Open Space with…

Whilst in Wa, the Hong Kong University students along with Sebastian, Philippa, and Tina were fortunate enough to sit and talk with Emmanuel Volsuuri, who has been working with NGOs in Ghana for a number of years. This was a great example of information sharing between Light for Children and Emmanuel, who is a wonderful source of local information, offering great insight to the role, impact, struggles, and successes of NGOs in Ghana, and more specifically the Northern Region.

The issue of microfinance was first on the agenda. Emmanuel took us through the trials and tribulations of working in this field: how initial loans directly given to people in rural Upper West were perceived as gifts, with repayments almost non-existent, after years of aid and charity work forming a handout mentality amongst the people. They were able to break the cycle with a system tried and tested in Senegal. Here is a brief rundown of how the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) works.

With emergency capital available from the NGO, the community itself pooled its money and loaned it to each other.  Gender specific groups formed within each village, meeting weekly to air ideas, issues and find group-led solutions. (Grouping by gender tended to prevent male domination in meetings, and avoid tensions between husband and wife when the time came to go home!). With an NGO representative present, each member of the group contributed money, literally placing it into a box with three different compartments. Each compartment had its own key, and the three keys were given to three different people, while one person took charge of the box each week.

When someone wished to take a loan, he or she would present a plan, and the group would decide whether or not loan the group’s money, and how much interest would be added. A loan of 10 Ghana cedi may be repaid with interest of 1 Ghana cedi after three months, for example.  At the year’s end, all interest would be divided amongst the group members. Any money borrowed from the NGO would be repaid at this point without interest.

This microfinance method empowered and involved the community, and rate of repayment was far higher because the responsibility was divided equally amongst group members.

This was a practice that had been passed from Plan International’s Senegal branch, through Plan Ghana branch and to RAAP (Rural Aid Action Programme).  Unfortunately, one of the issues Emmanuel also brought forth was the often unwillingness of organizations to share successful practices out of fear that other NGOs would ‘steal their funding’ – or unhealthy competition that was too common among some NGOs. When asked how many people working for local NGOs chose their work because of their passion to help others versus the financial gain, he said he thought maybe 3% worked because of their passion.  When asked about foreign NGOs, he ventured 0.5%.

While these figures may be a bit extreme his point was that way the funds an NGO raise are distributed is often far from ideal. He cited a local NGO director who used his NGO’s money to fund his own political campaign and a foreign NGO who held an overly lavish holiday party that included copious amounts of food, Champagne, wine, and many invited guests.

Overall the image is positive, with empowerment and organic growth being the standout factors that are causing passion to win over profit. Keep up the good work and we hope to hear much more from you soon!

Light for Children is hoping to host Emmanuel in Kumasi soon for a knowledge sharing forum and further collaboration between our NGOs and regions of Ghana. Many thanks to him for sharing his time and valuable experience in our Open Space discussion.

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