By David Aberspach
If you ask someone on the street what they know about microfinance, their immediate response will identify some related terms, such as, “small loans”, “poverty” and “underdeveloped countries.” They are right of course. These expressions are obviously connected. However, they all lead to one specific term called Microfinance. The world of Microfinance can be defined as “a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers”.
But there is much more to talk about. The concept of Microfinance is not limited to this definition. It is a movement that has spread all around the globe rather than being limited to its place of origin. “Microfinancing Partners in Africa”, an institution, based in St. Louis is another offshoot of this worldwide movement.
Microfinancing Partners is run by Sister Antoinette “Toni” Temporiti, a Catholic nun and full-time psycho-therapist. It aims to help the poor out of poverty via the innovative microfinancing concept. As a cosmopolitan humanitarian, over time Sister Toni got more interested in African region which can be understood from her extraordinary interview in October 2010 when she talked about her passions, journeys and experiences:
OneWorld: Toni, why the connection to Africa?
Sister Toni: My mom and my dad worked with a group of sisters. They had a grocery store. On Saturdays whatever was left over they would take over to the community. The sisters were called St. Peter Claver Sisters and they had worked primarily in Africa and I would get gifts from Africa. In 5th grade I started studying about Africa and I wrote my first paper which was probably only a paragraph on Apartheid, I just knew that some day I wanted to go to Africa.
OW: How did you establish Microfinancing Partners in Africa?
ST: I did my sabbatical in 2004 when I joined 24 other young adults and we travelled from Cairo all the way down to Cape Town. We visited 18 countries and every night we camped out. We didn’t do a good job cooking for each other. We bought our food locally from the women in the villages. Every night we would build a fire and the women would come out and talk to us and because the whole eastern part of Africa was colonized by Britain, the language was English. So the women came and sat around the fire and every evening, we would just hear stories about their children, hopes, how they spent their day. They asked me questions like, do you feed your family, questions in America we take for granted, but they didn’t.
So when I got back to the US, I was just a different person, I had a lot more hope and a lot more resilience than when I left. It came through being with the women there. I was eating lunch one day in Clayton where I work and I remember like its happening now. I realized that the cost of the lunch that I was eating could be a small loan. So I didn’t know what that meant. I went back at home, put into the computer, “women”, “loans”, “Africa”, “small business” and this word came up “microfinance”, which is giving small loans to women so that they can bring themselves out of poverty.
I attended a conference in Nova Scotia and met Mohammed Yunus, the “father of microfinancing.” I also went to a talk by, Ingrid Monroe who works in Nairobi / Kenya. She started a microfinancing program called Jamii BORA. She talked about the men and women in Nairobi who through microfinance, through getting this small loan, work themselves out of poverty. I went up to Ingrid after the talk and asked her if she would have lunch with me and she did. That’s how it started and dreamed about becoming a non profit. We called it Microfinancing Partners in Africa, because we partner with groups doing microfinancing in Africa.
OW: How does this specific partnership work?
ST: In Kenya, we give loans to men and women to start their own business and they usually start with a small vegetable business. Before they do that, they form a group of five and this group meets with one person from the branch office from Jamii Bora. They come up with a business plan and work together week after week. They meet again and maybe then two of the five become ready to take a loan. But what is primary in microfinancing is that you have to save money first to be able to take a loan. So if they save 25 cents they can take a loan to double that to 50 cents. If they save a dollar they can get another dollar. So when they start with vegetables, we have the potato lady. So she saves a few pennies and then she becomes able to buy some potatoes which she can sell at an interest. So the price plus a little bit more. She pays back her loan, can then double the amount again, buy many more potatoes, sell them at a slightly increased cost, pay the loan back and literally works herself out of poverty.
OW: Are there other initiatives?
ST: In Uganda it’s a much different program as we have cows there. So the microfinancing loan is a pregnant cow. You prepare your one acre of land for two to three years, because what we have there is called zero grazing, which means the cow has the food provided. So you get a cow after you are done with two or three years of training. Then your cow is pregnant, it has its calf and then you raise the calf. Once the calf is a year old, you pass it on to a person that you’ve helped train and the raising of that calf covers the cost of the cow you got. That’s the microfinancing loan. You get an $800 cow that is pregnant and then that cow has a calf, you raise it for a year which costs $800 and then you pass it on to someone you’ve helped train.
OW: Please, explain more about the loan system.
ST: Microfinancing Partners in Africa do not actually make loans, we provide grants to our partner organizations and they provide loans to their members. We raise money and then we partner with programs that do microfinancing. The programs are self-sustaining, but they can reach more people faster if they can get an influx. In Kenya they have a pay back rate of 98%, so the loans start very small and they can go very large. The limit is varies because of the business plan and payback of loans. In Uganda the loan is for buying cows which is huge and so the limit is more about the ability to carry on the program and then to payback whatever they borrowed, which has been very successful.
OW: Thank you very much for your time.