Oikocredit Across Continents
Katharina Welp, communications officer at Oikocredit’s support association North East Germany in Berlin, completed a one-week exchange visit to Oikocredit’s head office in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. She met up with two colleagues from Oikocredit’s regional offices who were also in Amersfoort for an exchange.
Zion Ramos (project officer for Oikocredit South East Asia, based in Manila, the Philippines) and Viviana Cordero (communications officer for Oikocredit Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, based in San José, Costa Rica). Katharina interviewed them about their respective offices, roles and challenges.
Katharina Welp: Zion and Viviana, you both work for Oikocredit’s regional offices. What are your main tasks and functions?
Zion Ramos: I am responsible for managing the Vietnam and Indonesia portfolio. I am a project officer, evaluating and carrying out due diligence on all projects. Monitoring these projects is another responsibility, as is facilitating the disbursement of loans in the respective countries. I don’t do these things single handedly, I receive support from colleagues in the region who are experienced in preparing the necessary documentation and do other administrative tasks. I report to the regional director and the deputy regional director who oversee regional operations.
Viviana Cordero: I’m the regional communications officer for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. I am in charge of the marketing, communications and IT budgets, all the events in our region, the website and Facebook page, and all promotional materials. I also calculate our carbon footprint.
KW: How many partners do you have at the moment?
VC: In our region we have 136 partners in eight countries. Two of the countries in our region (Guatemala and Nicaragua) feature in the Top 10 countries in terms of having the highest capital outstanding in Oikocredit’s portfolio (annual report 2016).
ZR: We have 48 partners in Southeast Asia. Most are in the Philippines, with two in Vietnam and five in Indonesia.
KW: What are the main sectors in your region?
ZR: The Southeast Asia regional office is in Manila but we also have a country office in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh; the vast majority of projects relate to microfinance and other financial services.
VC: Most of our partners are cooperatives and microfinance institutions. However, our portfolio is highly diversified and includes agriculture, health care, manufacturing and renewable energy.
KW: Can you point to a particular success achieved by your regional office this year?
VC: I would say that we are working more efficiently and supporting our regional countries in a more integrated way. For example, one project officer in Mexico is helping another in the Dominican Republic, while a project officer from Guatemala helps colleagues in Nicaragua with the monitoring of visits and specific projects. In my own work, I am in closer contact with the international communications team; this helps us to be more aligned in terms of strategy, operations, market perspectives etc.
ZR: I agree, this also applies to my region.
KW: How often do you visit a partner in person?
ZR: The minimum frequency is once a year, but it might take place two or three times a year, depending on the needs identified for each partner. For example, if we have a new project we might have certain concerns or need to check things on the ground, all of which require a visit.
KW: How is your relationship with the partners?
VC: I think what makes Oikocredit special is that we have our network of country offices and people who know the markets very well. For example, when staff from the country offices visit partners in remote areas, the partners feel that we truly care about their needs, and for Oikocredit this leads to a real understanding of the situations faced by our partners. We are therefore in a position to provide better support.
You know it’s all worthwhile when a partner or one of its clients tells you that they feel that Oikocredit really cares about them. Lasting relationships are the result. We see that with many examples of partners we have seen grow over the years, and many of them stay with us.
ZR: One of the things that the partners also appreciate is capacity building training because they feel that our support is not just limited to loans. They see that we also want them to improve their own organisations.
KW: Could you give an example of such training?
ZR: Last year we organised a risk management framework programme for partners. The programme aimed to help partners set up risk management tools within their own organisations. Essentially, this is about developing policies to identify the types of risks their organisations face to enable them to become more proactive in dealing with such risks in the future and better equipped to deal with the unexpected. Not only does the tool enable them to be more prepared, it also makes them stronger as an organisation.
KW: And what are the main challenges in your region?
ZR: The market is becoming ever more competitive – there are more lenders, not just social lenders but also local banks who are able to provide very competitive loan rates. So growing our portfolio in the region becomes a challenge.
VC: Climate change and natural disasters have been among our main challenges in recent years.
KW: In Germany a new Oikocredit campaign was recently launched called Gutes Geld, or ‘’Good Money’’ in English. What does Good Money mean to you when it comes to Oikocredit and its partners?
VC: For me it means knowing where the money comes from, with the guarantee of having “ethical investors,” who want to put their savings into social and environmental impact projects, and get a triple return (i.e. a monetary, social and environmental return).
KW: Thank you very much for taking the time to tell our investors in Germany about your work in the regional offices and sharing the perspectives of our partners in your regions!