By Sarah M. Baird
Sarah Baird spent five days with the FINCA Uganda staff, touring various communities to learn about and document a host of programs that FINCA offers its clients from a donor’s perspective. Here is her trip report.
We spent our days in Uganda shadowing outreach workers, interviewing clients and conducting impact surveys. We asked questions about entrepreneurial activities, relationships with FINCA, and how access to microfinance and micro-energy products has improved their lives.
The responses were overwhelmingly positive about their loan portfolios and micro-energy products including the Solar Home Systems Program.
The positive impact of the micro-energy program on the clients was immediately evident in all of the homes we visited. Kerosene lanterns sat unused on side tables, relics of a dirtier energy past, and at least one bright light (often four or more) illuminated their modest homes. All of the microenergy clients interviewed praised the Solar Home System for its clean and free energy source; cost savings; improved health and educational outcomes for their children; time savings; safety; and modernizing impact. We found this program to be of enduring value, and hope that it becomes sustainable, once it is scaled up across Uganda.
We visited one Smart Start Youth Program and two Star Girls Programs. The former targets 12-24 year olds; the latter 10-19 year olds, but both help to establish a solid base of financial literacy while building future banking clients. The financial literacy programs seem to be very well thought-out and executed, and the materials used are clear and easy to use. The participants were enthusiastic and seem to be learning a great deal about strategies for savings, budgeting and setting goals.
As we gained fluency with the FINCA Uganda products and organizational structure, we came to better understand the intertwined structure of FINCA Uganda as a registered, for-profit microfinance and savings bank coupled with its social mission and relationship with the non-profit FINCA International from a donor’s perspective. Although this for-profit bank within an NGO makes for a complex model, it’s clear to us that there is an ongoing need for outside support in order to continue FINCA Uganda’s social mission and commitment to serving the most vulnerable and underserved micro-entrepreneurs.