Microfinance in the Mymensingh District

What a week I had, just a fantastic experience!!  This was a BRAC organized field trip to immerse a few visitors to BRAC in all things microfinance.  Our group was made up of:

  • Jarrod, an Aussie from Sydney currently studying in Cambridge UK, conducting research for his PhD.  The topic is the decisions made regarding the placement of microfinance branches in Bangladesh.
  • Francisco is from Chile studying for his Masters in Berlin and is currently interning at BRAC Microfinance.
  • Isabel is English-Bangladeshi who has just started a communications role at BRAC Microfinance.
  • Fabia is Bangladeshi who just started an Executive Assistant role at BRAC Microfinance.
  • And then there was me.

It was a group from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, which ended up being a really good thing, as our knowledge and understanding certainly benefited from the breadth of questions asked. We took a local bus to the BRAC Learning Centre (BLC) which is located between the city of Mymensingh and the town of  Shombhugonj, about 120km north of Dhaka – just under a 5-hour journey.  The roads were not too bad, it was the traffic getting out of Dhaka that delayed us despite it being a Friday – a holy day when the traffic should be less.

BRAC has a network of over 25 learning centres scattered around Bangladesh.  Training of their staff and allowing them to bond together outside the work environment is key to the success of BRAC.  There were just under 200 of us at the Mymensingh BLC last week, from a variety of their programs:  Gender Equality, Legal Empowerment, Education, Health, the Social Innovation Lab, training for Cooks for other BLCs and besides us, a class of 25 new Program Officers from Microfinance.  A busy place for sure.  We checked into our shared accommodation (Isabel and I got an AC room – yay!), had dinner and an early night before our day started at 7.30am the following morning.

There are three programs under BRAC’s Microfinance Division, we saw the Dabi program and Progoti program in depth, we did not really get to see the Migration program.  Check out this link for details but basically, the programs can be explained as follows:

Dabi:  women only members, village groups, very small loans to allow the family make a living – buy a rickshaw for the husband to work, buy land to grow vegetables to sell at the market, buy a cow to sell milk/make curd (yogurt) … really just very small loans that are for a one year period, and are paid back via weekly payments made of a loan component and a savings component.  A new member has to have two other members recommend them to join the village group and there is much assessment done by BRAC to ensure the new member is a good addition.  The new member has to commit to a savings program for at least 6 mths before applying for a loan.

Most loans are provided if BRAC can see the member has the ability to repay the loan.  Default rates stand at about 1% and these are mostly for genuine reasons such as one family we visited who have only 2000 taka ($28 CAD) to pay off their loan, yet with their son needing an operation and husband sick, this loan may well be referred to the Village Committee who will cover the final payment –  very much a last resort.

Btw, BRAC are piloting a Health Loan Program where individuals can take out a no-interest loan to pay for health expenses.  This program will be assessed in April 2015 to see if it should be expanded to other regions.

Progoti:  working capital loans for small to medium sized enterprises, primarily men, loans given on an individual basis for business such as fisheries, trading stores (electronic goods, clothes stores, shoe stores, saree stores etc).  These loans are also for a one year duration but there is no savings component.  Default rates stand at about 2-3% and are mainly due to cashflow issues rather than the business going bad.

It struck me as we met many of the Progoti members, there is a greater need for financial literacy training for this group. Many of them cross their fingers when opening up a business, very little market research is done …. so I am unsure if there is a need or if I am bringing my CYBF training to Bangladesh.  The default rate is low afterall.

Both programs charge what works out to be 15% interest, about 12% cheaper than loans from a mainstream bank.  The default rate is really really low.  The culture of the Bangladeshi people forces them to repay all loans, so the concept of someone not paying does not really exist.  And of course there is the shame factor – your family & neighbours will know you have not paid off your loan – this is leveraged to ‘encourage’ late payers to pay up.  Privacy is non-existent, the whole village knows what everyone is doing, what the problems are so no one is really surprised when BRAC comes calling, looking for a loan payment. I took a ton of photos as usual, and I have put many of them on Facebook so check them out (you do not have to be on Facebook to take a look).  I have added a few for the blog too – scroll down!

Great photo of the son & daughter of the successful lady Dabi member, with many curious neighbours in for a look!

Great photo of the son & daughter of the successful lady Dabi member in Chorkali, with many curious neighbours in for a look!

Local lady sieving rice

Local lady sieving rice in Chorkali

World Cup fever hits Chorkali.  he Bangladeshi are super excited about the World Cup and are mainly Brazil & Argentina supporters, with a few Germany, Italy and Spain supporters thrown into the mix.

World Cup fever hits Chorkali. he Bangladeshi are super excited about the World Cup and are mainly Brazil & Argentina supporters, with a few Germany, Italy and Spain supporters thrown into the mix.

Dabi village meeting underway in Horipur

Dabi village meeting underway in Horipur

We were offered gam (pronounced jam) fruits to eat, grown locally in the village.  Sweet/sour flavours with a large stone in the middle.  Delish!

We were offered gam (pronounced jam) fruits to eat, grown locally in Horipur. Sweet/sour flavours with a large stone in the middle. Delish!

Another Dabi meeting in Shobjipara Village

Another Dabi meeting in Shobjipara Village

Then the heavens opened!

Then the heavens opened!

So the meeting moved inside, in the dark

So the meeting moved inside, in the dark

Progoti member running a metal sheeting retail store in Shombhugonj

Progoti member running a metal sheeting retail store in Shombhugonj

Progoti member running a mechanical parts store - a teeny tiny store in Shombhugonj!

Progoti member running a mechanical parts store – a teeny tiny store in Shombhugonj!

Progoti member in his electronics store, he is also the sole dealer for all electronics in Shombhugonj - smart guy!

Progoti member in his electronics store, he is also the sole dealer for all electronics in Shombhugonj – smart guy!

Progati business - a fishery with a hatchery that results in about 100,000 adult fish to sell every month.  Bangladeshis LOVE their fish so this is a surefire and profitable business.

Progati business – a fishery with a hatchery that results in about 100,000 adult fish to sell every month. Bangladeshis LOVE their fish so this is a surefire and profitable business.

The youth club in Jamipur where a pilot savings program is underway.  the kids aged 11-18 save about 10 taka each per week and will use the funds at the end of the year to pay for things like further education.

The youth club in Jamipur where a pilot savings program is underway. the kids aged 11-18 save about 10 taka each per week and will use the funds at the end of the year to pay for things like further education.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation www.bomkarlsson.com and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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One Response to Microfinance in the Mymensingh District

  1. Pingback: It’s time to leave South East Asia | Bowen to Bangladesh

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