Rory Bruce is VisionFund’s Grants Director. Here he shares his reflections on a recent visit to Malawi to meet clients supported by VisionFund’s recovery lending programme in the wake of El Nino. Their sentiments were shared with singing and drumming – check out the videos!
In April 2017 I had the privilege to go back to Malawi, a country I have spent several years working in. Alongside VisionFund Malawi (VFM) I visited clients who had benefitted from recovery lending loans as a result of a DFID Funded Returnable Grant, ‘Recovery Lending in Fragile States Effected by El Nino in Africa’. We visited 3 groups in WV Area Development Programmes in Zomba, Chamba ADP and Mposa ADP.
The first two VisionFund lending groups we met were known as Chimwemwe Matache and Tigwirizane Majiga, which mean “Joyfulness” and “Come together in unity”. Both groups had hugely benefitted from the recovery loan from VFM and were very grateful for this help. 75% of the group were women and most were growing combinations of rice and maize. In the 2015/2016 farming season, El Nino hit this community very hard. Without any rain their crops failed and they were unable to repay their loans.
Our borrowers were initially surprised that VFM could offer them a recovery loan in times of hardship. Recovery loans are designed to help clients rebuild their livelihoods and bounce back. Historically, financial institutions draw back after a disaster in order to minimise risk, but recovery lending increases funding to an impacted community.
VisionFund pioneered this type of lending in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, and based on the success of this programme, applied the same principle to El Nino. Working on this DFID-funded Grant with World Vision UK’s Humanitarian Response team gave us the opportunity to support over 14,000 families, impacting 50,000 people in Kenya, Zambia and Malawi who had lost their livelihood’s due to El Nino-related floods and droughts.
Our groups were delighted that this specially tailored recovery loan allowed them to replant their fields and invest in alternative businesses to allow them to service both the new and original loans. Members diversified into enterprises such as buying and selling tomatoes or dried fish. Another borrower bought a sewing machine made school uniforms. These borrowers have maintained their diversified income sources alongside their main farming activities of growing rice and maize, which gives them a more resilient income base.
We know these borrowers feel gratitude because they expressed themselves in song, singing the whole way from when we arrived at the meeting point, after our meeting, and when travelling in the back of our pick-up to show us their rice fields. This impromptu lending group turned choir sung with enormous energy all the way through the village. From my basic Chichewa language skills I understood the lyrics of their songs to be:
“If you see us with iron sheets on our homes, it is because of VisionFund, if you see our children well fed, it is because of VisionFund, if you see our rice fields, it is because of VisionFund.”
And then the catchier, high-energy number: “VisionFund, an MFI that is moving on well and covers the whole of Malawi.”
Watch the video here:
I felt so proud to be part of a DFID-funded project that approached financial services in an unconventional manner, standing by our clients when they needed help the most.