BLOG: AOTB’s New Micro-Financing Programme from Prince Sankanu

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The charity have been taking the necessary steps to set up the programme and have enlisted the assistance of Gambian Prince Sankanu. Here Sankanu outlines the aims and process involved in establishing this new and exciting development for Africa on the Ball. 

The Africa On The Ball (AOTB) organization is expanding its footprint across the African continent with an innovative poverty eradication programme targeting youths, women, small entrepreneurs, special vulnerable groups like HIV/AIDS affected families and others.

The primary country of focus for this programme is the former British colony of The Gambia, located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. To institutionalize this programme and prepare it for sustainable operations, the AOTB Trustees have incorporated a non-profit charity called NABURINKA FAOUNDATION under the laws of The Gambia. The name NABURINKA is borrowed from the local Sarahulleh language and means “home of wealth” or “haven of wealth.” The name intends to break barriers and motivate the target communities into joining the programme for sustainable wealth creation at local levels.

The mission of NABURINKA FOUNDATION is to support the socio-economic developments of un-banked and vulnerable groups at grass-roots levels through microfinance, social entrepreneurship development and related services for an indefinite period of time.

ABOUT THE GAMBIA

The Gambia is mainland Africa’s smallest country with a territorial size of 11,295 sq km (4,361 sq miles) and a population of about 1,908,954 inhabitants. It was one of the hotspots of the Trans Atlantic Slave trade. Over 3 millions people were reportedly captured from the Gambian river basin and shipped to the Americas. The current boundary was agreed in 1889 between the French and the British who were competing for territorial control of the West African region. The country’s tropical Sahelian-Savannah climate is dominated by two distinct seasons – the rainy months from June to September and dry season from October to June.

The Gambia gained its independence from Britain on the 18 February 1965 and was governed by Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara for three decades He was replaced by the current President Alhagie Yahya Jammeh in 1994. The country still maintains full diplomatic, cultural, social and economic ties with the United Kingdom.

The official language of The Gambia is English and there are 8 different ethnic groups. The largest group is Mandinka comprising about 41% of the population. The Wolof is the second biggest group with 15%. The Fula with 19%, the Jola with 10%, the Sarahulleh with 8%, the Serer with 2.5%, the Aku with 0.8% and the Manjago with 1.7%. The relationships between the various groups are cordial as they inter-marry and live in pluralists settlements. French is a secondary language taught in some junior schools. The presence of tourists and investors from Europe has opened the country to Scandinavian, Italian, Dutch, German and French languages that are spoken mainly around the urban areas.

Islam is the dominant religion practised by 85% of the population. The dominant Islamic form is the moderate Sunni-Sufi denomination with elements of traditional African belief systems. This is evident through the practice of the Mouride Brotherhood with their Rastafari hairstyle and the popular patronization of native doctors. Christians comprise 10% of the religious population. Groups like the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Pentecostals have strong presence as well. The legal system of The Gambia is a combination of the British common law, African customary law and elements of the Islamic Sharia governing marriages and inheritance issues of the Muslims who prefer not to follow the common law.

The Gambian economy is largely dependant on tourism, fishing, agriculture and remittances. Its sandy beaches are favoured destination for European holiday makes especially during the tourist season between October and April. The country is 6 to 7 hours flights away from Europe depending of the airport of choice. Commercial tourism is concentrated on the Atlantic coast line within designated Tourism Development Area (TDA). There are huge potentials for eco-tourism especially along the banks of the country’s long river. There is a four-day working system for public administration from Mondays to Thursdays.

There are seven administrative regions namely Banjul, Kanifing Municipality (KM), West Coast Region (WCR), Lower River Region (LRR), North Bank Region (NBR), Central River Region (CRR) and Upper River Region (URR).

SPECIFIC TARGET GROUPS BENEFICIARIES – PRIORITZING THE POOR

The poverty rate in The Gambia is one of the highest among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The country is ranked 168 out of 187 on the 2011 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Over 60 percent of the country 1.8 million populations is poor and depends on rudimentary farming for livelihood. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IAFA) counted the rural population in 2014 and put the figures at 782, 385. Out of this, 578, 182, 5 are considered poor. This group form part of the main priority target beneficiaries of AOTB’ss microfinance programme. The scope of the specifics target groups of the NABURINKA include:

· The youths and women both as individuals and interest or trades groups,

· Migrants and expatriates in Europe sending funds home to The Gambia and other West African countries,

· Micro entrepreneurs as skill workers like hairdressers, carpenters, car washers, mechanics, dressmakers, miners, restaurant owners, commercial (taxi) drivers, carpenter, cyber café/club owners, etc.,

· Professional workers like secretaries, teachers, nurses, labourers, etc.,

· Farmers and cottage industries.

· Migrants interested in starting small businesses buying retirement homes in The Gambia.

