Kickin’ the Tires: A Brief History of FINCA Kyrgyzstan

FINCA Kyrgyzstan is one of our 23 programs that I personally had the pleasure of opening, back in 1995. Former President Roza Otunbaeva, then Kygyzstan’s Ambassador to the U.S., had heard about FINCA’s work in Latin America and Africa and asked the State Department to bring FINCA to Kyrgyzstan. “You don’t need micro credit, you need macro credit,” they told her. No, she insisted, I want FINCA. She helped us to get a $4 million AID grant to start our microfinance program there. I flew into Almaty, Kazahkstan, in the dead of night with two colleagues (Kyrgyzstan had no Int’l airport), drove in a taxi across the steppes until it broke down, hired another to finish the trip to Bishkek. Looking out at the unpopulated countryside I thought to myself “What are we going to DO here? There’s no people, there are no businesses.” But once we got to working, the very industrious, entrepreneurial Kyrgyz people — and especially the women — made it all work.

Gujumal pictured above, is a good example of a FINCA client who has been able to take maximum advantage of FINCA’s loans. 26 years ago, her husband died, living her to care for their five children. She started a small shop “with a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and bottle of vodka”. She gradually built her inventory, but it wasn’t until ten years ago that she took her first FINCA loan of $600 and her business started to take off. Today, she has a two-story store, with groceries on the bottom floor and clothing on the second floor, which she built and stocked with a $12,000 FINCA loan. With the profits from her micro enterprise, she educated all her kids, who are now doctors, lawyers and businessmen in their own right. Gujumal’s grandchildren help her out at the store.

Next year we are celebrating our 20th anniversary in Kyrgyzstan. Leveraging that original $4 million AID grant, we have made over a million loans totaling $750 million, and have built up equity of $24 million. Our current 128,000 clients and their families represent 1 in every 7 families in Kyrgyzstan. It must be the most successful AID project ever. Our next plan is to transform our microfinance company into a full service commercial bank. Our application sits with the Governor of the Central Bank as we speak, who has pledged to support us.

I don’t know who impresses me more, our clients, or our brilliant employees who made this economic and financial miracle happen.

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