In September, I had the privilege of meeting one of Opportunity Tanzania’s most interesting clients. His name is Jumanne and he is truly a special person. Jumanne is in the Trust Group called Tausi Group. Having only finished two loan cycles, he is a new member of the Trust Group, where most members have had ten or more loans in the past few years. Trust Groups are aptly named: when a group of individuals receive loans tied together by a co-guarantee they become intimately bound into each other’s financial lives. If only one person in the group abuses or misuses his or her loan, the entire Trust Group can fall apart. When all members of the group trust each other, whether because of existing personal or business relationships, the Trust Group model enables the members to access loans that they otherwise would never have had.
Jumanne explained to me that previously, he had never been allowed into any microfinance groups, and had never taken a loan, because people did not trust him to repay. Why? Jumanne is blind.
When Jumanne started trying to join microfinance groups, he was scoffed at because of his disability and because the groups worried that he might take his loan for a handout. Other members from the Tausi Group explained that in their market area in Dar es Salaam, theMchikichini market, groups or societies for disabled individuals have organized microfinance groups, formal and informal, that have fallen apart because some members have thought that their loans were handouts to which they were entitled. So because of this reputation of people with disabilities, Jumanne was denied membership to a group where he could access a loan to support his charcoal-selling business.
As a new member of the Tausi Group, Jumanne had to earn their trust before he was allowed to join the group and take a small loan for his business. After two loan cycles, he has proven to his fellow Tausi Group members that he does not accept handouts. According to his loan officer and group members, he has never missed a repayment and is the most punctual member of the group, never late to a meeting. He has proven that he is entitled, as are his fellow entrepreneurs–they are entitled to access financial services for their businesses.
When I went to the Tausi Group meeting to see Jumanne, he and the other group members were so excited to welcome me, and Jumanne wanted to express how happy he is now. He says he’s happy to be in the Tausi Group and happy that he has a good story to share. Until he joined the Tausi Group, he was so discouraged by his lack of acceptance for a loan and his small business was stalled because he had no capital to invest in it. Joining the Tausi Group improved his life. His charcoal business is successful and he has even acquired enough capital to hire someone to sell sodas for him. Jumanne insists that even though he’s blind, he doesn’t want help. He is willing and able to work hard and make good use of a microfinanceloan.
Tanzania can be a difficult environment for a loan officer to build a trusting group. Yet I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m encouraged when I get the chance to meet so many clients like Jumanne. What we are doing here by giving small business loans is actually making a difference, helping people grow sustainable, successful businesses. People are better able to afford to pay their children’s school fees, improve their homes and remit money back to their family villages. I believe in microfinance because I witness every day that it works.