Finance in Freetown
By Becky Myers, KF12, Sierra Leone
Shuttling around Freetown, Sierra Leone, provides an immediate sense of the city’s vibe. The west side of town houses a cluster of NGO’s, government aid organizations and UN offices. The east side of town is home to row after row of tightly packed residential buildings and is by far the most populated area of the city. The downtown area consists of The Bank of Sierra Leone, The Houses of Parliament and various other government offices. This busy central district is also where most Sierra Leonean businesses operate, including ARD, a microfinance institution that is one of Kiva’s many lending partners.
As a Kiva Fellow, I find myself in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city streets. Women sell fruit and fabric from large baskets on their heads, children play soccer on the sidewalk, and men in suits go in and out of government offices. For lunch, I pop into a hut and sit down among other locals to enjoy a plate of rice and groundnut soup and chat with those at my table.
While this is a highlight of being a Kiva Fellow, the opportunity to witness Kiva’s partnership with ARD and expand ARD’s reach is the real treat. Most people who are familiar with Kiva know that its biggest asset is the ability to connect lenders and borrowers. But ARD, which was established over 20 years ago in Sierra Leone, demonstrates just how close Kiva’s connection really is. With 4 additional branches, ARD’s antennas largely span the country. Employees not only have many years of experience working at ARD but also grew up in the area and know many of the borrowers well. The Executive Director, who was born in Sierra Leone as 1 of 18 children, is clearly very dedicated to his thousands of clients. In addition to microfinance services, ARD provides HIV information sessions to borrowers and encourages clients to sell condoms side-by-side their regular goods. The institution’s goal of establishing a profitable and professional microfinance institution is clearly well on its way.
Time and time again, many organizations have proven that some of the most successful ways to alleviate poverty come from on the ground experience and a thorough understanding of local culture and customs. Witnessing the depth of this relationship and the breadth of ARD has definitely encouraged me to lend more. If you are also encouraged to lend click here:ARD’s Fundraising Page
Becky Myers is currently a fellow serving in Sierra Leone.