Working in Microfinance

I recently attended a Q & A session in London on career and training opportunities in microfinance led by the Microfinance Association (MA). Although MA seemed to push their Professional Certificate in Microfinance, a few interesting and useful bits of information did emerge. It would appear that MA is aiming to become a global professional body of and for microfinance practitioners as the industry expands. I think this is a very positive development which could facilitate better regulation and standardisation in the industry across countries. 

Here follows a list of some of the companies and organisations that we talked about or was mentioned as worthwhile researching when looking for jobs and openings to apply for:

  1. VisionFund International - VisionFund works to improve the lives of children in the developing world by offering small loans and other financial services to people living in poverty. They work in Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & East Europe.
  2. Opportunity International - Providing access to sustainable financial services and training to allow people to unlock their own potential and work their own way out of poverty.
  3. BlueOrchard - Leading commercial microfinance investment company. Their mission is to empower the poor worldwide and to improve the quality of life by enabling the poor to participate in income generating activities.
  4. Women’s World Banking - Women only MFI working globally to empower poor women and their families.
  5. CGAP -An independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor. It is supported by over 30 development agencies and private foundations who share a common mission to alleviate poverty.
  6. Microfinance Gateway - A service of CGAP, the Microfinance Gateway is the most comprehensive online resource for the global community dedicated to advancing financial services for the poor.
  7. FINCA - Provider of financial services to the world’s lowest income entrepeneurs in 21 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
  8. Progression Capital - A private equity fund specializing in financial inclusion and adjacent sector investments in Eastern Africa.
  9. responsAbility -  One of the world’s leading social investment companies. Areas of focus include microfinance, SME financing, fair trade and independent media.
  10. Triodos Bank - A bank that only lends to and invests in organisations that benefit people and the environment.
  11. Accion International - Private, non-profit organisation with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need to improve  their lives.
  12. World Vision International - Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.
  13. Grameen Trust - Supports Grameen Bank type programs to reduce poverty.
  14. Microloan Foundation - Helping the poorest women in rural Africa to help themselves and their families out of poverty.

So, those are just some of the org’s we talked about and some of them have great internship opportunities whilst others have many experienced vacancies available.

Social Enterprises: Going Rural. 5 Social Enterprises to sing about.

I thought it would be a good idea for a post that links to a few rural social enterprises which aim to help rural community farmers link to larger markets. I also point to volunteering and internship opportunities where they were advertised.

Small markets are often a major constraint for rural farmers. Although they are able to produce more than enough food to subsist they are not always able to sell their surplus for additional income and given that farming is their only economic activity it impairs their ability and the potential to earn more.

1. Runa Amazon Guayusa.

New breakfast ritual for the world. Three students started this business by partnering with communities of indigenous farmers to share the guayusa (why-you-suh) ritual with the world.

Collectively, we are creating a business that respects cultural traditions, supports small farmers, and helps the Amazon rainforest thrive. Runa inspires people to live a stimulating life and use their energy and imagination to create a better world.

Runa also has excellent volunteering and internship opportunities

2.Kenya Agriculture Commodity Exchange (KACE)

KACE is a private sector firm which aims to solve the problem of “missing markets”. Missing markets refer to situations where it would be beneficial to all for a commodities market to exist but it does not. Self explanatory really.

Many things can lead to missing markets; co-ordination failure, lack of suitable technology, high transaction costs. KACE exists to help farmers find a common market, if you will.

Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (KACE) is a private sector firm launched in 1997 to facilitate linkage between sellers and buyers of agricultural commodities, provide relevant and timely marketing information and intelligence, provide a transparent and competitive market price discovery mechanism and harness and apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) for rural value addition and empowerment.


Komaza is a non-profit social enterprise that works with farmers in the semi-arid regions drought-prone regions. 

KOMAZA is a non-profit social enterprise creating sustainable economic opportunities for farmers living in Africa’s semi-arid regions. Working through village-based field staff, we partner with families and help them plant and maintain small-scale, income-generating tree farms. We call it microforestry.

In the 4 years since operations began Komaza has increased the number of partner farmers from 172 to 966. Komaza employs 102 people of which 92 are Kenyans.

Due to the success of the program Komaza is now embarking on a recruitment campaign for various positions although most of these are unpaid and does not include a stipend for expenses.

4. Backpack Farm Agriculture Program

Backpack Farm is another non-profit social enterprise with its focus on the creation of markets through the launch and expansion of local agricultural co-operatives by building capacity through a 5-Phase Model:

Phase I: Assessment & Mobilization (SCM)
Phase II: Training & Production 
Phase III: Production Monitoring & Market Distribution Strategies
Phase IV: Assessment & Risk Management 
Phase V: Expansion through Reinvestment (ensuring transparency, sustainability and natural expansion models within rural sector communities).

