Giving Women a Voice: Local Governance in BPW Patan
By Claudine Emeott, KF14, Nepal
The last 15 years have produced a political roller coaster for Nepal: the 10-year Maoist Revolution and civil war (1996-2006); the brutal royal massacre at the hand of the Crown Prince (2001); the suspension of Parliament and martial law (2005); the abolition of the monarchy (2007); the formation of a republic (2008); and the ongoing battle to write and enact a constitution (time is ticking!).
Against this backdrop of political upheaval, Kiva’s local partner, BPW Patan, has not only maintained course as a women’s advocacy group and microcredit organization but has also empowered its women borrowers with a healthy local governance structure that promotes leadership and encourages women to voice their opinions.
At the foundation of this governance structure is a solidarity group lending methodology. Each group includes five members, and these members elect a secretary and a group leader. Groups are clustered in “centers,” and group members also elect a center chief, who is responsible for managing up to eight lending groups. Center chiefs assist loan officers with the nuts and bolts of running monthly meetings, and they also serve as representatives for the individual borrowers. Although individual borrowers can always bring up concerns or grievances directly with BPW staff during monthly meetings, center chiefs have an annual opportunity to discuss issues in an official forum. Understanding this local governance structure is very important to Kiva, which takes borrowers’ rights and recourses into account when assessing an MFI’s social performance.
On April 16 BPW held its annual center chief meeting.
The center chiefs brought up three main issues. First, they requested that BPW increase the maximum loan size from NPR 30,000 to NPR 50,000 (or from USD $425 to USD $700). This borrower made a compelling presentation about the necessity of larger loans, given the increase in commodity prices and other business inputs over the last couple of years. BPW board members responded that they would have to discuss this proposal before making a decision.
Then the center chiefs discussed BPW’s revised service charge. It was formerly NPR 20 (or about USD $0.30) for any loan, but BPW is changing it to a percentage fee, at 0.5% of the loan amount. The service charge will now range from NPR 50 to NPR 150 (or about USD $0.70 to USD $2.00). The center chiefs were displeased with this change and asked BPW board members to explain their reasoning. BPW representatives listened patiently to their grievances and responded that with the NPR 50 service charge — established in 2002, when BPW commenced lending — the organization cannot keep up with the rising costs of administering loans.
Finally, the center chiefs asked that BPW consider ways of formally acknowledging the center chiefs for their hard work, not just in monthly meetings but in ongoing support to individual borrowers and helping BPW identify new borrowers.
BPW representatives took this final comment to heart and promised that they would brainstorm ways to provide the center chiefs with more formal recognition. For the moment, though, they already had something up their sleeves: a certificate of appreciation for one center chief.
The meeting concluded with a light meal.
And with shopping at a table showcasing one woman’s jewelry designs.
There was no better way to end the day — celebrating the accomplishments of these women.
Previous posts by Claudine Emeott: