Like every visit to a lendwithcare.org partner, it has been characteristically heartening to see how these businesses are thriving because of access to vital capital. A typical story is to see that within a year or so of investment, coupled with financial and business advice from our partner MFIs, entrepreneurs have managed to double or triple their income, often more. The impact this has on a family is, obviously, always positive and often life-changing.
But this trip has highlighted to me the importance of the services offered by our partners above and beyond the provision of loans. These services are impressive in both range and quality. Lendwithcare.org, on principle, will partner only with MFIs that offer more than just loans. We want to ensure that our entrepreneurs are in good hands; that they are being given the right advice, are being encouraged to save as well as or, in nearly half of cases, instead of borrowing. That they have access to healthcare and insurance.
In Cebu Island, in The Philippines, Lendwithcare partners with SEED Finance, a socially responsible microfinance institution initially set up by CARE, now independent. In turn, SEED Finance partner with regional co-operative associations, whose activities benefit their members and annual dividends are reinvested to provide for their community. I was met and was shown around by the proud and dedicated staff of one of these co-operatives.
Lamac Multipurpose Co-operative Association serves the people of a remote valley in the coastal mountains of Cebu. This cooperative was formed in 1973 when 70 local farmers invested an initial capital of around $1 each. Their goal was simple yet vast: to work together to meet the needs of the people living in a valley with no electricity, no running water, no schools , no healthcare and no access roads.
Today, LMPC is 25,000 people strong. Ninety per cent of the valley’s 5,000 households are members of the cooperative and its total assets amount to 634 million pesos. Together, and in just one generation, the members have built 21 kilometers of road along the mountainsides, providing access to roads to the two nearest towns. They have provided electricity to all homes and water to 600 homes, and access to clean water for the others. They have built a school. Their consumer division meets the peoples retail needs; the production division encompasses the agriculture that feeds them as well as production of essentials like soap and candles.
LMPC now run an eco-tourism centre, which includes community resources like a covered sports hall, large catering venue for celebrations, ponds for fishing and a 1-hectare intensive farm for small-scale production and education.
A generation ago, the people of Lamac had no access to healthcare and relied on faith healers to treat the sick. Now, for an affordable monthly sum, the cooperative provides families with access to good quality healthcare in an accessible health centre. They are insured against loss and bereavement. And children no longer have to walk 14km each way to get to school, so school attendance is now 80% where two decades ago it was close to zero. All achieved, according to LMPC, through ‘active volunteerism’: early members contributed whatever talents and resources they had for the benefit of the community.
Now, through Lendwithcare’s partnership with SEED Finance, we are able to provide loans to the entrepreneurs of LAMAC, helping their small scale businesses go from strength to strength. But as LAMAC demonstrates, loans are just a small but vital part of the picture. By partnering only with organisations who offer these services, Lendwithcare can ensure that we are supporting whole communities.
I have visited Lendwithcare entrepreneurs in three continents and I always come away feeling heartened by the stories they tell me about the ways they have invested their loans and how this has improved lives for them and their families. This isn’t charity, it is investment- and these people invest wisely and conscientiously. It is wonderful to see, through partnering with organisations such as SEED Finance, Lendwithcare.org is supporting such life-changing investment on a community-wide scale.
A version of this blog first appeared on the LendwithCare.org blog and is reproduced with permission.