Interview with Lawrence Osei Asamoah, head of the First Step Foundation, on how to fight poverty with micro loans in Ghana.
Lawrence has been with Sabab Lou from the very beginning. We, my husband and I, first met him in 2008 when we were looking for projects to support. At the time Lawrence was managing the project of a Ghanaian NGO, helping poor women by handing out donations to them. We were pleased by the idea of helping the poor and needy women to stand up and walk on their own. But we did not simply want to hand out donations. Why not help the women to build a small business by granting them micro-loans? Lawrence liked the idea. That is how we started the So Memu Project. 2 years ago the project had grown so big that we decided to establish a Ghanaian NGO funded by Sabab Lou, the First Step Foundation. In October 2014, we met Lawrence for an interview in Offinso, Ghana.
SL: What was your first impression when we met in 2008?
LA: In the project that I was working for at that time, we were relying on donations. I soon realized that this would not take us far, but my advice was not taken seriously. So, it was a good coincidence that Sabab Lou came up with the idea of micro loans to empower women into trading.
SL: We look at a true success story. We started out with a loan fund of 1.500 Euro and 8 beneficiaries. This year we are going to help 250 women to get into business. Along the way which were your biggest challenges?
LA: Starting with the core group was very difficult. The concept of micro loans was not known and it needed a lot of explanation. People were used to donations and tried to find ways not to pay us back. I had to learn who is committed and trustworthy. Now, with a proper assessment and the experience I gained, it is much easier.
SL: Establishing the NGO First Step Foundation, was it a good decision?
LA: Creating our own organisation helped to decide whom to take on the So Memu program. It is good to help people who really want to change their life situation and are willing to make an effort. It is enriching, but First Step Foundation is also a huge responsibility.
SL: What is the future outlook for the First Step Foundation?
LA: The future outlook is bright. This program really helps reducing poverty. Even though more banks go into micro funding, there is not the trust and the assistance we give. Uplifting the economic situation of the women means empowering them. Meeting with the women from the first group, seeing them still in business and being successful, shows that we are on the right track.