Emma Chase worked in Zambia for 6 months to establish the relationship between MicroLoan Zambia and LendWithCare. This blog looks back at her time in Zambia.
My first few weeks were spent getting to know the organisation and coming up with procedures for the partnership which sees local groups of women gain funding from backers in the UK for their business ventures.
Next came training the branch managers and loan officers. It was only made clear to me sometime after my initial training that most of my colleagues were scared of me – scared of the foreign woman who has come from the UK to add to their already large workloads, speaking English, but not the English they are used to. I began, like a teacher in a classroom, with my colleagues around me, giving them an overview of Lendwithcare and what is to be expected of them, before role playing scenarios. Their response, much like mine when I first studied German, was silence, wide-eyes; wide-eyes staring at me like I was from a different planet; and mouths agape. It took us two days, and many emails and phone calls once they were back at their branches, but we got there. Everyone understood what they needed to do, and we all got down to business.
Part of the job has been to go into the field and visit some of our clients – I get the privilege of meeting the women MicroLoan Foundation work with – women who have worked hard to get out of poverty and are now providing for their families, diversifying their businesses – not uncommon for a woman to have her fingers in two or three pies – and most of them are now the sole providers in the family.
One meeting sticks out in my memory: We were observing a repayment meeting and the loan officer even let us get involved – topic of the meeting: three goals for a successful business and the importance of savings to achieve these. We were each given three leaves – each leaf represented a goal for our business – and asked to come up with three important business goals. For some, having a successful business means that you, yourself, need to first be sustained, and that your business needs to allow you to live comfortably, without fear of starvation or poor housing and therefore having a proper house is important. In order to build a proper house you need to save accordingly.
A difference I observed among women here and women in the UK (or at least the women I mix with) is their motivation for working – for them, their business is the way out of poverty. It doesn’t matter what work they do as long as it keeps their children fed and in school, with a roof over their heads. Compared with my friends who have ambitious career aspirations – they are more goal-oriented with regards their careers – to better themselves and hope the rewards will trickle down for their families. What is universal however are hopes of becoming self-reliant.
Lendwithcare involves collecting interviews from our clients about why they are requesting a loan and once they have received their loans, getting an update on the impact of it. Naturally, learning about how they have used their loans and what impact it has made on their business, and therefore for their profit margins, is enlightening. One woman in this group, after receiving a loan to move from working at a stall, to a shop with concrete walls has not only expanded her customer base and in turn expanded her stock range, which is thus busy from 7am right up till 7pm, but she has entered into the real estate business. From her profits, she has managed to build two houses – one for herself, and a second which she rents.
The role of women in Zambia
On top of working for themselves, women in Zambia are still expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, child rearing, on top of working for themselves. It is believed that when you empower women, you empower a community. What did surprise me, and saddens me, is that these women want to become self-reliant not necessarily to be able to contribute equally to the household, and help the man provide for them, but because many men will leave their families if the woman is not seen to be “taking care of things”.
These women told me that if a woman is not working and the man is not in work and therefore unable to support his family, he will up and leave to find a lady with no dependents. Our clients, aware that this is commonplace in poor communities, are therefore determined to stand on their own – not to necessarily to keep a man – but to know that they can provide for their children.
Loans can be given as a gift voucher to a friend or family member, who can choose which entrepreneur they would like to support. The entrepreneur uses the loan to help grow their business, and later pays the lender back. The lender can either withdraw the money and keep it, or lend the same money to another entrepreneur.
Lendwithcare.org gift vouchers range from £15 and are available in various designs, which can be sent via email, downloaded and/or printed. They are available at www.lendwithcare.org/gift_vouchers.