures in Tonga.

 

Stirring the Pot: A Culinary Approach to Measuring Poverty

Posted by on 2:06 pm in Field Support Officers, Fiji, From the Field, Poverty | 0 comments

Stirring the Pot: A Culinary Approach to Measuring Poverty

Last week was the launch of the Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI) for Fiji. You can read about it in the media here or here.

But firstly, what is the PPI?

The PPI is a simple country-specific poverty scoring tool which has been developed for 54 countries and used by more than 200 organisations involved in poverty alleviation. The tool is being promoted by the Grameen Foundation for institutions which want an objective way of targeting beneficiaries below the poverty line and tracking them across time.

Good Return has been working closely with SPBD Fiji and the tool’s developer Mark Schreiner for the better part of the last year to create a PPI Index for Fiji. We are so excited that it is finally being launched!

As part of its rollout, Good Return’s Social Performance Specialist Muhammad Awais travelled to Fiji to conduct two national training sessions- beginning with a one-day Launch workshop held the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) offices in Suva. This was followed by an intensive four-day Training of Trainers workshop held at SPBD’s Head Office.

The launch workshop brought together stakeholders from across Fiji- including Government departments such as the Poverty Monitoring Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation , the Bureau of Statistics and the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Corporations and development organisations attending included Westpac, Life Insurance Corporation of India, SPBD Microfinance, the Market Development Facility, PFIP, Fiji Development Bank, the Australian High Commission (DFAT), Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS), the National Council for Small and Microenterprise Development (NCSMED).

It was a day of learning and lively debate about how the PPI can be used to accurately determine poverty levels and use this information to target poor households and track changes over time.

The hardest concept for the trainees was regarding the methodology of PPI. The PPI uses proxy indicators derived from the current national Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), which means that tiny fraction of the questions (only 10 out of 440) has been selected as statistical indicators to determine the likelihood of a household being below the poverty line. These questions are non financial, verifiable and are likely to change over time- for example, ‘Are any washing machines available for use by the household?’

Awais used a great metaphor about cooking rice in a pot. If you want to know if the rice is cooked, you taste a small portion with a spoon. You don’t need to eat the whole pot of rice to check if it is cooked! the taste test is a good representation of the whole pot. Likewise with the PPI, we are only asking households a few questions, but these are quite accurately able to predict the likelihood of poverty. Now we are cooking with gas! (Well maybe, that is one of the indicators on the survey!)

Stay tuned for more on the PPI in future blog posts!

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Esther is our wonderful FSO in Fiji. Read more from her here.

 

Riding in the rain

Posted by on 10:31 am in Cambodia, Community Bankers, From the Field, Skills Development | 0 comments

Riding in the rain

Rain, rain and more rain.

 

One of the challenges of providing small loans in rural Cambodia is that at this time of year it rains!   Of course, the rain is needed by most of my clients to grow their crops and it makes the countryside turn into a bright green colour.  But it also means that I spend a lot of time under my rain coat and riding my motorbike slow when visiting my clients.

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I have been a Community banker with TPC since April 2013. I am currently in my third year of a Bachelor Degree in Accounting, which I attend part-time on weekends (when I’m not working). My role with TPC mostly involves talking to people about TPC products (like loans), meeting village leaders to get information about clients, completing needs assessments / cash flow analysis to assess applications, dispersing funds for approved loans, and doing collections two weeks per month. For me, the best thing about this job is meeting with and taking to people from the villages, while the hardest thing to deal with is when people struggle with loan repayment. It’s great to see how all the trainees support each other though when someone is struggling. I have really seen how the combination of loans and training help people improve their living conditions, and the sense of community that is there.

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Dream job just got better

Posted by on 10:00 am in Cambodia, From the Field, Skills Development, Village Trainers | 0 comments

Dream job just got better

Being a trainer is not only my favourite job, but also my dream job.  My first job was a primary school teacher when I was 19 years old and then I become a secondary school teacher at age 21.  I taught my students Maths and Physics.  After this, when I was working as a Loans Officer, I saw many problems people had due to lack of knowledge and skills in financial management. That’s when I realized how important training is to effective microfinance.

 

My current position as Client Training Specialist with TPC means that I manage a team of 10 community trainers delivering financial education to rural based low-income Cambodians.  But recently, I had the opportunity to deliver financial education awareness training to university students.   It was very rewarding to see the students engaged in the learning and improving their skills in financial matters.

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I have now been with TPC for 2 years, and it has been an incredible journey. Every day is different. That isn’t to say there are never any roadblocks or challenges. Travelling to rural classes in the rainy season can be very difficult. The roads are quite slippery and there have been times where it has been dangerous and we have had accidents on the motorbike which can be frightening. Difficulties in travel between rural centers also means that we can arrive late or cut into meal times which can frustrate people. The positive far outweigh these challenges though, especially when we see the improvements in the lives of our trainees and when they express how much the training means to them. I feel very privileged to be able to take on this role on our communities and look forward to many more years with TPC.

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Banking in Tonga… and having a whale of a time

Posted by on 11:17 am in Community Bankers, From the Field, Skills Development, Tonga | 0 comments

Banking in Tonga… and having a whale of a time

Hi everyone, my name is Fua and I am a Good Return Community Banker in Tonga.

