With the political turmoil that stopped everything in the city a couple months ago behind us Mothers Day in Thailand brings a sense of calm over the Kingdom; except on the roadways, it’s hell there. With massive amounts of tourists flocking out of Bangkok for the extended holiday due to Her Majesty’s birthday the roadways around Bangkok and up-country are clogged with weekend warriors desperate to escape the hustle of the city for fresh air and no-vacancy hotel stays. The streets are empty around Bangkok it seems that everyone is leaving Bangkok, everyone except for the good people at Step Ahead microfinance.
The women (and the man) that work at Step Ahead don’t get to appreciate the Mother’s Day holiday the way most do in Bangkok (by leaving). They are hard at work braving the rainy season weather to keep the Klong Toei community full of happy borrowers.
Step Ahead has been working in the Klong Toei slums since 2002 and does quite a bit to help out the community. Along with a daycare program, free breast cancer screenings, and adult business classes Step Ahead also provides the Klong Toei community with smiles, and lovingly helpful dispositions.
Step Ahead first got my attention as a possible partner with Kiva. Out of all the major MFI’s based in Bangkok, Step Ahead was the only one to fulfill Kiva’s partner requirements.
Unfortunately, due to Thai legislation concerning loans acquired from outside the country it would be quite costly (for both the borrowers and for Kiva) to partner with Step Ahead at the moment.
At the moment Thai law requires a 15% withholding tax to be placed on any loan originating outside the country. There is a way around this however, a Thai bank account is needed for this to be accomplished and for this a Thai address is needed. Easily done, but would only lessen the withholding tax to 3%, which still can make the interest on a loan expensive. To complicate the issue even more, to crack down on the problem of loan sharking (a big problem throughout the country) Thai law also states there must be 15% interest rate cap on all loans in the country. Thai laws concerning microfinance are evolving and will possibly one day soon become more definable and open. Until that day comes Step Ahead (http://www.stepaheadmed.org/) will be working hard to keep the micro-entrepreneurs of the Klong Toei community happy.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom