Fellows

Picture 1

Tools of the trade

The grey and cloudy sky perfectly opposes my bright demeanour. Today is my first field trip and I’m excited. The rain starts pouring down as soon as we set off for Murang’a, a rural town in Central Kenya. Muddy puddles quickly grow into small ponds on the roadside. Undeterred, Kimosop, Isika, Job and I forge ahead. As quickly as the rain began, it stops and we soon find ourselves surrounded by rolling green hills. Muddy waterfalls, feed into rivers and banana plantations dot the landscape. It’s only 7.30a.m., but the roadside markets are already bustling as everyone gets set up for the day. We soon arrive at the Murang’a office and I get acquainted with the team. After learning a little about the operations, we sit down for a training session by Job. He’s teaching the field officers how to use Simple MFI, a new open source android application that runs on a low cost IDEOS phone. Simple MFI helps loan officers manage loans more efficiently. It allows them to go into the field paperless with up-to-date client information at the touch of a button. A quick look at the desks of the officers and I can already see the need for this. They are drowning in statement registers. After a very thorough training session, I’m ready to see the application in action. I’m resisting the urge to ask the team if we can grab a quick lunch. It’s only 12 p.m. but I’m already starving. Eventually, I give in to my stomach’s demands and convince the boys to grab lunch at a little restaurant downstairs. They all shake their heads and laugh, but wolf down the food, confirming my suspicions that they were hungry too.

John, one of our loan officers, takes us to our first group meeting. The group meets in the home of one of the members. After pleasantries, I sit quietly, observing the meeting. I can’t understand Kikuyu so I’m forced to read the facial expressions and body language of the group. Working easily with Simple MFI, John quickly answers client queries. He runs through the application, explaining to our clients how he can now easily access all their information through his phone. Everyone starts smiling and nodding their heads, excited by the innovation. I can only understand one word, ‘computer,’ as they laugh and clap hands. I smile too. John runs through what each client ought to pay at the group meeting and I’m surprised as, one by one, the clients pull out their mobile phones and make their loan payments through M-Pesa, the mobile payment system we’ve integrated into our operations. Even the grandmothers use it with ease. Sitting in a simple house, in a rural village, watching this tech savvy group is remarkable. They’ve embraced change. I ask them what they think of M-Pesa and a chorus ensues. ‘It’s great’, ‘We love it’, ‘It makes life so simple’. The group secretary, a delightful man responds, ‘Finally I can do away with all this paper. Simple MFI and M-Pesa are just wonderful. It makes life much easier for me’.

As we part with the group, thoughts race through my mind about the innovations Juhudi Kilimo is embracing and distributing across communities like the one in Murang’a. These tools have the potential to improve productivity and make operations more efficient. I think about the cost saving potential and the effect this would have in the micro finance industry if every MFI were to adopt these changes as easily as this rural group. It’s an exciting prospect and, as we head back to Nairobi, I contemplate what the next few months have in store for me. I can’t wait!

Rutendo is an Acumen Fund Global Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya working with Juhudi Kilimo, which provides microfinance loan products that allow Kenyan smallholder farmers to access high-quality agricultural assets that enhance the productivity of their farms. Rutendo is from Zimbabwe, and worked as a portfolio manager at a financial services firm. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting Science from the University of South Africa.

Comments

Reflections on the India Fellows Seminar

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here[Read More]

Adaptive Leadership in Action: Addressing Cultural Norms & Giving Women a Voice

In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change. [Read More]

Making Sense of Social Impact in Action: The Value of Educating Our Youth

At Acumen, one of the most common questions we get is how we measure social impact. Our newest +Acumen course – Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. – will provide an entry point for how to think about impact and we’ll share frameworks that help us define what to measure and why. Makoto Matsuura, founder of cobon a not-for-profit focused on youth education in Jakarta, Indonesia and Osaka, Japan, took a pilot version of this course and shared his reflections with us. [Read More]

Good news for philanthropists in the U.K. and Europe

We are excited to announce that Acumen now holds a CAF Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom. CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation, is a registered U.K. charity. By donating to Acumen through CAF, you can use Gift Aid if the amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax you’ve paid for the tax year in which you make your donation is at least equal to the amount of basic rate tax  [the charity or Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) and any other charities or CASCs] you donate to will reclaim on your gift. CAF will reclaim 25% Gift Aid from HM Revenue & Customs and pass this through to Acumen.  The donor can claim higher rate tax relief (for more information, please refer to CAF’s online resource, What Is Gift Aid?). [Read More]

d.light Leaders Named 2014 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

We are thrilled for our portfolio company d.light and Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO, along with cofounders Ned Tozun, President, and Sam Goldman, Chief Customer Officer, for being named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. d.light is a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures and distributes solar lighting and power products with primary markets in the developing world, today announced that d.light, along with 37 other individuals and organizations in the 2014 class, will be fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the World Economic Forum. [Read More]