During the last month, I’ve visited quite a few courtyards, backyards, sideyards, and frontyards. In each one, I can usually count on two things. One is that someone in the group rises to find chairs for the loan officers and myself and places these chairs in a cool, shady spot. The other is the Sinapi cheer. A loan officer walks into the meeting area and shouts, “Sinapi” and claps twice. In response, the group members yell, “Abapa” (Good Seed). This cheer goes through several more iterations with different responses and the group sits down.
But, recently, in one group, the loan officer’s “Sinapi” was met with silence. The officer tried again and only met silence again. She then smiled, sat down, and walked through the cheer with the group. Another Sinapi employee sitting next to me explained that this was a new group and had only completed the first week of the four week orientation. I thought to myself that if my past experiences could shed any light on the future, the officer’s cheer would be met with a rousing response by the end of the orientation.
Sinapi’s orientation process is a fine example of how microfinance is not simply loans, but much, much more. Not unexpectedly, the orientation process includes concepts such as basic bookkeeping and loan financing. What is telling, however, is that before any of these business concepts are even introduced Sinapi spends considerable time talking to the group about their individual family life and about Sinapi’s core values (Integrity, Respect, Stewardship, and Commitment to the Poor). They explain how these core values not only guide Sinapi’s operations but should also guide their own businesses. They talk to the group about the importance of schooling, health, and instilling responsibility in their children. They ask them if they are having any family troubles or troubles with neighbors. And while much of this is motivated by the social mission of Sinapi, it is also in Sinapi’s financial interest to have healthy, happy clients who can repay on time.
A fine example of the blended relationship between social mission and financial mission is the wonderful work of the Kiva Coordinator, Joshua Opoku-Mainoo. Before he was asked to coordinate Sinapi’s Kiva efforts, he worked as a loan officer in their Takoradi branch. As part of his work, he decided to integrate health insurance registration into the orientation process.
As a backdrop, three years ago, the Ghanaian government instituted a national health insurance scheme with the goal of registering the entire nation. At this point, the registration process is being implemented on a voluntary basis. For those who are at the lowest income bracket, the annual premium is about 7 cedis (7 dollars) a year. However, many of these individuals were not registering with the scheme and many of them were Sinapi clients.
As a loan officer, Joshua understood that poor health was a significant cause of repayment problems. After all, sick clients don’t pay. And sick clients with big medical bills definitely don’t pay. By implementing registration into the orientation process, Josh was not only hoping to minimize health bills and sickness, but also expecting a reduction in repayment issues. The results are in. After instituting the process, the Takoradi branch has now seen a marked drop in repayment issues related to sickness and medical bills. Due to the success of this pilot, Sinapi is taking steps to integrate the insurance registration process into all of its orientations nationwide. It is in efforts like this that I’m seeing how it’s possible to use a microloan to support a broader social mission.