The Wide, Wide World of FINCA

FINCA clients stand outside the branch office in Bweyale, Uganda.

A Fresh Perspective on FINCA’s Work

FINCA’s work quite literally spans the globe. The organization provides a helping hand to people who live in sub-Saharan Africa and Caucuses, from Central Asia to the Caribbean, and in the Middle East and Latin America. Across that broad geography, FINCA serves a great diversity of clients. Clients are young and old, rural and urban, and represent a huge array of races of ethnicities. These women and men do everything from farming and selling charcoal to teaching and driving taxi cabs.

Meanwhile, FINCA’s interventions range from making small loans to selling low-cost, high-efficiency solar lamps. FINCA also helps super smart entrepreneurs bring their innovations to the fight to eradicate poverty. These innovations range from improving legume seed stock to healthcare clinics that deliver maternal and neo-natal care to underserved people.

Taken together, FINCA’s reach is breathtakingly broad. And in partnership with our supporters and donors, the geographic, demographic and thematic variety of FINCA’s work represents a unique social movement. A social movement designed to break the cycle of poverty once and for all.

To document the breadth and depth of FINCA’s work, three US-based FINCA staff recently visited Uganda, Tanzania and Jordan. They met with clients, staff and partners. Coming to their trips with varied backgrounds, Iris Sagi, Omar Chaikhouni, and Bob Price came away with insights as diverse as the clients FINCA serves. Read on and you might come away having learned something new (perhaps surprising) and have a better connection to FINCA’s work and the people FINCA serves.

Iris Sagi

In visiting Uganda, Iris discovered just how diverse FINCA’s clients are. She and her travelling partners met with groups of women entrepreneurs working to better their communities, young families with grand dreams for their children, refugees rebuilding their lives, farmers, and young social entrepreneurs. “We visited a fishing village in the west, schools in central Uganda, and run-down neighborhoods on the outskirts of Kampala,” Iris said. “Every community had different needs. But one theme runs across them: women face unique challenges, and they are banding together to better their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities.”

Iris stands with BrightLife staff person Siraje and Headmaster John Ssemtomko at one of the school's supported by FINCA's Lamp Library project.
Iris stands with BrightLife staff person Siraje and Headmaster John Ssemtomko at one of the school’s supported by FINCA’s Lamp Library project.

Every woman Iris met talked about the importance of educating her children. But there are just too many barriers to accessing education. One of them is that in communities without access to electricity, students lose 4-5 hours of learning time each day to darkness. Fortunately, as Iris saw, FINCA is addressing this shortcoming through its Lamp Library project. In the village of Mpigi, Iris met John Ssemtomko, the headmaster of a high school that is part of the project. “John took us on a tour of the school,” Iris said. “He shared that boarding students use solar lamps provided by FINCA in the dormitories, and day students and their parents check out lamps and take them home so they can study and do homework. John was proud that his school could now offer a service like that to the community!”

Iris also met with employees and clients of Jibu, a FINCA partner that uses an innovative franchising model to offer affordable and safe drinking water to low-income communities. Since its founding, Jibu has launched 154 franchises and distributed over 300 million liters of clean water to low-income communities.

In the Kiryandongo refugee settlement, Iris met one of Jibu’s franchisees, Richard Orach. “His story really resonated with me,” Iris said. “Richard told us that he is a refugee from Sudan. He grew up in the settlement. Richard now owns a Jibu franchise and is delivering drinking water to families and shopkeepers in the settlement. His goal is to improve the standard of living in the settlement.” 

Omar Chaikhouni

Omar started his trip in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. On day one, he visited clients scattered around the city. His first stop was a small business that sold stationery and school supplies. Next, he met a couple who operated a restaurant and a car mechanic business side-by-side. He finished the day with a stop at a fruit stall. “The hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Omar said. “It’s amazing to see firsthand the work ethic of our clients who run a diverse array of businesses, supported by FINCA.”

The next day, Omar went to the headquarters of East Africa Fruits, one of the partners in which FINCA has invested. During the visit, Omar learned how East Africa Fruits preserves and distributes produce. Later in the trip, Omar saw a banana collection facility in the town Moshi, nestled in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. While there, he saw farmers drop off bananas that East Africa Fruits buys at a fair market price. “Everything runs so smoothly,” exclaimed Omar. “I sensed a strong bond between East Africa Fruits staff and the farmers. They had each other’s backs.”

After a busy week in Tanzania, Omar flew to Jordan. His primary objective was to document FINCA Jordan’s refugee lending program. There are about 760,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. FINCA’s loan program is one of a few available to them. Abu Munir, a Syrian refugee based in the outskirts of Irbid, is one of them.

Abu Munir and his wife stand on a ridge outside their home.
Abu Munir fled Syria and has received a loan from FINCA Jordan to finance his bakery.

“I had to flee Syria with my family and sell all our assets to make ends meet,” Abu Munir explained to Omar. With a loan from FINCA, he started a small bakery out of his kitchen. His day starts at 4:00am. After ten hours of work, he nets about six dollars a day. His family of six including two young grandchildren depends on him. Omar asked one of the kids what he wanted to be when he grows up and he replied, “I want to be a doctor.” And Abu Munir said he will do whatever it takes to make sure his grandkids make it through college.

Bob Price

Upon arriving in Uganda, Bob travelled to village of Akokoro to see the impact of FINCA’s Mwangaza project. Mwangaza means light in Swahili. The project delivers low-cost, high-efficiency solar lamps to remote rural communities. Located in the hills near the Congolese boarder, the dirt roads continually narrow and then finally peter out in the village.

“The village is beautiful,” Bob said. “But what really struck me was the absolutely immense value that the people place on the solar lamps we provide them. Two of the clients I met, Esaya and Flavia, were older and told me that our solar light was one of the biggest change-makers that they’d seen in their lives. Flavia told me that ‘The light gives us hope.’ It made me proud to work for FINCA.”

Flavia and Esaya hold the solar lights that they received through FINCA's Mwangaza project.
Flavia and Esaya hold the solar lights that they received through FINCA’s Mwangaza project.

Upon returning to Kampala, the bustling capital of Uganda, Bob met Mariam Mutesi. “Mariam’s mother was a FINCA clients,” Bob recounted. “The loans her mom got from FINCA helped keep Mariam in school. Mariam isn’t taking out loans, but she opened a FINCA saving account and is building a nest egg to buy a home.”

Bob’s biggest learning was the importance of the savings coach that FINCA assigned to work with Mariam. “Without Justine’s regular calls, I’d forget to save. I wouldn’t make any progress towards my dream,” Mariam told Bob. No other bank provides that kind of customer support. A lesson that Bob will long remember.