Tonga is a very tight community, and we all do our best to help one another. Something I really like about this job is that it gives me the ability to pass on what I have learnt to others. I enjoy sitting down with my members each week and talking about things like money management. I studied accounting at St. Joseph’s Business College here in Tonga and know the importance of keeping a track of my money. Some of my members have never had the opportunity to finish their schooling or even go to school, so it feels nice to be part of an organisation that values education as part of its program.

I always try to lead by example and share my goals and dreams for the future with my members and discuss the importance of saving. My goal right now is to get married as soon as I can, so I am saving every week. I encourage my members to save each week so that they can reach their goals. I take my job very seriously, because I know that my members look to me for guidance, but I also love having a laugh with them. It is especially funny when Zac (the Good Return FSO in our community) comes to visit my centres; all the women get very excited and always ask me if he is married!

 

It’s winter here in Tonga at the moment, and it’s my favourite time of year. The whales have just arrived and there are lots of celebrations and festivities, including the King’s birthday. The cooler weather certainly makes my job more comfortable. The summer is much harder to work in; it is so hot and humid and it rains all the time. Sometimes I show up to my meetings soaking wet! The women that I meet and talk with every week are what keep me going. I know that my job is to help them, and hearing about their successes is what really makes this job worth it.

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Being a Trainer in Tonga

Posted by on 2:52 pm in From the Field, Skills Development, Tonga, Village Trainers | 0 comments

Being a Trainer in Tonga

Malo e lelei!

My name is ‘Ofa, I am 23 and am a Centre manager and team leader for SPBD in Toga. I feel very lucky to be a member of my team- both staff and trainees are so dedicated and motivated and I am always inspired by them and learn so much- even though I am supposed to be the teacher!

At each of our centres, all trainees are split off into groups, who they complete their training with. Last year, one of the borrowers had a great idea: that everyone should wear their team colours! There is a yellow group, blue group, green group etc…. and the idea has really caught on and stuck. If someone shows up in the wrong colours, they are in big trouble with their team mates! It is quite funny, but also great that they are so involved and committed to the training and to their group.

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Team colours!

There has been a lot of excitement at our centre lately. We were very lucky to be the first centre in Tongatapu to receive SPBD’s new financial booklets- because of the great enthusiasm of our members! I use these books as a training tool, to coach and motivate my members. I am so thankful that we have these new booklets; it makes my job a lot easier! The women can record their cash flows; see their loan and savings information and other SPBD policy information. Before the booklets, my members had to draw their own cash flow diary every week and a lot of them would ask me “Ofa, why are we doing this?” It was much harder to motivate them. Now that the women have their booklets and financial goals written down, they come up to me and tell me why it is good for them: “Ofa with the booklet and training you give us I know where all my money is! I can save for my goals!” It is so great to hear.

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Client Trainer: A Day in the Life

Posted by on 10:00 am in From the Field, Livelihoods, Skills Development, Tonga, Village Trainers | 0 comments

Client Trainer: A Day in the Life

My name is Jerry Whippy and I am very excited to have just been given the position of Team Leader with SPBD in Fiji. I have been a Centre manager for a while now, and my role has encompassed training SPBD’s clients as well as doing loan and savings collections at each village. Like all Centre Managers, I have one hour at each centre, so I need to try to be efficient and good with time management, as well as be able to empathise at all times.

A normal day for me involves getting to the office at about 7.30am to plan and catch up with paperwork before going out to the field. Today we left the office at the ‘late’ time of 8.30am with another Centre, Manager Vilitati, in a 5 seater ute with our driver. We always go out in teams of 2 or 3 to cover centre visits in the same area. We are one Centre Manager down at the moment (due to staff turnover) so Vilitati and I were busier than usual to cover extra centres.

My first centre for the day was Vanuakula, a small centre of 10 ladies who are all part of one extended family living in the same village. I’m busy with loan and savings collections, but always take the time to answer the questions the ladies ask. While they are only a small centre, they are completing their cash flow diaries well (a key measure of SPBD and Good Return’s financial education program) and have established their own visions and financial goals for the future. The centre’s Financial Education Facilitator, Pasita Vakaloloma, is one lady I am especially proud of. She not only takes the time to coach and guide her own village members, but she also visits nearby villages at their request to help them out too. She’s even had to sleep over at other villages on two separate occasions just so she could train them!

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The vehicle had gone with Vilitati to his next centre, so I walked for 20 minutes along the road before cutting through sugarcane and cassava fields to get to my second centre of Bila. Luckily it’s the cool season at the moment and the sky is overcast. The car is waiting for me when I finish, and I head to my third village of Senibua. The meeting is held outside under a lush clump of bamboo. As a new centre, they had only just finished their training on basic financial education. This is one of the centres I am covering for, so I have not had a chance to train them before. I explained the reasons for recording cash flows and for setting financial goals to work towards. I had to spend a long time with this centre because unfortunately a few members did not pay their loans, so I had no choice but to ask the other members to pay on their behalf (SPBD works on the Grameen group lending principles whereby centres act as guarantors for their members). This is probably the worst part of my job, but it has to be done.

