I recently had the pleasure of visiting the great country of Ghana by tagging along with a group of Masters in Finance students from IE Business School (my day job in Spain.)
As we boarded the plane, excitement was high. The students were ready to fly from Madrid to Accra and make a difference in people’s lives. The trip was part of the School’s Financieros sin Fronteras (FsF) program, which (in addition to ongoing curriculum) brings small groups of finance students to Ghana a few times each year.
“Financieros sin Fronteras” translates to “Financiers without Borders.” The aim is to improve microfinancing in Ghana by promoting entrepreneurship and the eradication of poverty.
Why Ghana? The country has plentiful resources (cocoa, gold, oil, etc) and its democracy is an example for the rest of Africa. Not to mention that the people of Ghana have this incredible entrepreneurial and uplifting spirit – regardless of their personal economic situation.
Yet, despite this, FsF’s research finds that the NGO non-governmental organization (NGO) sector still falls short in Ghana – even though microfinance is a proven tool for promoting economic development (for example, in India.)
Thus, with some guidance, Ghana is an environment ripe for growth through microfinancing. Many individuals may see an opening in a market but have neither the money nor the tools to make a start. Furthermore, many microfinance institutions in Ghana need help developing their own businesses before educating their clients about running a business.
This is where FsF and the finance students come in. On this particular trip to Ghana, we landed in Accra and drove about two and half hours to Cape Coast. Midway along the two lane “highway,” we hit major traffic – which is an everyday occurrence which vendors take advantage of – selling everything imaginable from roadside stands or weaving in and out of the cars with their wares balanced upon their heads.
In Cape Coast, we met with a Financial NGO called ASA Initiative. Of course I was just along for the ride, but for the students, meeting ASA Initiative and its founder & CEO – a remarkable woman named Veronica Kitti – was the culmination of 10 weeks’ worth of hard work in Madrid before they ever stepped foot in Ghana.
Cape Coast, of course, is a beautiful location – not to be missed on a trip to Ghana.
We spent two compressed days at the ASA headquarters in Cape Coast talking with all the staff about the financial NGO’s business strategy, accounting, data management, governance board, and client outreach practices.
Initiatives like ASA identify the individuals who have the good ideas (either in their heads or just out of the gate) and a good work ethic, who could succeed with just a little bit of help. And just a little bit truly goes a long way. The majority of these borrowers receive very small loans from ASA, and repay them with a favorable interest rate somewhere between 20-60% in monthly installments of 10-20 cedis (around $10.)
After all this research was completed, we set out to meet a few of ASA Initiative’s clients. These clients were often single individuals – a large majority female – with an idea that they simply put into practice.
And they are scattered all around Southern Ghana… which meant that we spent the next few days in a van bumping along rural dirt roads. We’d head two hours in the direction of Assin Fosso to meet a woman who started a roadside stationary story. Then, the next day, we got back in the van to drive to Fonku Dunkwa to speak with cocoa farmers about their latest crop; then on to Twifo Praso to talk with a father of three who started a textbook shop with the sole goal of making some money in order to send his children to school.
Of course, upon coming back to Madrid, I had the leisure of dreaming about my time in Ghana. To reflect fondly on the warmth of the people and their incredible endeavors to make a business out of nothing; and to tell friends about the crazy driving and the wonderful food in Ghana. I am not a finance student. For their work was still going strong, with a final project to compile all the research gathered from our time in Accra and Cape Coast and develop recommendations for ASA Initiative to run more smoothly and effectively as an institution. And in providing this feedback to ASA, the students effectively reached their goal of making a difference in people’s lives. What none of us expected, of course, was how the difference was made in ours too.