RISK FACTORS AND MITIGANTS

Like all Least Developed Countries (LDCs), there are risks associated with projects in The Gambia. Besides the administrative limitation and slow bureaucracy, the AOTB has identified these risks and devised short, medium and long-term mitigants to make them calculable.

The first risk is the high illiteracy among the 578, 182, 5 inhabitants it is targeting. They are part of the informal sectors and are not used to the formal book keeping and trade practices.

To mitigate this risk, the microfinance programmes aims to training them in functional literacy and basic small business management before providing the micro-loans needed to kick-start their respective petty trades in the rural or urban areas. AOTB/NABURINKA hopes to work with business mentors and angels from Scotland/UK, Europe and other places as well as the Gambia in executing this critical aspect of this programme.

The second risk is the policy frame work. The central bank of The Gambia has a micro-finance unit to supervise the non-banking financial institutions. The regulatory capacity is still being developed. This AOTB programme will follow the best practices of other microfinance projects and ethical banks from the UK and Bangladesh (e.g. Grameen) and adapt them to The Gambia realities.

The third risk is the lack of collateral to secure the microfinance loans. This is however apparent since the philosophy and goal of the microfinance system is to support the sections of the populations that are marginalised by the conventional banking sectors. In The Gambia, AOTB’s microfinance programme has these migrants against non-secured loans: one, it will capitalize on the strong customary sense of community by working with women groups, clubs, village development committees and associations who will serve as collective guarantors for their members; two, professionals and skills labourers who want to operate workshops, will be provided the tools and equipment through the micro-leasing models. This means if for example, an auto mechanic or carpenter needs tools, NABURINKA FOUNDATION will first procure those tool and then hand over to him or her for operation. The tools remain property of NABURIKA until the time the auto mechanic/carpenters repays the due principal and costs as agreed.

As a general mitigant against the fourth risk of cash-flow shortages pressures on loan portfolio, all target beneficiaries are required to save with the programmes for at least 6 months and take part in small business training schemes before they can qualify for a loan. The local administrative structure of the NABURINKA FOUNDATION will be lean to help save costs and promote efficiency.

And to finally become resilience against the risk of short falls in donor funding in due course, AOTB/NABURINKA aim to expand its eco-tourism, remittance services for migrants and other ethical ventures that will generate funds to be invested in the microfinance and help offset non-performing loans given to some clients. Micro insurance, rural health care, expansion to neighbouring countries of Senegal, Guinea Bissau, etc., are promising steps that AOTB’s NABURINKA FOUNFATION will explore with the main of diversifying its income-generating and risk-mitigating activities in the medium and long term.

MULTIPLIER EFFECTS

The Gambia like most African countries has the extended family system where one breadwinner supports a phalanx of immediate and distance relatives. There is no employment and other state social benefits in The Gambia the families and communities assist their members through the customary common bonding of sharing and caring. A single beneficiary of this microfinance project will serve as multiplier who will share the benefits with other dependent in his or her community For instance a mother who gets a sewing machine to start a tailoring shop will generate income to support her children, parents, cousins, aunties uncles and grand parents. The village or community she leaves in will save time and travel course of securing the services of tailors in the towns and cities. Same applies to barbers, farmers, carpenters and other rural beneficiaries. Special groups like HIV/AIDS victims who benefit from this programme, will leave behind a solid source of income for their children or dependants who will be saved from the miseries of countless HIV/AIDS orphans without assets to inherit.

REVIVING THE COMMON MUNGO PARK SCOTTISH-GAMBIAN HERITAGE

The Gambia as a former British colony provides interesting historical linkages and anecdote with the United Kingdom and Scotland. Such links include the adventures of Scottish explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806) who sailed off from banks of The Gambian River in his search for the source of River Niger. An obelisk is erected in Karantaba Tenda on the banks of River Gambia in the Central River Region (CRR) in his memory.

The Africa On The Ball (AOTB) is hoping to transform this common Scottish-Gambia legacy into a productive win-win engagement for the citizens of the countries. The concert areas are eco-tourism for alternative and cultural or heritage travellers, exchange visits for schools, twinning between Scottish/UK communities and Gambia ones, rural health care and all others activities that will add value to its main microfinance programme.

AMPLE MARKET SPACE FOR PROJECT

Currently there are about 15 active and passive operators in The Gambian Microfinance market. They are no threat t as they do not have the capacity to dominate the market. Only 20 percent of The Gambia’s 1.8 million people have access to conventional banking services.

The remaining 80 percent that is part of the informal sector serves as a lucrative market for non-banking finance institutions that the Africa On The Ball’s (AOTB) subsidiary charity NABURINKA FOUNDATION will tap into for sustainable growth.

Now that the legal registration of NABURINKA FOUNDATION in The Gambia is completed, the Africa On The Ball is working to mobilize the resources needed to operationally the programme on the ground as soon as feasible.

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