In the interest of making this blog more…well, interesting, I’m including a bit of the writing I’ve been doing for a working paper on the microfinance model we use in our programs here in Ghana and how it fits into the big picture of our organization and what we’re trying to do. So here goes, comments welcome and greatly appreciated. Firstly, a bit about GB:
Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. Our mission is to empower volunteers to facilitate sustainable solutions in under-resourced communities while fostering local cultures. Since 2005, more than 5,000 volunteers from 110 university groups have traveled to implement our nine skill-based programs to improve quality of life in under-resourced communities of Honduras, Panama, and Ghana. As one of these skill-based programs, Microfinance brigades aims to provide rural community members in Honduras and Ghana community banking systems with access to loans, financial literacy programs and education to foster a culture of savings and growth. Volunteers work with community leaders to provide the financial backing and technical support to create and strengthen independent and self-sustaining community banks as mechanisms for social and economic change.
In an effort to bridge the gap between the financial resources for economic growth and under-resourced communities, Microfinance Brigades was originally implemented in Honduras and later expanded to Ghana’s Central Region using experience from operations in Honduras. With materials provided by the microfinance institution FUNDER, GB’s partner organization in Honduras, Global Brigades Ghana staff adapted the FUNDER model to be appropriate and applicable for communities of rural Ghana and created a new and distinct model. Microfinance Brigades in Ghana now implements informal rural banking systems through community-managed “Development Funds,” which operate similar to rural savings and loans cooperatives. This cooperative structure aims to provide savings and loan services as well as fund and organize community projects and is 100% owned and managed by its members. The central objective of these community Development Funds is to form an alternative system to classical banking that alleviates the financial needs of rural families who lack access to formal sources of loans, while simultaneously introducing a culture of savings and basic financial literacy.
Using this cooperative structure, the Community Development Funds established through Microfinance Brigades serve as informal banking institutions as well as community hubs for cooperative business initiatives and community-driven development projects. A key component of this process is the collaboration of community members with foreign volunteers during weeklong “brigades,” or service-learning projects. Prior to brigades, Global Brigades in-country staff members mobilize interested leaders in communities identified as having the greatest need of financial resources as well as strong community organization and leadership potential. Through a series of training workshops on basic financial literacy and accounting, the 10-member leadership of the Development Fund is given the tools and understanding necessary to successfully and independently operate the savings and loans services to the community. Each brigade works with this group of leaders as well as other community members to determine project initiatives ranging from Child’s savings programs, cooperatively managed cassava mills, business and loan consulting, and micro-loan distribution.
Our objective with microfinance in the Central Region is to see how communities can internally mobilize financial and human resources to undertake their own projects and business ventures for the economic growth and benefit of the community as a whole. Through this process community members may see the value of a savings culture and shared ownership of a community development fund based on these resources. International volunteers play a supportive role in this process by participating in 10-day brigades that implement training, education, and capital investment projects to further the goals of the community and its individual members. Volunteers also capitalize the Fund through a Community Investment Fund (CIF), the allocation of which is determined by the volunteers directly in collaboration with Development Fund leaders. We aim to establish and refine a distinct microfinance model that is eventually self-sustaining as well as replicable within this context in other communities.
For more info on the organization, check out globalbrigades.org