 Food security is a major concern in East Africa due to a combination of issues such as droughts, conflict, market disruptions and animal diseases this combined with low food production output in semi-arid areas creates a real problem in high food prices. Initiatives like these aim to give farmers the support they need to ensure sufficient food production in order to avoid malnutrition and hunger and to create earning opportunities to help people move away from subsistence farming. 

5. Farm Africa

Farm Africa works to address the chronic lack of investment in agriculture through regional programmes and projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Southern Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Specifically they are involved in community forest management, pastoral development and small holder development.

FARM-Africa provides the training and support that poor rural communities need to identify and implement appropriate solutions to many of the key problems they face.  Families are directly supported to help work themselves out of poverty through improved ways to manage their crops, livestock, forests and access to water.

Agriculture makes up such a large proportion of economic activities for people in developing countries, it is only right that resources be directed toward that sector. 

Sky Link Innovators 

Supplier of Biogas plants in Kenya, an alternative source of energy.

Where are Kenya’s Social Entrepreneurs?

 An article on the Acumen Fund Blog by Martin Theuri talks about a large untapped renewable energy (RE) market which still exists. Uptake of existing initiatives such as Biogas, an alternative to firewood and kerosene is not as good as was hoped considering the economic benefits of biogas.

In Kenya most people have at least one cow whose waste can be turned into biogas which replaces kerosene and wood as an energy source.

Currently only a few Biogas plants have been installed in Africa and many of them have fallen into disuse. A reason for this Martin believes lies in the fact that initiatives like biogas are “driven by misconceptions about the BoP (Bottom of the Pyramid) consumer.

In other words the consumer needs to be better understood (Is this not marketing 101 stuff?). 

         “A clear understanding is needed: how do you integrate your branding campaign with the nature of this consumer segment? For example, you cannot sell on the premise of pollution or environmental concerns. My upcountry neighbour, Mama Jerotich, cares little about the smoke that has been billowing from her roof for years and its effects on her health. The approach of suggesting substituting your routine energy needs (kerosene, firewood) with a one-off investment in biogas or solar LED light will not increase the uptake.”

So what will increase uptake?

Biogas, the initiative, will now be embarking on a well-funded and dedicated marketing campaign aimed at the BoP consumer. This campaign will have taken into account the views of local actors such as farmers and agriculture extension officers (intermediaries between farmers and researchers) and will also focus on the enablement and realisation of local community members’ aspirations as an angle from which to promote Biogas. One wonders why this was not the case in the first instance…

People will use something if it easy to do so, easy practically and easy in terms of it fitting in with their norms and customs. In other words it should be socially acceptable for them to use a new source of energy. Uptake may be slow because people still have the old alternatives available and “old habits die hard”. Consumers can be irrational and rational at the same time. For example, it is irrational to carry on using wood, charcoal and kerosene for health and environmental reasons. Think Easter Island and deforestation, although admittedly there was no kerosene. On the other hand it is perfectly rational to stick with what you know as you are limiting your exposure to risk of the unknown.

          ”After visiting farmers who have installed biogas and analyzing their profile, it is quite clear to me that biogas, even with an embedded subsidy component and ready financing, is hard to scale up and is a product for the middle income segment.”

Maybe one could make a case for a benevolent monopolist, or some oligopolists? What I am getting at is maybe there is a case for a price setting strategy that would make Biogas the energy source of choice. This implies either reducing the price of biogas so that it is lower than the price of the alternatives which could help people to switch and use Biogas or increasing the price of the alternatives, perhaps through a tax.

Could social entrepreneurs act as these benevolent monopolists and bear the sunk cost investment necessary until the large suppliers have been established? Can franchises not be set up as business opportunities for people in rural communities selling biogas. Much like  the way in which people sell kerosene and charcoal but with a more formalised structure which could have positive spill over effects in local communities through the development of networks, training and skills.

So where are the Social Entrepreneurs?

The title of my post asks where the Social Entrepreneurs of Kenya are. I have googled and I have not found many websites dedicated to SocEnt in Kenya bar RISE Kenya and posts linking to Sky Link Innovations.

Skylink Innovation, a social enterprise provides and help implement Biogas systems in Kenya. See: Sky Link Innovators, making biogas from waste in Kenya video in next post. They have no website just a blog which was last updated in 2009.

RISE is the Regional Institute of Social Enterprise focusing on an area in Eastern Province where extensive crop failure and the lack of cash crops have resulted in challenges for local communities to sustain themselves.

I appreciate most SocEnts in Kenya probably do not have a website so I could be missing quite a few so I was hoping people could direct me to some innovators and social entrepreneurs so we can get their/our ideas out there!