The region we call 'West-Africa' is larger than the EU. Mariam Dao Gabala, who has been its regional manager for Oikocredit, talks about local conditions, challenges and opportunities.
You wouldn't get far with our perspective
"Would you invest in a region like this?" asks Mariam, showing images of a family in Benin, all five of them on the same moped. And of two prehistoric trucks, driving through Chad with a heavy load and a sheer uncountable number of passengers.
"With your European perspective, probably the first thing you notice is that there's too many people on that moped, that they're not wearing helmets and that the insurance company probably wouldn't pay out in case of an accident.
But this family doesn't have insurance, and that moped for them is the only method of getting from A to B. Just like those people on the trucks, who maybe only pass these villages once a month.
Throughout her talk, Mariam emphasises one thing above all else: with our perspective, we're not going to understand West-Africa. Where we see only risks, they see chances.
A trusted partner, even in times of crisis
Oikocredit sees those chances. Mariam was our first staff member in the region. Over twenty years ago, she had to build our local operations from scratch. It wasn't always easy. Especially during the civil unrest in Côte d'Ivoire, where our regional office is located."
During the latest unrest in 2011, the office had to close for months. Many of our partners - the microfinance institutions and cooperatives in which we invest - also suffered during the political crisis, which turned into an economic crisis.
"We stopped the repayment schedule for our partners for six months, so that they only had to repay after conditions had improved."
A shelter in a market hall
One exceptional project, which has been very dear to Mariam from the start, is the construction of a market hall for women's market vendor association Cocovico.
During the street fighting in Abidjan starting in 2011, the market functioned as shelter for about 600 people. It was the only market in the northern part of the city that could still provide people with food.
Mariam likens the current state of affairs in West-Africa to a "teenage crisis". West-Africa cannot import solutions, norms and ways of doing things from Europe. They need to find their own ways of working, which fit with their own history and traditions.
Mariam likes to explain that microfinance is not an imported product. There were already functioning microfinance systems in Africa. What organisations like Oikocredit do is help improve and facilitate, with working capital, investments and capacity building.
Invest for impact
And this is where the opportunity lies for people all over the world who want to feel good about the money they're currently not using. Money always has an impact on the world: even when it's "sitting in a bank" it is used to invest in all sorts of enterprises.
So why not use your money to invest for a positive impact as well as a solid return? That is what the founders of Oikocredit asked themselves. Not giving money away, but creating a business relationship with people like the vendors of Cocovico. Recognising the opportunity. And at a minimum £150 investment, it's not just for big institutional investors.
Do you recognise the opportunity? Find out how you can make an investment that's as good for people as it is for your pocket.