By the time I got to my fourth village, Vatalau, I was quite late for their meeting and it was already almost 1.30pm. This is the village where I once had an incident with a man with an axe threatening to attack me, and the whole centre nearly collapsed because of this one man who had stolen his wife’s loan money. Thankfully, we were able to resolve the issue and since then the centre has flourished. Seven new members have just joined, so I took some time to educate the new ladies on the importance of setting financial visions and goals before moving on to the next village. I hadn’t had any lunch yet so I bought a slice of custard pie from the Centre Chief – it was quite delicious.

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My fifth village for the day was Waiyavi. I was over an hour late because of the delay at my third centre, but they are were still waiting for me. They prepared me some lunch of roti, samosas, cakes and fruit. I think they think I never eat enough so they make sure I eat a lot! This is a dynamic centre, and I’ve helped them to organize fundraising events for their communities such as a walkathon, which I took part in too. The next one planned is a ‘work-a-thon’ at an elderly home.

My final centre for the day was Saru village. I was almost 2 hours late, so I was not surprised to find that a few of the ladies have had to leave before I finally get there. They are very understanding , though, and give me cakes and tea while I do the collections. Too much food!

Finally, at 5pm the driver collects Vilitati and I and we head back to the office. I’m keen to get back because I have rugby training at 5.30pm! After training I return to the office and work on my paperwork (Centre Manager reports, planning, loan submissions etc) until 10.30pm.

I often don’t get a chance to go through the financial education training with my centres in sufficient detail, but I arrange to come back and train them during my time off on weekends to make sure they understand and can apply what they have learned. I work long hours, but I am continually inspired by the ladies I work with, and seeing the impact that a small loan and some training can have on their lives is what keeps me going.

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Hello from Sigatoka, Fiji!

Posted by on 3:38 pm in Community Bankers, Fiji, From the Field, Partnerships, Skills Development | 0 comments

Hello from Sigatoka, Fiji!

Hello Good Return blog-readers! My name is Vaseva and I am a Banker for SPBD (Good Return’s partner in Fiji). Good Return’s FSO, Esther, interviewed me recently after conducting a ‘Train the Trainer’s’ session at the Sigatoka branch. We’ve written it below so you can read about what a SPBD Banker gets up to in Fiji. I hope you find it interesting and informative!

 

What is a typical work day like for you?

I usually come into the office at 7:30am to do my paperwork, process loan applications and such before I leave at 8:30am to go to the centres. On Mondays to Thursdays, I usually have 4 (or 5) centres to visit each day. I spend an hour at each centre, doing loan and savings collections, updating their records and teaching the ladies. I get back to the office after 6 or 7pm. I write up my daily reports and other paperwork and then leave the office at around 7:30pm or 8pm. On Fridays we have staff meetings and do our paperwork.

 

Has anything funny happened lately on the job?

Last week, we got stuck up in the Nakosa region when our vehicle broke down on the way to our first centre! We were up the valley road in the remote hinterland, where there is no mobile reception. We had to walk about one and a half hours to the nearest village. Once we reached the village, we tried to call the office to tell them what happened, but to make calls from the landline in the village you need to have a telecard, and no one in the village had one. We had to wait in the village for any kind of transport to pass by. We were there all morning and afternoon!

At around 3pm, one of the Centre Managers (Vereniki) -who was waiting for us to pick him up to go to his next centre- gave up waiting and caught the bus back to Sigatoka. Luckily for him there is a bus twice a day to where he was, but the bus does not go up to where we were. When Vereniki got back to the office, they managed to make some phone calls and called the Centre Secretary at the village we were waiting at, so we could tell them what happened. They tried to arrange for another vehicle to pick us up, but in the end a mechanic from the village managed to travel back to the car in a government vehicle and finally managed to fix it.  We got back to the office after 8pm that night, and I eventually got home after 9pm!

We had to go back to all the centres we had missed that Friday to do the [loan and savings] collections for that week. It was not funny at the time, but now it is funny to look back on!

 

What was your toughest day on the job?

I’ve known many of the SPBD borrowers and trainees for a long time- one and a half years now. When one of the members died, that was the toughest day I’ve had. It was very sad. I’ve had two experiences with this. One member just got buried today, and another lady was buried last month. It’s hard, but I have to cope and move on with life.

 

What do you do apart from work?

Every Friday after work I go back to Navua, about an hour away from Sigatoka by minivan, to spend time with my family. Sometimes I go shopping, or play a bit of netball on Saturday if I’m feeling energetic. Otherwise, about once a month I take a boat ride up the river from Navua to my home village. My brother has a family boat, and if he happens to be going to the village on Saturday and coming back on Sunday then I go with him.

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Vaseva Naibena is a warm, good-natured young woman with a big heart. She has been a Centre Manager with Good Return’s partner SPBD Fiji for the past one and a half years and loves her job. Her role involves travelling to villages around the Coral Coast and Sigatoka Valley four times a week to take collections, help ladies apply for new loans and teach them about financial education, amongst other things.