Community Development Foundation, Nigeria

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SUCCESS STORY OF INGENUITY

In 1995, in the city of Kano, commercial nerve center of the Northern States, a group of 12 professionals came together to formally establish Women Development Initiatives (WDI), a gender oriented organization whose objective is to better the lot of rural women in their community. Initially, the focus was to be on health. Upon visiting these women however, it was discovered that the real need was for funds not health. These women knew about nutrition and proper feeding, what they needed was money to implement what they knew. Many of them had good ideas on how to earn money but lacked the capital to carry out these ideas. This meant that up till that time they could only dream of starting businesses that would enable them attain some level of very much longed for independence. This was what informed WDIs change in focus from health to micro-finance.

They started out with a loan fund of N15,000.00 (donated by the Coordinator, Hajia Talatu Bashir ) disbursed interest free to certain groups as well as some individuals. In all, about twenty (20) people benefited from this first loan.

With the success of the first loan, peoples interest in the organization grew. By the second year she increased the loan fund to N50,000.00, still interest free. This time the organization insisted on dealing solely with groups for administrative ease.

Word spread faster. Groups kept growing and new ones began to immerge. Extra hands were employed to carry out administrative functions. (Prior to this time, members on part-time basis carried out these functions.) Soon, WDI had more people - people with real needs and good prospects who saw them as the only ray of light in their dark tunnels - than they could possibly cater for, at their door. Applications piled up. The pain of turning these people, frustration written all over their faces, away began to needle but there was a limit to what they could do with what they had. It was very demoralizing recalled Hajia Bashir.

Administrative costs increased with growth and the burden became too much for them to bear as individuals. The organization was also painfully aware of its rudimentary accounting system (which made documentation and information access tedious chores, to say the least) but could not afford to employ the services of a professional accountant. No one in the group had a finance background and there was so much to learn in this new world of micro-finance. It was beginning to appear like they had bitten more than they could chew. Frustration began to set in.

The organization introduced administrative fees on loans to help cover some of the costs. In an attempt to improve their lot, they began to attend seminars, conferences, workshops, any event in fact that could shed more light on their chosen path.

It was at one of such functions that they came in contact with the Development Exchange Center (DEC) who introduced them to the Community Development Foundation (CDF).

In 1997, CDF gave the organization a loan of N500,000.00.

It (the loan) was like N5M in our eyes recalled Hajia Bashir. We felt elated, relieved. It came at an hour of great need and saved a critical situation. It sprung us into action and helped us to show the world what we could do, she added.

There was however a snag. CDF insisted on 21% interest on its loan. Being predominantly Moslems, the people were opposed to the idea of interest on loans. WDI thus called a meeting of prospective recipients where a representative of CDF, who came with the cheque for the loan for all to see, explained the terms of the loan to them. The decision as to whether or not to take the loan was left to them. Faced with a choice between the life they lived at the time and the life they could live if they took advantage of this opportunity (evidenced by the presence of the cheque) to better their lot, they opted for the CDF loan. WDI then evaluated the needs of the groups and gave out loans based on this.

By allowing them to hear straight from the horses mouth and by leaving the final decision to them, rather than taking it and imposing it on them, WDI had wisely taken care of a delicate matter that had the potential to erupt into a great deal of trouble.

[With the second CDF loan of N800,000.00, the group increased interest to 30% so it could cover part of its ever growing administrative expenses. This did not go down well with the people. They were demoralized. They felt used. Mistrust set in and they began to default on repayment. The organization again resorted to dialog. They held several meetings with groups to educate them and explain to them that the money was used to cover only a portion of their expenses, the rest still being funded by members of WDI -no body was out to make money out of them. Attitudes changed for the better after these meetings but never went back to how it was before.]

From the eight (8)groups (representing seventy-five (75) women) that benefited from the groups‚ second loan of N50,000.00, the number of groups moved to twenty-two (22) (representing two hundred and twenty (220) people) with this first CDF loan. (This time including men who were brought on board so they could let up on their wives whom they had been harassing and forcing to take up responsibilities based on the free money they thought they were receiving. Benefiting from the loan would open their eyes to see that it was not free money but a loan that had to be repaid and this time with interest.) It was also at this point that savings were introduced, (the first round of which amounted to only about N8000.00.) courtesy of CDF intervention. The savings culture gradually grew with trust.

Over the years, CDF has also provided the much-needed training that the organization and its clients required.

Their association with CDF has opened doors for them. Organizations like the Capacity Building for Decentralized Development (CBDD), based in Kaduna, UNDP, Peoples Bank and the African Development Foundation (ADF) are now major sponsors of the organization.

Perception of the group in the community has also changed. Initially, they were treated with suspicion and they were faced with opposition particularly from hostile religious groups who thought they were just out to make money for themselves. Now there is a better understanding of the group and more people have confidence in them. Now we are better known. revealed the groups coordinator. Even the gardener across the road knows we exist and is coming in for loan. People from other states now know us and come in to ask for loans, she added.

WDI is enjoying its third cycle loan of N1.2M and has received a total loan value of N2.5M and institutional capacity building grants to the tune of N280,000.00 from CDF. It currently has a loan fund of N18.45M and group savings stand at N437,000.00. From this, the organization generates about N1.2M per annum. Membership strength has increased to 106 groups and the groups are doing well.

Take for instance, the Womens Blacksmith Group in Rura, (a rural town situated about 30km from the city of Kano) which courtesy of the CDF loans, have been able to expand their range of products as well as the volume of their business, increasing their income significantly. Their savings cum loan fund has grown from N16,800.00 at the point of CDF intervention to N100,000.00 as at today. (February 2002). Their savings with WDI currently stands at N25,000.00. This group has single handedly started three other groups and has created jobs for locals on their project site.

Quality of life has improved for many as is evidenced in the touching story of Mrs. Rabi Abdulai , President of the Dadawa (locust beans) group. Things became tough when her husband died a few years ago. Her children had to stop going to school. She could not even afford the transportation to school talk less of the fees. Her second son who had eight credits had to take up farming to help support the family. The family lived from hand to mouth. Even N100.00 was hard to come by she revealed.

Courtesy of the CDF loan, she started her dadawa trade and today, the story has changed. Her second son is now in Bayero University, Kano studying Medicine and his younger ones are back in school. She is now the proud owner of a bicycle with which he (her son) commutes. He also transports the younger ones (3 of them) to and from school on this bicycle, saving his mother transport money. She now earns an average of N800 per week.

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