Past decades have seen microfinance heralded as the answer to global poverty. Capital constraints was believed to be what’s holding poor people back; all natural entrepreneurs, give a poor person a loan and they’ll not only start and grow their business exponentially and repay your loan plus interests, they’ll also never need your assistance again since they now have a sustainable source of income. The reality however, is not so simple. While shown to have tremendous potential in some settings (Professor Yunus of Grameen Bank fame reports his clients lift themselves out of poverty after an average of 10 years from receiving loans), others have found that microfinance has at best no effect on the incidence of poverty and at worst, drive poor farmers to suicide. Lately, critique has come from a new angle: not all poor are entrepreneurs, able and willing to run a business. While credit restraints are real and severe in developing countries, insisting that everyone start a business might
not be the way forward because frankly, not all have what it takes to run a business. Many microentrepreneurs in poor countries are so not out of love for their work or special talent within a certain trade, but due to lack of other options. Blindly extending credit to every business owner, therefore cannot be the most effective way of reducing poverty regardless of repayment rates. In fact, surveys have shown
that many poor people dream of being ‘Employed’: the ticket out of poverty is often believed by the poor themselves to be the elusive,
steady 9-5 job with a predictable and secure income, a pension and maybe even a health insurance. The problem, for the majority of the people living on less than $1.25 a day – the international poverty rate – is that these jobs are very hard to come by.
This is the rationale behind TradeRelief’s approach to poverty reduction: Microfinance has potential but the emphasis should be on job and not business creation, and we target our loans to businesses with large social impacts. We believe that the naturally talented entrepreneurs will manage to set up their businesses despite the obstacles and that capital injections will have the biggest social impacts when given at a time when a business is looking to expand on a proven concept. This also means that we tailor the loan to the individual business in terms of repayment schedule, interest rate and grace period. Since starting operations in 2006 in Oyugis in Western Kenya, more than 15 such loans have been given, creating more than 40 jobs in an area where employment opportunities are few and far between. And the impact doesn’t stop there. For every job created, children, wives, husbands and parents also benefit from the increase in household income. 40 jobs can thus easily impact 200 lives. That’s not even counting the time and money most businesses receiving loans from TradeRelief voluntarily donate to charitable causes within their community: many sponsor widows and the education of orphans, provide free vocational training to youths or donate to churches and orphanages.
TradeRelief is run entirely by volunteers and can therefore keep operating expenses at a minimum. This ensures that interest rates are kept low, normally the loans just about break even when accounting for inflation. Loans sizes are typically less than £3000 ($4800 or €3800) and are recycled within the country indefinitely. TradeRelief operates through local community based organisations to ensure that the loan receivers are genuine and that repayments are regular. We require accurate and detailed records for a year prior to loan disbursement and expect the business owners to be financially literate enough to come
up with a sound business plan as well as sending monthly business
reports. While many business owners in the region have the option of going to a commercial bank or another microfinance institution, TradeRelief is unique in its insistence on social impact and job creation as well as financial soundness. Since we set our interest rates to only cover loss from inflation, TradeRelief relies entirely on donations to expand its operations and fund the increasing number of applications in Kenya and other countries (new offices opening soon, watch this space!). Should you wish to make a donation to TradeRelief, you can do so here.
If you’re interested in learning more about TradeRelief and our approach to poverty reduction, have questions or wish to start a partnership with us, please visit our website, find us on Facebook or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .