Wednesday, June 06, 2007

" Cracking the Financial Markets" , Accion International and Credit Suisse

In March of 2007, I participated in the Conference " Cracking the Financial Markets " organized by Accion International and Credit Suisse in New York City.
The conference brought together the who-is-who in Micro-Finance and discussed the various financial instruments that have been used or are under development to maintain the flow of funds into the Micro Finance Sector. For me as a relative newcomer in Micro Finance it was interesting to hear the discussions about the use of securitization mechanisms to commercialize existing loan portfolios in the financial markets. The strategies ,experiences and successes of investment funds that invest in micro-finance organizations all over the world were also actively exchanged.
It was fascinating to see that investments in micro loan portfolios have a tendency to lower the overall risk profile of conventional investment portfolios.
One of the quotes used at the conference stuck with me :
" The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh makes the Poor creditworthy, organizations like Accion International make Micro-Finance Investment worthy "

Micro-Finance , Accion International Meeting in Colombia

In March 2007, an Accion International Board Meeting was held in Bogota , Colombia. The day before the meeting , we visited the Accion affiliate , Finamerica, and two of their customers in Bogota and its surroundings.
Finamerica has close to 40.000 customers and a loan portfolio of around $ 50 Million US. It is an impressive organization with a dynamic team but it does face several competitors in the Micro-Finance market in the Colombian capital.
We visited two customers ,which are building businesses in the less affluent regions of Bogota. One customer , Don Jaime, owns a foundry , where he and his twelve employees produce brass components such as door and window handles , belt buckles etc. that are being sold through a network of eighty hard ware stores and retailers in the Colombian market. Don Jaime has been working with Finamerica for about five years and he had three employees before he started using micro loans .
The second customer, that we visited runs a textile manufacturing company, that produces pyjamas and nightwear and sells his products to retailers via a wholesale market . He had been working with Finamerica for three years and he used the original micro loan to start the company.
In the Accion International office in Bogota, we also visited a teaching facility where individuals are being trained in entrepreneurship . " Dialogo de Gestiones " ( Management Conversations ) as the program is called trains 90.000 entrepreneurs per year all over Latin America in topics such as " How do I start a Company "; " How can Debt be used " etc. All in all it was for me a very impressive first visit to Colombia.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Solar Energy, Micro-Finance in Bolivia

In March of 2007, I visited Eduardo Lozada , founder and President of Enersol, a company that sells and installs Solar Photovoltaic Systems in Bolivia. The company is based in Santa Cruz , Bolivia, has been in existence close to twenty years and has installed between 15-20.000 solar systems in Bolivia . As a comparison, there are around 15.000 solar systems installed in the entire US right now .( May 2007 ) The average system size in Bolivia is significantly smaller , though.
After meeting the Enersol team in the Santa Cruz headquarters , Eduardo and I hit the road to visit some of the solar installations, which are mostly located in rural areas where there is no electricity available, in other words " off-grid".
The typical system consists of a solar panel of around 50-100 Watts that charges a battery during the day when the sun is shining and powers 4-5 compact-fluorescent (energy-efficient) lights, cell-phone charger, radio and black & white TV at night. Every system is also equipped with a GPS emitter ,which makes it easy to locate them .
We left Santa Cruz on the main road leading West but shortly thereafter started using dirt roads following the signal of our hand-held GPS. We nearly got stuck in the mud, as the rainy season had brought more rain than usual and had to deal with a flat tire. Eventually, we encountered isolated installed systems in the area of Villa Florida. The systems were installed in isolated homes typically owned by farmers. There is no electricity available , so without solar power , people would have to rely on candles for light or car batteries that need to be carried into town to be charged for a fee.
In this particular area , the sale of 3.000 solar systems was partly financed by Emprender , a Micro-Finance organization that was originally created to make solar energy more accessible to the local population. Emprender is still in existence , but today financing of solar power systems only represents 50 % of Emprender's loan portfolio.