A microcredit program for women
The First Step Project is the foundation’s oldest project. Sabab Lou started First Step in 2009 under its original name, So Memu. Located in the Ashanti region of central Ghana, the project’s aim was to help the most vulnerable women, mostly single women in and around Offinso, to start their own business. Women who were not eligible for a bank loan because of a lack of securities, were able to apply for a microloan for the equivalent of 60-80 Euros. The credits were distributed by Sabab Lou’s local partner organization, the newly-founded First Step Foundation (FSF) in Offinso.
During the project’s first 10 years, over 1,800 women were granted loans that allowed them to create a source of income for themselves, giving them both ownership and agency.
From the beginning, the First Step Project enjoyed great success. In fact, as of 2014, only five years after its initiation, the FSF was financially self-sustaining, and three years later by mutual agreement between FSF and Sabab Lou, the FSF became independent of Sabab Lou in its day-to-day business, taking on full responsibility for all its microloans in 2017.
Partner organizations are a vital part of Sabab Lou’s work, however in 2019, Sabab Lou discovered that the director of the First Step Foundation had been embezzling funds since 2018. In response, Sabab Lou immediately filed a complaint against him, terminated ties, and closed the office in Offinso. The project was terminated, Sabab Lou will not start a new microcredit project.
The embezzled funds made up just over half of the credit entrusted to the FSF. Luckily the lost funds were largely recovered through the liability insurance of Sabab Lou.
After years of collaborative work, Sabab Lou is deeply saddened by the incident. To ensure against any future misuse of funds, the Foundation will insist on that the local organizations that it collaborates with have functioning supervisory boards in place. Moving forward, loans will only be granted to participants of Sabab Lou’s agricultural projects.