Monday, April 30, 2012

Philippines - April 2012

Our April 2012 trip to the Philippines was a wonderful experience!  We were not only with the CCT/Philippines staff, but representatives of our Sri Lankan, South African, and Ugandan microfinance partners for training provided by CCT on "Establishing and Multiplying Healthy Microfinance Branches".  CCT has 140 branches around the Philippines, and the other participating MFIs have no more than 5, so there was much to learn from our Filipino sisters and brothers.  This was one more module in the Strategic Training Initiative (STI) partnership between CCT and PEER Servants aimed to train smaller Christian MFIs in key aspects of Christian microfinance.

Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Ugandans, and South Africans learning from each other.
PEER Servants Team Uganda volunteers Richard Kinyua, Canga Kamwambe, and Jake Mahon joined PEER Servants President Todd Engelsen on this trip.  In the first half of the trip, they joined the 15 students (including recent new "Team Servants", or Branch Managers, within CCT) in observing all that CCT is doing in and through their microfinance branches.  In fact, CCT is expanding the programs and services offered through the branches to establish community centers, offering vocational training for young men, pre-school education for the children, health care for the family, and even a church plant for the community to complement the microfinance that focuses more so on the women and mothers.  In the second half of the trip, the group migrated to CCT's Tagaytay Retreat and Training Center - a beautiful campus that is just one more example of CCT's wonderful vision becoming reality.  Here training was offered in developing a branch viability model and an opportunity to debrief regarding what the class participants had seen with CCT's branch management, group formation, internal controls, and staff discipleship.

As with any PEER Servants trip, it was a lot of work but not without play!  We were able to overlook the beautiful Taal Volcano while enjoying lunch on one day, did some shopping in one of the Manila markets, became addicted to the "Mafia" game one evening, and caught one of the most amazing sunsets in the world looking west from Manila Bay.  All of this built a very strong fellowship among class participants that led to some sad good byes at the end of the week.

PEER Servants makes two trips each year to the Philippines for the STI training.  The next will be November 9-18, 2012 -- let us know if you'd like to join the trip!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Zambia - March 2012

Christian Empowerment Microfinance (CEMFIN), PEER Servants' Zambian microfinance partner, is just about ready to make their first loans!  That led Team Zambia volunteer Ken Lloyd and PEER Servants President Todd Engelsen to travel to Zambia in March 2012 to provide the final training that would prepare CEMFIN for launch.

CEMFIN staff and Advisory Board members in front of the office in Mongu, Zambia.
CEMFIN is based in Mongu, in Zambia's Western Province.  This is considered Zambia's materially poorest province and a great place to establish a strong Christian MFI.  The CEMFIN team, led by Executive Director, pastor Alick Kalonga, has been woring hard for literally years to launch CEMFIN, having finally received formal approval from the Bank of Zambia in late 2011.

Ken and his wife, Phyllis, were SIM missionaries in Zambia and came to love and be loved by the Zambian people.  As Ken and Phyllis asked the Zambian leaders "what is your vision?", their response was "teach us how to establish our own businesses, so that we can better meet our own needs, that of our church, and play a greater role in extending the kingdom even beyond Zambia".  CEMFIN was born -- a Zambian Christian microfinance organization with a Zambian board, staff, and as of May 2012, clients!

Ken and Todd focused this trip on training the three CEMFIN staff members (Pastor Kalonga, Mike Kasoko, and Harriet Chibale) and members of the Mongu Advisory Board (a local governing board established by the Lusaka-based Board of Directors) in key aspects of microfinance operations - how to design products that clients will want, how to manage the risks of making a loan, how to administer the making and repayment of loans using microfinance software, and how to integrate a spiritual growth component so that CEMFIN is not just about meeting material needs.  Both Mike and Harriet have past microfinance experience and are very well-equipped to handle CEMFIN operations.  We focused on aspects of effective governance with the Advisory Board members.  They, too, are going to be an integral element in the success of CEMFIN.

While the trip focused on microfinance training, it was blessed with fantastic fellowship with our gracious Zambian hosts.  Every evening was one spent in great Christian fellowship and delicious Zambian cuisine.  We enjoyed worshiping with them on Sunday.  The good Lord even allowed us to see a leopard as we traveled through Kafue National Park to Mongu at the beginning of the trip.  These were wonderful days in Zambia, and we look forward to perhaps you being able to join us on a trip to Zambia in the days ahead!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

South Asia - February 2012

South Asia is home to two of the larger microfinance partners of PEER Servants - the Christian Service Society (CSS) in Kolkata, India and YGRO-HEED throughout Sri Lanka.  A PEER Servants team of six - Board Chair Dave Ryder, his daughter Patty Ryder, PEER Servants MIS Director Dave Leach, PEER Servants Team Sri Lanka volunteers Ramesh and Sheba Telore, and President Todd Engelsen - visited these two partners in February 2012.

CSS/India clients.
CSS/India serves almost 20,000 clients on the outskirts of Kolkata.  They serve the very materially poor, starting with loans less than $25.  Virtually all of their beneficiaries or clients live in Hindu or Muslim villages.  They have many different kinds of businesses - rice farming, tailoring/embroidery, raising livestock, jewelry making, and so much more.  Where this is our newest microfinance partner, the focus of this visit was to get to know CSS, their board, staff, and clients, even better.  Dave Leach also provided MIS consulting on a new loan tracking system CSS is installing.  We also had strategic planning discussions to map out the way CSS could have even greater impact in the days ahead.

YGRO-HEED/Sri Lanka client in a tsunami-affected area.
Then on to Colombo, Sri Lanka with a stop in Mumbai, to pick up Ramesh and Sheba.  In Sri Lanka we joined YGRO-HEED in celebrating their recent accomplishment of not only becoming operationally sustainable (covering all of their operating costs with their operating revenue), but passing the 1,000 mark in current active clients (with well over 5,000 clients served since inception of the program).  We provided training in how to have an even greater transformative impact while helping them map out next steps in their MIS loan tracking software installation and identifying steps they could take to better manage risk.  Then it was on to the eastern part of the country where we were impressed with the work being done in the Batticaloa branch serving hundreds of clients that were in the area hit very hard by the 2004 tsunami.

We left South Asia extremely impressed with both CSS/India and YGRO-HEED/Sri Lanka and the work they are doing to extend the kingdom of heaven into the lives of their people and into our lives as well.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Haiti - January 2012

ACLAM Staff and PEER Servants Volunteers at Strategic Planning Staff Retreat
PEER Servants Team Haiti volunteers Elie Lafortune, Barbara Crossman, and Marie Williams joined PEER Servants President, Todd Engelsen, for a January 16-20 Strategic Planning Staff retreat with the 35-member staff of ACLAM (Action Contre La Misère), PEER Servants Haitian microfinance partner.  ACLAM is already serving over 5,000 clients as a sustainable MFI, but their vision is to expand much further and, in so doing, become one of the leading Christian MFIs in Haiti.

Elie took on the role of Retreat emcee and did a fantastic job.  Marie presented the results of a survey PEER Servants had helped design and complete to provide insight to what ACLAM's clients really want for microfinance services.  Barb and Todd provided training in establishing vision and mission and managing risk.

We were really encouraged by the time together with the ACLAM staff - the first time we had ever been with all 35 of them at the same time.   We came away convinced that Haitians are the best equipped to identify and provide what Haitians needs - we can assist them in that, but we must start with their vision, not ours, and support them in their leadership role.