CAROLINE MULWA: DILIGENTLY SERVING THE MICROFINANCE SECTOR

Caroline Mulwa, Investment Manager, Oikocredit East and Southern Africa.
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The immediate former chair of AMFI-K is upbeat about the association’s growth as it celebrates twenty years

By George Gichuki

Caroline Mulwa is the investment manager of Oikocredit in East and Southern Africa. She is the immediate former chair of the Association of Microfinance Institutions – Kenya (AMFI-K). Representing the wholesalers, she served the association from 2017 to 2019 as the chair.

Ms. Mulwa joined AMFI – K in 2016 as a board member. “Serving AMFI-K as a board member and chair was a very insightful and useful experience for me as a person and for Oikocredit, “she says. “I have had the opportunity to lobby and advocate for the cause of AMFI – K with various stakeholders in the financial sector including the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and the National Treasury,” she adds. Together with the other board members, she deliberated on the challenges facing the sector with these stakeholders and came up with the necessary solutions. “This was a very rich and rewarding experience for me,” she avers.

Moreover, her term in the board opened a window for her to interact with various members of the association in order to understand their challenges and together, develop viable solutions. Some of these challenges included the interest rates capping law that was enacted in 2016 ( it was repealed in November, 2019) and infiltration of digital lenders in the microfinance space.

Achievements

Ms. Mulwa says that her greatest achievement as the chair of AMFI-K was striving to have a level playing field for the microfinance sector. This was mainly by lobbying CBK to amend some of the microfinance banks’ regulations so that they can play evenly with commercial banks. “Through our engagements and conversations with CBK, new microfinance banks regulations have been drafted and hopefully, they shall be enacted into law by Parliament in the near future,” she says.

In June 2019, AMFI-K under her leadership held a national microfinance conference and participants were drawn from its membership countrywide, CBK, the National Treasury, international microfinance practitioners among other stakeholders. During this forum, important issues pertaining to the microfinance sector were deliberated on.

Thirdly, AMFI-K reviewed its strategic plan in 2019 after a period of five years. “We looked at our achievements during the last five years and renewed our commitment as an association to continue serving the low income people in this country,” says Ms. Mulwa. To that end, the board developed an action plan that it intends to follow over the next four years once it is adopted by the members.

Oikocredit

Oikocredit is a leading member and partner of AMFI-K. “Over the years, we have provided technical support to the association in many areas one of them being the introduction of social performance management in the sector,” says Ms. Mulwa.

Under the social performance management initiative, Oikocredit developed a programme in partnership with AMFI-K through which five microfinance institutions were funded. Oikocredit together with AMFI-K provided consultants who supported these institutions to review their social missions and to create a positive agenda of implementing social performance management. By the same token, Oikocredit has also over the years supported AMFI-K with resources to enable the organization to meet its goals.

Oikocredit is a global social impact investor. The organization has been working in the financial inclusion space for the last 45 years and it has a presence in over 70 countries around the world. Kenya is the hub or regional office for East and Southern Africa.

For the last twenty five years, Oikocredit has been providing financial assistance to various players in the microfinance sector.

“We work with microfinance banks and credit only microfinance institutions that promote lending to the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya,” says Ms. Mulwa adding that Oikocredit provides the said organizations with debt and equity solutions so that they can accomplish their mission and continue improving the financial ecosystem in the country.

Besides debt and equity, Oikocredit also supports its partners with capacity building. “We identify the challenges that our partners are facing and consequently, we develop capacity building programmes that support them to improve their institutional capacity, while allowing them to continue lending and forging forward with their social impact agenda,” Ms. Mulwa observes.

Solutions

According to Ms. Mulwa, most lenders which are not savings and credit organizations (Saccos) or commercial banks mischievously call themselves microfinance institutions hence duping the members of the public. “Microfinance institutions need to differentiate themselves from such unscrupulous players by remaining faithful to their mission – enhancing financial inclusion and a social impact agenda,” advises Ms. Mulwa. “AMFI-K needs to identify the microfinance institutions which are actually advancing a social impact agenda and that should be the way of positioning the sector,” she adds.

In addition, the sector should pursue self regulation and create credential guidelines in order to enhance its credibility. “Microfinance institutions should avoid unfair practices which also lack transparency (for instance when they are collecting debts) in order to win trust from their customers,” Ms. Mulwa says. “Such initiatives will go a long way in differentiating them from shylocks and other unscrupulous money lenders in the market posing as microfinance institutions,” she adds. By the same token, she advises the institutions not to overburden their customers with debts in a bid to rake in profits.

Ms. Mulwa also advises players in the sector to embrace technology as opposed to feeling threatened by the digital lenders that have invaded their market. “Microfinance banks and institutions should develop technologically driven products that are ethical and whose disbursement should be only after a proper credit appraisal,” she observes. According to her, through technology, the sector can offer more innovative products and services, besides reaching a wider customer base. By so doing, players shall be able to future proof their brands and continue meeting the needs of the low income people.

As AMFI-K marks its twentieth anniversary, Ms. Mulwa is happy to note that the sector’s umbrella body has since its inception remained faithful to its cause of lobbying for the interests for its members, despite encountering many hurdles.

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