“We support long term solutions”

The First Step Foundation is a successful example of how microcredits can support long term business ideas. Out of 175 women, 138 are still in business two years later. What’s the secret behind this? An interview with director Lawrence Osei Asamoah. 

It all started in 2009 – with the So Memu project of Sabab Lou. The idea was to support the business ideas of women, who would otherwise not be able to get a credit by any official bank because of missing credential. With these microcredits the women should be enabled to build up their own business and earn their own living.

After the first successful years, Sabab Lou decided to hand over the responsibility to Lawrence Osei Asamoah in 2012. He had run the project from the very beginning. This is when Sabab Lou and Lawrence founded the First Step Foundation.

Over the course of four years and under the guidance of Lawrence, the project has developed very successfully: Almost all of the women could pay back their loans within the first year. Even better: from 175 loans that were granted in 2013, at least 138 women are still in business two years later. Likely even more, but since they moved away we cannot account for them. These are wonderfully encouraging numbers. So I asked myself: How does Lawrence do it?

QUESTION: Lawrence, how do you make sure that the women return their loans and successfully stay in business, even for many years?

There is no secret behind this. I always take much time to do a thoughtful assessment of the people. Having a good business idea is not enough. In order to keep the business running over many years, you need the right motivation. And people are not always who they say they are. So I try to find out more about them and ask about their life and personality in their communities. At times, those who rush me the most, often need the money for other purposes than for their businesses. But it is not our job to help people with their debts. We don´t support dependencies, we support long term solutions. The goal of the First Step Foundation is to enable people to earn their own living and find their way out of poverty.

QUESTION: Since four years, the First Step Foundation is financially independent. What do you wish for the future?

929_Jennifer AsareWith the necessary resources and assistance I would wish to expand the project to other communities even beyond the Offinso South Municipality. As soon as the women pay back their first loan and have the drive and expertise to enhance their business, I would wish to support them with a second loan, thereby creating new job opportunities for other women as well. Also: by now some women like Jennifer Asare for example, have been in business a long time and have a lot of Know-How. I would like to enable them as mentors, so that they can help other women start a business.

QUESTION: What is your most fun / nice memory? What is the hardest thing about the job?

The happiest moment is always, when I meet these women that are still in business after their payback – like Agnes for example. She was one of the first participants of the So Memu Projekt in 2009. She has HIV – but also a strong will. She didn’t want to be dependent on anybody to be able to afford and buy the life sustaining medicine. So she applied for a loan and after six years she is still in business, putting savings aside, for the emergency. She really makes you believe that anything is possible.

The hardest thing is, when someone does not manage to pay back the loan on time. It tears me apart when I see them struggling. I try to advise but I also have to be firm and make sure they pay back, so that other women can get a loan and have a chance to stand on their own feet.

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Joyful reunion. Lawrence visits Agnes at the market.

 

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