Empowering the micro, small and medium enterprises through financial and non-financial services
By Caroline Mwendwa
Established in 1994, ECLOF Kenya has evolved into an exemplary microfinance institution, with new approaches of transformingthe lives of vulnerable communities to become self-reliant. Its structure of products, provides its customers with a pool of benefits to choose from. These include: business loans, social products and non-financial services. ECLOF Kenya has a clientele of approximately 50, 000 people with a total of 17 branches. It is an affiliate of ECLOF International which was founded in 1946 in Geneva Switzerland, with an aim to fund churches but later evolved to fund the low-income earners in order to serve the cause of the poor. Today, it is all over the world and in Africa, it is present in five countries. ECLOF Kenya focuses on the micro, small and medium enterprises.
“We are continuously innovating new products, and our changes are always effected after a needs assessment where we go to the grassroots, and listen to our customers, whose needs inform our decisions,” says Mary Munyiri, the Chief Executive Officer of ECLOF Kenya.
ECLOF Kenya whose vision is to promote social justice and human dignity through microfinance, gives the marginalised access to capital that enables them to build sustainable livelihoods. To reach the financially excluded, ECLOF Kenya organizes frequent meetings with them, where its officers respond to their needs on a one on one basis. “This enables us to reach the unbanked, the poorest and even those who feel like they do not qualify for any credit facility,” says Mrs Munyiri.
ECLOF Kenya provides a highly diversified product offering. Its products are majorly social and commercial. The commercial products include agri-business loans, and loans for other income generating activities.
“One can borrow as low as Kshs 5,000, and this shows how much financially inclusive our products are,’’ she says.
Agri-business loans are intended for financing value chains and the products in this category include: dairy value chain, fruit value chain, horticulture and floriculture. The lender is set to start financing farmers dealing in sorghum and cassava. “This way, we will be a solution for the farmers in dry areas who have no means of scaling up their farming” she says.
Under the dairy value chain, farmers are given loans to buy hybrid cows, machinery such as chaff-cutters, improve cowsheds, sink shallow wells, and develop quality fodder farms. All these facilitate higher produce, placing them at a position to develop their agri-business.
On the fruit value chain, ECLOF Kenya focuses on passion fruits and bananas, while for floriculture, the focus is directed on the ordinary farmers, who cultivate the average flowers.
Even though ECLOF Kenya predominantly applies the group lending methodology, most customers grow financially, to a point that they break away from the groups and borrow higher loans individually.
Apart from the commercial products, ECLOF Kenya is highly impactful in the society through its social products. Some of the products it offers to help improve the lives of its customers socially include: education loans, green energy, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), micro-health insurance (health insurance financing), house improvement equipment purchase, celebration loans and institutional loans for the salaried.
“We lend to our customers for education purposes (both the borrowers and their children). This loan also finances purchasing of the necessities required for school, besides the tuition fees,” Mrs Munyiri elaborates.
Through the green energy products, ECLOF Kenya partners with service providers to help customers purchase and install solar panels and biogas.
Under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) product, ECLOF Kenya has a myriad projects through which it helps improve the lives of its customers. “We realized that the in absence of good health, it is impossible to drive away poverty, as these two go hand in hand, people cannot grow financially if they are struggling with health issues, it sinks them deeper into poverty and that is why the WASH product is critical to our cause”, says Mrs Munyiri.
Under this product, customers are facilitated to have clean water by purchasing fully fitted tanks for water storage, put up iron sheet roofs through which they can collect rainwater, sink shallow wells, besides digging washable pit latrines and setting up bathrooms. Others obtain capital to sell water in their respective communities.
As a means to help customers gain access to affordable quality health care, ECLOF Kenya has a strategy through which they access micro-health insurance, through the health insurance financing programme by collaborating with insurance companies for negotiated health facilities.
One major uniqueness of ECLOF Kenya is its set of non-financial services. These include: need based training of the customers to help identify ways of progressing financially, advisory services- where demonstration farms given by one of the farmers in the target area is used as a site for the rest can come to see the best practice that can give the highest produce. “Our officers meet with the customers at these centres, to address individual needs of the farmers,” says Mrs Munyiri. ECLOF Kenya also provides capacity building by soliciting funds meant specifically for this task. Technology wise, ECLOF Kenya has tapped into the convenience of M-Pesa services where customers can receive loans via the M-Pesa platform and pay back through the same. Alternative means of payment is through the bank and check off mode of payment, for the salaried.
“It takes strict balancing to keep such an institution running,” says Mrs Munyiri. “While our focus remains financial inclusion and social development of our customers, there is a need to ensure that the process is income generating. This is to ensure that the institution remains stable and grows steadily,” she adds.
This she explains is because donor funding is no longer reliable, and the Institution has to be sustainable. She however emphasises that their primary goal as an institution is financial inclusion, as there still a high percentage of the population that is unbanked.
Due to the growing demand from the customers, ECLOF Kenya has plans to transform into a microfinance bank in the near future. “We intend to start taking deposits in three years’ time, and this decision arises from demand from our customers,” she further explains. This move will not only benefit the customers but also the institution.
The micro-lender which begun as a company limited by guarantee is also planning to transform into a company limited by shares in a bid to raise more capital.
Mrs Munyiri who joined the microfinance institution five years ago, has seen it grow tremendously and this she attributes to a capable team, whose commitment is remarkable beginning from the board of directors, and the managerial team all the way to the junior staff. “Addressing the needs of the staff is key to good performance, we do that by coaching and mentoring our staff and ensuring that they are sufficiently motivated,” she says. “Our steady growth is also a result of reliable partnerships,” she adds.
Mrs Munyiri concludes by highlighting the pillars on which ECLOF Kenya is built which are capital development, growth of quality and volume of businesses, and being a socially responsive microfinance institution. “These are the pillars that guide our undertakings, and everything we have done so far, underscores that,” she ends.