By Cheryl Jackson
I’ve been an Oikocredit volunteer since 2010 and have seen first-hand how Oikocredit’s unique approach to development can change lives. I’ve learned a lot about the sectors in which Oikocredit has expertise: microfinance, agriculture and renewable energy.
In 2009, my husband and I chaperoned a group of young people from our community on a trip to Madagascar, my first real experience with the developing world. On that trip, I got to know the president of Oikocredit Suisse Romande, Eugène Roy. At the time, I had never even heard of Oikocredit.
Sensing that my experience in Madagascar had opened up a whole new world for me, Eugène asked me if I’d like to serve on the Oikocredit Suisse Romande board. I said yes and over the years have become increasingly involved. I’m now president of the Suisse Romande board and very active in Oikocredit internationally, serving on various committees and working groups.
In Cambodia for Oikocredit’s Annual General Assembly in 2013, I was able to observe how Oikocredit’s microfinance partners give their clients the tools they need to use loans wisely. The following year, at the Annual General Assembly in Peru, I saw how Oikocredit gives its partners the technical support they need to help them succeed in their businesses and improve the quality of life in their communities.
40 years at the forefront of sustainable development
Oikocredit was created in 1975 by the World Council of Churches to give churches and church-related organisations an ethical, sustainable investment alternative. Oikocredit has invested in 1,670 partner organizations over the last 40 years. It has disbursed over € 2.1 billion in development financing, and over half of that total has been disbursed in the last five years. (You'll find more facts & figures about Oikocredit here)
Meet microfinance client Phoan Ren
The purpose of microfinance is to give low-income people the opportunity to become self-sufficient and improve their livelihoods. Microfinance clients are people who are too poor to qualify for financial services provided by traditional banks. I met one of those clients in Cambodia in 2013, when I visited Oikocredit’s Annual General Assembly.
Phoan Ren lives in a small village about an hour from Siem Reap. She is a client of KREDIT, an organization established by World Relief US in 1993 to provide financial services and primary health care to poor women (and an Oikocredit partner since 2007). KREDIT offers individual loans for expanding businesses, purchasing household goods or making home improvements. Other loans are designed for small enterprises or groups of borrowers. KREDIT also offers savings products for its clients who want to save but can’t afford to save the minimum amount required by banks.
Phoan Ren has 4 children. She is extremely proud of her three pigs, chickens and ducks. She used her first loan from KREDIT to buy a pig with its piglets. A sow averages 10 piglets per litter and can have two to three litters per year! This means that Phoan Ren’s piglets provide a steady source of income for Phoan Ren and her children. With the proceeds from breeding her pigs, and with a second loan from KREDIT, Phoan Ren was able to expand her activities by buying cows and a plow.
Providing more than just credit
Oikocredit’s partner, KREDIT (which has offices in 16 provinces in Cambodia), collaborates with development partner institutions to provide clients with complementary services such as finance-related training, agricultural training, child education, primary health care and anti-HIV/AIDS training.
In fact, it’s not unusual for training to be an important part of the lending process. The same day I met Phoan Ren, we stopped in on a class for women (and one man!) on how to breed and raise chickens. The class prepared the future KREDIT clients to make the most of the loans they would take out to buy and raise chickens.
Capacity building for farmers
The microfinance institutions, agricultural cooperatives and renewable energy enterprises Oikocredit partners with need more than just financing. They also need to be effective in improving the quality of life of their clients and of low-income communities in a sustainable way. Oikocredit offers a development finance plus approach which incorporates capacity building and social performance monitoring. Through capacity building, Oikocredit helps its partners acquire new knowledge, skills and technology, strengthen their governance, and improve their business planning, access to markets and overall performance.
I saw an example of Oikocredit’s capacity building in action when I visited Peru in 2014 and met Carina Torres, the agricultural technical advisor at Oikocredit’s South America office in Lima. She is part of a special Oikocredit agricultural unit. What struck me in particular about Carina was her relationship with the farmers. She clearly cared very deeply about their future, and the mutual respect they held for one another was quite obvious.
In Rwanda, Oikocredit partner RSC, a coffee export company, not only helps smallholder farmers generate better incomes, it also provides services to local farmers, including the construction of a nursery school, scholarships for girls from the poorest families and the distribution of cows to disadvantaged households. When Ging Ledesma, Oikocredit’s investor relations & social performance director, visited this partner she was struck by the deep positive impact the coffee company has on people’s lives.
In my experience, Oikocredit truly is about investing in people.