Microfinance in Africa: Profile of Five Talents International

30 05 2007

Originally published May 30, 2007 at dolechester.mbablogs.businessweek.com.

Microfinance, venture philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship have been generating good buzz for several years now, and I’ve learned a fair amount about the topics in the halls of Darden. But it wasn’t until last week that I actually heard eyewitness accounts of the successes of a microlending organization and connected real stories and pictures with small business loans, business training, and community development efforts in foreign countries.

I attended a reception at the home of Phillip Merrick, an important Washington area businessman, to hear his account of a trip he made with his wife to Africa. The Merricks traveled explicitly to meet clients of Five Talents International, a microlending and business training organization with some roots in the Anglican church and office in Vienna, VA. While Philip’s heart is certainly big, the purpose of his trip was to assess the bottom line of loans made to Five Talents’ clients in Africa.

A Kenyan newspaper – what Philip called the domestic equivalent of a Wall Street Journal – captured his attention as soon as he arrived at the airport. “3.5 Million Lifted From Poverty” read a headline, touting the effects of small business investments made in the country. I got to hear stories of several of the special individuals who have been part of the rising tide.

One woman began a brick-making operation, taking out a loan of roughly $150 to buy brick molds and hire a few laborers. Her business is booming and she is now supplying bricks for her burgeoning town – which counts the bricks an improvement from previous building materials used widely.

A man took out a $150 loan (or thereabouts) to purchase two pigs, which went on to have piglets. He was able to sell several and raise the others, profiting from both decisions. He took out additional loans for a tilapia farm, cows, and goats, building “an integrated, diversified agricultural business” in Philip’s admiring words. Applying loans totaling less than $600, this man has built a sustaining, profitable business that is providing for himself and his family – including his 12 children which all are able to attend private school and gain greater hope for their own futures.

One of the statistics offered by Five Talents was that, for every individual they lend to, six people are provided for – providing real measurement of changed lives and impact of borrowed dollars on a bottom line of profound meaning.

Folks from Five Talents also described the opportunities they create to connect successful businesspeople from America with “business missions” in their lending markets – sending eager folks like you and me to provide training programs in marketing, entrepreneurship, management and administration to the clients of Five Talents.

If you’re excited about the prospects of microlending, I definitely recommend contacting the folks at Five Talents to find out how to become personally involved – whether through lending or by contributing your own time to train small business owners in good business practices. If you’re a business school student, you might invite them to speak at your school for a Net Impact, social entrepreneurship, microfinance, or angel investment group; I hope to have them speak at Darden this coming fall.




One response

22 04 2010

I spend sometime with Five Talents UK during my degree and I still have a massive passion for this work. They are truly transforming lives all across the world.

Get involved!

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