Community Development Foundation, Nigeria

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SUCCESS STORY OF FAITH

What you are about to read is a story of faith, born of a strong desire to make a difference, a story of hope in the midst of hopelessness and the triumph of faith over fear.

Chief (Mrs.) Opral Mason Benson (The Iya-Oge of Lagos) was a Nigerian delegate to the famous 1995 Beijing Conference, organized to promote the cause of women in the world. She came back from that conference with a vision in her heart the socio-economic advancement of poor Nigerian women to enable them attain a level of self-dependence. It was this vision that gave birth to The Outreach Foundation (located in Lagos metropolis), registered in July 1996.

Mrs. Benson engaged the services of a woman of like mind, Mrs. Olushola Abayomi-Adegbesan to help her carry out her laudable mission. Filled with enthusiasm and propelled by the idea of making a difference, the newly recruited Coordinator, with the help of a part-time staff and a few volunteers set about the business of fulfilling her mandate. The focus was on people in the urban slums.

The foundation started a credit scheme with a loan fund of N100,000.00. By the end of the year, (1996), membership of its first (and only) group had grown from six (6) women to twenty (20) with savings of about N15,000.00. However, for an organization with a national outlook this was like a drop in the ocean. (In Lagos State alone, we have about 13 million people, 70% of whom live below the poverty line.) And so the search for funds began.

Numerous letters were written with have enthusiasm to various bodies. Days were spent in earnest expectation of positive responses - their cause was after all a good one that anyone would be interested in, they reasoned. The days however rolled into weeks and the weeks into months and yet the responses did not come. Enthusiasm wore thin. Slowly, reality set in no one was interested in an unknown organization. The temptation to throw in the towel began to rear its ugly head.

For Mrs. Adegbesan, the only way out was to see it as a challenge. She would not give up, she determined. She could not afford to - so much was at stake. What would become of all the money that had been invested so far, all of it put down by the founder and Chairperson? What about the women they had already taken on? Had they lifted them up to let them down? And what about the man power that had gone into it all? Was it to be in vain? No she decided, God would see them through.

A lone voice in the wilderness of pessimism, discouragement and frustration, her faith brought comfort and hope. In the true spirit of Aluta Continua (Its not over till its over), the pursuit for funds continued. She attended conferences, seminars, workshops and any function where she thought she could meet anyone who could be of help.

 

For a while, it did not appear like this would yield any results either. Everywhere she turned she came up against a brick wall. People were just generally closed up and unwilling to render assistance.

Those were dark days, she recalls. Really trying times - she had her moments when fear (of failure and of loss) threatened to engulf her faith. Sometimes I was tempted to give up but the greater belief in God as the one who makes things happen prevailed she revealed.

Her Chairperson was however not as optimistic as she was. Who could blame her? She after all was the one who had had to single handedly fund the foundation up till that time. For her, counting her losses and packing it in was fast becoming the sensible thing to do.

The darkest hour is indeed the one before dawn. Light appeared on the horizon when it looked like the end had come. At a pre-summit meeting for NGOs in micro-credit organized in preparation for an international micro credit summit scheduled to hold in Washington DC in February 1998, Mrs. Adegbesan was introduced to Mr. Olu Adetumbi, erstwhile Executive Director of the Community Development Foundation (CDF) who encouraged her to contact him after the summit. After several futile attempts to track him down, providence brought her in contact with Mrs. Edna Jones, Research and Development Manager at CDF. She it was that advised her to write to the organization, formally requesting for assistance. She did.

Soon after, for the very first time since inception, the Outreach Foundation finally got a response. CDF was coming to visit them. In an emotionally laden voice still filled with joy at the memory of that day, Mrs. Adegbesan told of her reaction to the response: When I got that letter (CDF), something like fireworks went off inside me. I knew that help had come at last. Her face lit up with excitement as she relived the moment. With CDF, all we had to do was show that we were on ground, willing and able. We didn't need to be known. It was almost too good to be true. Help prevailed over the end and instead of packing it in, we opened up and expanded and we are still expanding. she added.

Having fulfilled the conditions set by CDF (mostly in terms of record upgrade), the foundation received its first loan of N500,000.00 and an institutional capacity building cum loan support grant of N200,000.00. With this, the foundation spread its tentacles to other Local Government Areas in Lagos State, moving membership to five (5) groups representing fifty (50) individuals. The grant enabled them carry out organizational diagnosis to help them assess themselves and also enabled them install a proper accounting system

With the second loan of N1.5M and additional funds from the founder (now encouraged afresh by CDFs timely intervention) and even her husband, membership rose to fifty (50) groups representing five hundred (500) individuals. This is an indication that given the right support, local philanthropy can be encouraged in any society.

CDF introduced the foundation to the Community Development Micro finance Roundtable (CDMR) and by extension, the UNDP, now their major donor. (The foundation is a beneficiary of UNDPs Microstat programme, a global initiative set up to alleviate poverty and build the institutional capacity of micro finance institutions.) Mrs. Adegbesan further revealed that the large spread that they were able to achieve courtesy of CDF funds was what gave them the leverage required to get them into the UNDP programme.

Today, (January 2002), the foundation has a loan portfolio of N10M, savings of N2.2M (in spite of defaults, withdrawals and dropouts) and a membership strength of 89 groups representing about 2000 individuals.

Its first group, (Alamutu), sole beneficiaries of Outreachs initial N100,000.00 loan fund, grew its loan portfolio to N770,000.00 and its savings from N9000.00 to about N300,000 at the point of termination of the last CDF loan.

Thanks to the training received from CDF, the foundation now runs a simple, standardized, decentralized micro credit scheme with staff strength of 15 people. They broke even in August last year and have just opened a new branch.

Public perception has also changed. The Outreach foundation is now a known name in the world of micro finance where they are seen as forward looking, progressive and stable NGO going places. Now even banks court them for their account.

CDF has continued to provide support in terms of information dissemination and training.

This story would not be complete without the story of Mrs. Mulikatu Ariyo, a founding member of Alamutu II (situated in Idioro market, Mushin Local Government Area of Lagos State) and a beneficiary of both CDF loans.

To Mrs Ariyo, her life appeared to have gone up with the flames that burnt Idioro market in a fire incident that occurred in 1996. Hoodlums, taking advantage of the chaos that ensued looted her wares (shoes), leaving her with virtually nothing.

Her working capital of N10,000.00 was really not much - all it brought in was a measly N1000.00 per week - but it was all that she had. All that her family had. (Her husband had died three years before the incident occurred, leaving her with two children to take care of.) And now, even that had been taken away from her. Life appeared unfair, cruel in fact. She lost the will to go on.

It was at this point that a fellow trader in the market (the President of Alamutu) introduced her to The Outreach Foundation, persuading her to put down N1500.00 of the N2000 the incident left her with as savings with Outreach so she could obtain her first loan of N5000.00.

From that first N5000, Mrs. Ariyo built her working capital to N25,000.00 and increased her savings to N10,000.00. Her business now brings in N1500.00 per week on the average still not very much, but sufficient to meet her responsibilities.


The beginning of the change in Outreach foundation started with CDF intervention

Getting in touch with CDF was the key that opened up big doors for us

It (search for funds) was like trying to reach the moon on foot

Sometimes, what you are looking for so far away is right by your side.

With CDF, we didnt have to know anybody, all we had to do was show that we are on ground, willing and able.

Thanks to their intervention, we broke even in August 2001 and we have just opened a new branch.

The future looks bright.

 

May God continue to bless our relationship with CDF.

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