Thoughts on my first week in Azerbaijan and working with the wonderful people at AqroInvest.
The inspirational Mr. Ayyub
So finally after weeks struggling to get a visa I eventually arrive in Azerbaijan. I somehow manage to navigate the creaking Baku metro system and find my way to the AqroInvest office. But what next?
Well….the people are unbelievably friendly. It’s like one big happy family. There’s a real sense of unity and team spirit. I’m immediately invited to dinner and have the opportunity to find out more about AqroInvest and become acquainted with an old Azeri expression….. ‘A man without stomach is like a house without a balcony’.
Mr. Ayyub (The CEO) ordered. Soon the table was covered in an array of dishes containing exotic and aromatic food. A bottle of vodka also appeared along with a bottle containing a yellowy liquid with green pieces of fruit floating in it. Hmmm do you drink it or eat it I wondered? Both as it happens!
The food was delicious. Just when you think you cannot possibly eat another mouthful extra dishes appear. The glasses are kept charged and at regular intervals a toast is made. You never drink without making a toast. After the first dozen toasts you have to get pretty creative with regards to what you can possibly toast next!
No! This was not just my portion. It was shared among 6 people.
During the meal Mr. Ayyub told me his inspirational story of how he was brought up the son of poor farmers in Imishli. Despite not having a formal education he found he had a good head for business, expanded the farm and thus climbed out of the poverty trap.
He and fellow farmers then founded the AqroInvest Credit Union in 2007 with the aim of providing loans to socially disadvantaged people. In Azerbaijan who you know is everything. If you come from a poor family with no connections life can be very difficult. Also there are hundreds of thousands of IDPs (refugees) from the recent conflict with Armenia who are trying to rebuild their lifes. AqroInvest targets these vulnerable groups. All Credit Officers are employed from within the local community to ensure borrowers deal with someone they recognize and can trust. Kiva was AqroInvest’s first partner, something Mr. Ayyub is immensely proud of.
AqroInvest currently have around 40 loans waiting to be funded. They would very much appreciate any assistance you can give.
All in all a great first week. Though, if the wonderful Azeri hospitality continues I may, as the saying goes, arrive back home with my very own wrap-around balcony!