SIERRA LEONE: One year already for Munafa!
Hello everyone! We have just returned from our mission to Sierra Leone, where we visited Munafa, our social microfinance programme. We went to meet the beneficiaries and our colleagues from Munafa, recruited, trained and led by Alfred Jusu and Romane Limoges, Entrepreneurs du Monde’s pioneers in Sierra Leone. They have been doing a great job for the past year and are already supporting 1,400 entrepreneurs, 89% of whom are women!
In the local language, Munafa means empowerment, improvement, progress… and that’s what our 20 colleagues in Munafa are providing in terms of savings, credit and training services!
To show you how they support these poor yet enterprising people on a daily basis, let us take you with them through three of the capital’s shanty towns…
Leslie Gomez, Business Partnerships Manager
Louis Cazemajour, Donor Relations Officer
First, let’s meet Alfred Jusu, director of Munafa
“Sierra Leone is 181st of 189 countries in the HDI index. Yet we have mineral resources – diamonds, iron and bauxite, and uncultivated arable land. But in the past two decades, three major disasters have pushed back our already fragile economy: a horrific civil war (1991-2002), the Ebola epidemic (2014-2016) that killed more than 4,000 people, and then a dramatic landslide in Freetown (2017). Since then, the economy has recovered, but the disparity between rich and poor is growing.
At Munafa, we believe we can help change this narrative by providing the poorest with solid tools to start, consolidate and grow their businesses, and increase their skills on all fronts.
They are then able to pull their family out of the economics of survival and make them part of a more project-based model, so they can take their place in their community and participate in the development of their country!
Supporting entrepreneurship among the poorest means focusing on the whole country rather than losing talent and increasing the ranks of the exodus!”
Let’s embark in the slum of Kanikay, northeast Freetown…
This is a sprawling area, both luminous and sinister: under the sun, not far from the sea, hundreds of very tightly packed tin huts, and all around, piles of rubbish and pools of stagnant water. Everyone was out, looking focused, to go and make their few leones for that day.
Abass, a Munafa facilitator, began his first training session of the day, with a group of about thirty people. Romane explained how to run a group of micro-entrepreneurs: “We ask micro-entrepreneurs to attend all fortnightly meetings, and for their active participation. They must also save at least 6,000 leones at each meeting (€0.60) and only receive their first loan after five training sessions. This gives us time to create a relationship of trust, a vital requirement in a methodology where trust is our only guarantee.”
We go up to Alice Conteh, who often put her hand up during the meeting. She is a restaurateur and has received her second loan (1 million leones, €100), to be repaid with a monthly interest rate of 2%. This may seem expensive, but the rate is lower than with loan sharks and other microfinance institutions and will allow Munafa to achieve financial balance in 6 years, and thus her future independence.
Alice works hard and has business acumen. She repaid her first loan and has actively participated in the training sessions.
We follow her to her point of sale, where she prepares and sells cookies and doughnuts in front of a school gate. It’s the right time, customers are flocking to her and sales are good. Abass took advantage of a lull to take stock with her about her loan, her business, her stock, her difficulties and her achievements. Alice’s pride and the trust between the two of them are almost tangible.
Let’s join Adama in the Susan’s Bay slum…
We walked in single file behind Alusine, a Munafa facilitator, through increasingly narrow and dark alleys. Sheriff warned us: “Susan’s Bay is one of the poorest parts of Freetown. It’s often ravaged by fires, floods and disease. The people here have nothing. This is the place for us!”
The population density is quite something, it’s teeming with life and stalls selling a few tomatoes and bars of soap. We weren’t comfortable and felt like we were invading a country where we weren’t welcome. But this discomfort soon passed when we heard the joyful cry of several women, “Munafa! Munafa!” We clearly were welcome after all!
We ended up in a kind of square, surprisingly quiet for the midst of a teeming shanty town. The local entrepreneurs’ meeting was being held there, next to Adama’s house. Alusine explained to the group the basics of good inventory management. Everyone was paying close attention and participating actively. Adama raised her hand to answer a question. She was elected chair of her group and we were struck by her charisma, her ability to set an example and how she instils confidence in her sisters.
Adama makes soap, but not just any soap. Her recipe is pure and unadulterated, so it’s widely appreciated throughout the shanty town. She supplies a whole network of retailers.
One day, the shanty town, her home, her production tools and her savings were all ravaged by fire. All her work was reduced to dust. But with support from Munafa, Adama has relaunched her business, made all the more necessary by the fact Adama is raising six children: two of her own and four others, whose parents have either died or are experiencing major issues. Adama is a shining light in her community, one who spreads hope.
Finally, let’s go with Khadija on the heights of the city …
She will be leading two training courses and will then visit several entrepreneurs, taking the time to take stock with them. Before leaving, Khadija conscientiously reviewed her presentation, threw herself into her session and asked for tips from her colleagues who had led the module on stock management. She picked up all her records and gave the green light to get going.
We arrive in Dwarzak, a shanty town on a mountainside where walking is the only means of transport available. Steep terrain, a rocky path… There are no roads in this shanty town, which stretches as far as the eye can see. The buildings here are made of sheet metal, with some space between them. Many residents have access to a small courtyard and a tree. It looks more liveable than the shanty town by the sea, but access to water and electricity remains an issue. And the area is at the mercy of landslides.
Khadija travels the roads at full speed. She knows the area like the back of her hand. She is part of this community and is close to the beneficiaries, at the same time knowing how to maintain a very professional distance.
We arrive at Yeabu Komeh’s, a restaurant offering several dishes, including Potato Leaves stew, a dish very popular with pregnant women for its high iron and vitamin content. Since she started receiving support from Khadija, Yeabu has doubled her output. She has the funds to buy more ingredients and can now stay open for two sittings.
The training sessions take place in a house next door and begins with a song and dance: “We always start with these kind of icebreakers, they give women a space to shrug off their concerns, makes them more receptive to the training and less shy to ask questions and share experiences”, explains Khadija, who persuades each entrepreneur to take part, so they can take ownership of the training tools and fully assimilate the key concepts.
After conducting two training sessions for two cohorts of 20 women, Khadija visits her entrepreneurs. She prioritises those experiencing issues or who are not attending the sessions, in an attempt to understand the reason for their absence, remind them of the rules of a Munafa group, check the extent to which they are involved and receive the loan payments due. These meetings also quietly show up domestic violence, a sick child, an issue with the business and more.
For now, Khadija is supporting each of them with all her might. But she can’t wait for a social worker to join the team, as was the case with older Entrepreneurs du Monde programmes, to help these entrepreneurs faster.
Khadija speaks of her mission with moving enthusiasm and pride: “This is the first time women here in Dwarzak have been offered support with their small businesses. Unsecured loans and training! They’ve never had these options before. Munafa means they can do business like anyone else, make progress and improve their income. These entrepreneurs are my family, my sisters. Thank you on their behalf!” Khadija’s words have also been echoed by Abass, Alusine, Romane and others. The team is close-knit, passionate and efficient. Its services perfectly meet the needs of vulnerable people running a small business. It is therefore overwhelmed by requests for support and is preparing to open its third and fourth Freetown branches in June, then plans to extend to isolated rural areas in 2021.
Thank you for sharing this field trip with us!