The Last Mile
By Frederic Billou, KF13, Benin
The “last mile” is one of the most discussed topics when debating microfinance: No matter how optimized and efficient a microfinance institution may be, developing countries are still very much cash-based and loan officers have to cover the “last mile” to physically reach borrowers , disburse funds, collect repayments and build and maintain a close relationship over time. As such, this “last mile” is one of the largest expenses for many microfinance institutions reaching rural borrowers.
Here is one of my recent “last mile” experiences working with ALIDe, Kiva’s partner in Benin:
First, a 30mn moto taxi ride to the office:
From there, it was a 1.5 hour motorcycle ride. We of course had to stop for gas, a bottle at a time.
And then came the last mile, literally. The loan officer I was with mentioned that there was a shortcut via the “bas fond” (the swamp) that would save us at least 30mn, but that it might be a bit scary for me. I pleaded my case quickly:
- I used to own a motorcycle and am not easily scared.
- After riding on the rear mudguard for 1.5 hours on dirt roads with potholes the size of a cow, any shortcut sounded really, really, really good! (dirt bike = no real back seat to speak of)
So, about that shortcut…Enterprising folks in the village had basically tossed a bunch of sand bags in the swamp to create some sort of path. However, before we could try out this clever piece of engineering, we had to deal with a typical “African rope”: a rope was blocking access to the path and three guys were collecting money. I am used to this routine by now: it involves a bunch of guys with nothing better to do than collecting/stealing cash from passers-by to finance their own supply of cigarettes etc. Some of these guys can be pretty aggressive, while others can be easily handled with a “I will pay on the way back…” if they are drunk/high enough already, or maybe simply in a good mood. To date, I had always managed to get past these ropes without paying.
This time though, everyone was paying without arguing at all. It turns out that this was a legitimate toll booth, collecting funds to pay for additional sand bags and overall “maintenance”. The toll was 100 Francs, i.e. 20 cents US or about the price of a loaf of bread.
Enjoy the ride! (warning: this was a *very* bumpy last mile.)'
And we finally reached our destination!
Frederic Billou is a Roaming Kiva Fellow currently working in Benin.