Microlending through The Fantsuam Foundation
Greg Jones (22) 66-68
Background The FON Board of Directors has long believed that microlending would be a great way to contribute to the development of Nigeria. We have $2,500 invested (through the NPCA) with FINCA, a reputable international microlending program, but FINCA does not have any Nigerian operations.
FON recently invested $1,000 with The Fantsuam Foundation, a small microlender operating only in Nigeria. FON-supported VSO volunteer Glenn Dodge acted as a facilitator of this pilot grant in July. A group of ten women were given second-round loans of 10,000 naira (~$85) each in the village of Zankan Marwa, not far from Kafanchan. These women had demonstrated their reliability by successfully repaying a first round of loans of 5,000 naira and had undergone a one-week training program to understand the mechanics of the lending program and the rudiments of business planning and review. Fantsuam loans start at 5,000 naira and max out at 40,000 naira. The goal is to wean their clients off their loans after that, by which time the clients will have accumulated some capital and their businesses will be self-sustaining.
Goal My wife Barbara and I were going on the FON trip to Nigeria, and the group itinerary included a stop in Abuja, which is only 2 hours away from Kafanchan. I decided to visit The Fantsuam Foundation to evaluate their operations, find out if they were real, and determine if we could trust more of our money with them.
Visit In the late morning of Wednesday, November 5th, we left the FON group in Kano, rejoining it in Abuja the evening of the 6th. Arriving in Kafanchan around four p.m. we were directed to a very out-of-the-way compound behind a dilapidated section of town that used to house railway workers. After bouncing over a series of very rutted roads, we found The Fantsuam Foundation.
We were first taken to Glenn Dodge, who introduced us to Kazanka Comfort, the assistant director. Kazanka explained that the microlending program, started six year ago, is the backbone of all their operations. They loan exclusively to groups of women in small villages. They currently have 5,600,000 naira of microloans outstanding. (They got grants from Partners for Development [www.partnersfordevelopment.org] that total $50,000.) Six microloan officers, all women, arrange for the loans, train the loan recipients, and work with the groups of women as they repay the loans. The two microloan officers we observed were quite impressive people. The village headman is the titular head of the group and guarantees the loan; that results in political endorsement of the microlending program, which is necessary for success in Nigeria.
Fantsuam Assistant Director Kazanka Comfort introducing the Fantsuam loan officers.
Kazanka and Greg outside the Fantsuam Health Center. To the left is the birthing center, actually in use at the time.
Kazanka explained that the foundation has gotten involved in a number of other activities as a result of what happened in the microlending program. When loan repayment rates fell, they discovered that the delinquent women had AIDS, so they created a women’s reproductive health program. They also discovered that some of the women with AIDS were abandoned and stigmatized by their families, so they created an AIDS support group. When they reached 350 loans and realized they would be unable to maintain control with paper records, they brought in PCs and used Excel to maintain the records. When training the loan officers to use the computers, they quickly realized there was a big demand for computer training and now have a full-fledged computer training program and are licensed Cisco network trainers. Since Nigerian electricity is so unreliable, they installed solar panels and a bank of batteries that will keep them going for three and a half days.
The batteries hooked to solar panels making Fantsuam independent of the Nigerian Electric Power Authority.
The Fantsuam Foundation is led by its director, John Dada. Over dinner with John and Kazanka, we spoke broadly about their program, the needs they are striving to fulfill, their background, and their experiences with the foundation. Both my wife and I came away quite impressed. I believe these are trustworthy people. My wife (who is not easily impressed) concluded that they were visionaries.
The next day we had arranged to see their operation in action. John was to pick us up first thing in the morning and take us to a loan distribution ceremony and to a training session. This being Nigeria, events intervened. We hung around the hotel for an extra hour as John was late in showing up. One of their new VSO volunteers had a medical emergency, and he had to take her to the hospital. Then we drove to the village for the loan distribution ceremony, only to discover the headman was traveling that day. As a result many of the women had not shown up, and the event was postponed.
The visit to the training program was more successful. The class took place in the living room of a village headman’s house. That underscores the headman’s support for the microlending program. My Hausa was not good enough to follow the training in detail, but we were able to observe the dynamics of the process. The microloan officer was forcefully presenting her ideas, and the women were paying close attention. Periodically the trainer would ask questions of the women to confirm they understood what she said. Occasionally, a woman would interrupt with a question, and an interchange would take place. The headman, who spoke very good English, endorsed the foundation enthusiastically. John commented that it was useful for us to come along for the visit as it showed external support for what the foundation is doing.
Greg and Barbara with the village headman in whose house the microloan training was taking place.
We then visited a site where John hopes to build a permanent home for the foundation. It is now six hectares of bush. It abuts a year-round river, so they are building a series of ponds for fish farming which they hope to grow into another operation the size of the microlending program.
One thing all the FON members on the Nigeria trip will tell you is that microlending is a fad with banks in Nigeria. Every major city has at least one bank that has microlending in its name. However, according to John those banks are actually traditional banks that only loan to traditional customers in cities. Very few compete with The Fantsuam Foundation.
I do believe we can trust the people running The Fantsuam Foundation. Obviously, we were impressed by what we saw as described above. But we also met three VSO volunteers who will be serving for the next two years at the foundation. In terms of credibility, their roles at the foundation are interesting. They are not there to provide an actual service. Instead, they are there to evaluate the organization. Is the Fantsuam mission the correct mission? Are they organized in the right way to meet the needs of their clients? Are they following practices that will optimize their use of the available resources? All of these are questions only a mature organization that has nothing to hide would ever ask an external organization to address.
John Dada and Kazanka Comfort.
In sum, I believe that we have found an organization that will make good use of any money we choose to invest with them. They will be able to communicate back to us exactly what they are doing with the money and what results our money enables their clients to achieve. They understand our need for feedback, and they are eager to work with us to maximize both our impacts. The FON board will be discussing our future role with The Fantsuam Foundation in the near future.
Fantsuam Director John Dada with Greg.