“There’s no such thing as a bad client……”
Last Friday, the 26th November, I was lucky enough to spend the morning with Georgette, one of Al Majmoua’s loan agents based in their Nwayri office, in Beirut.
Georgette had very kindly made time to take me around to see some of her clients, for whom I wanted to write journal updates (the short emails letting lenders know how the people they’ve loaned to are getting along, particularly in relation to their loans & businesses).
Although we only spent a morning together, I was immediately reminded of what an integral role the MFI loan officers/agents play in the whole industry of Micro Finance, without whom no amount of good will, policy and planning could effect the very real social & financial benefits that organizations like Kiva and Al Majmoua aspire to achieve.
More than once during our conversations, Georgette mentioned that there is “no such thing as a bad client, only a bad loan”. Although I think I may have heard these words before, I possibly hadn’t realized to what degree they ought to be the mantra for all micro finance delivery and, as in Georgette’s case, quite often are.
Georgette has worked with Al Majmoua for 12 years and as a Loan Agent in Nwayri for the last 5. As we drove around the neighbourhood in which she works, it became clear that Georgette was very much a part of the community, stopping every few minutes to exchange a few words with people as we wound our way through the narrow streets perched on the hills overlooking Beirut.
During the morning, Georgette mentioned that she took great pains to look at the household & business budgets of her clients when they applied for loans. She would never, she insisted, allow them to take on a loan that was beyond their means to repay, even if they technically qualified for a larger amount. To do so and have them fall into arrears with their repayments, would indicate that the amount loaned was “bad” and not the client themselves. Rather than do this, Georgette described how she would suggest a more reasonable sum and take the time to explain her decision to the client, who would, invariably, end up agreeing with her reasoning.
Georgette is very aware that to allow her clients to over extend themselves, risks subverting the very mission Al Majmoua strives towards, namely to “improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable by providing them with appropriate tools to make their way out of poverty with pride”.
There is a definite line between helping people to improve their lives through access to credit & simply allowing them to become so indebted that their day to day lives are dictated by the necessity of servicing their creditors.
In an industry that is increasingly attracting large capital funds, overly excited at the prospect of interest rate returns in excess of more traditional investments, it is reassuring to know that the well being of individual entrepreneurs remains at the heart of Al Majmoua’s work.
As we drove around Nwayri, stopping to speak to active clients, past borrowers, their families and their neighbours; discussing how business was going, the length of time clients were queuing at the post office to make repayments and all manner of other local news, it became increasingly evident that Georgette is as much a sister, a neighbour, an aunty & a friend to the people she works with as she is a Loan Agent disbursing loans on behalf of Al Majmoua and Kiva. In return, Georgette’s clients are, in her eyes, much more than a quota of case files but an extended family who look forward to meeting one another & keep in touch during the holidays.
As Kiva lenders, you can rest assured that your funds and your desire to contribute to the improvement of your fellow beings’ lives are in safe hands with Loan Agents like Georgette and her colleagues at Al Majmoua. Having met & spent time, not only with Georgette, but also with Arab, an extremely resilient Loan Agent from the Tayouneh office, I have not failed to be impressed with the professionalism, energy & compassion with which they approach their work.
If are interested in supporting the work of Al Majmoua, you might consider joining their Kiva lending team where you can receive & exchange news about Al Majmoua´s work as well as join forces in supporting individual borrowers with whom Al Majmoua are working.
Josh Richards is a Kiva Fellow in KF13, working with Al Majmoua – the Lebanese Association for Development, in Beirut, Lebanon.