There’s a world of difference between Cari Mason’s job as a personal banking advisor in Canada and her eight-month stint last year as operations manager at First MicroBank Mozambique. What both jobs – and banks – have in common, however, is their ability to change people’s lives, says Ms. Mason.
At the Toronto bank where Ms. Mason works, personal banking clients typically seek financing in the tens of thousands of dollars. At First MicroBank Mozambique, created in 2009 by the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, Ms. Mason oversaw loans for the equivalent of only a few hundred dollars each granted to clients too poor to access conventional sources of credit.
First MicroBank Mozambique provides micro-loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Portuguese-speaking, southeastern African republic. Ms. Mason had the opportunity to work in the province of Cabo Delgado through a fellowship run by Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC), a non-profit international development agency that supports social development programs in Asia and Africa.
The idea of micro-financing caught Ms. Mason’s interest in 2006 when Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his micro-credit banking program, which gave loans to poor people without collateral. When Ms. Mason learned that AKFC offered a fellowship focusing on micro-finance, she seized on the chance to see this development approach in action.
What she witnessed was remarkable.
“One woman had a little shop in the market, which her son helped her run,” she recalls. “With her first loan, which was for about $550 US, she doubled her shop in size. With her second loan, she filled her shop with merchandise from floor to ceiling and now wants to start wholesaling so she can supply other little shops.”
Another client, who sells dry goods such as peanuts, maize, millets and peas, was able to buy her goods in bulk because of a loan from First MicroBank Mozambique. Her earnings are meager, but enough to live on and pay for schooling for her son, daughter and nephew.
The bank has also been giving out “salary-based” loans to employed Mozambicans who need money for expenses such as fixing their homes, putting their children through school, or funding an on-the-side business.
“Very few people in Mozambique have credit cards, and a high percentage of people don’t even have bank accounts,” says Ms. Mason, noting that salary-based loans, like credit cards or bank loans, offer more immediate access to a lump sum of money.
Today, Ms. Mason is getting ready to enter the MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Her eight-month stay in Mozambique has reset her life’s compass toward a new direction – and she intends to follow it.
“I believe in micro-finance as an effective form of development,” she says. “Banking is really about helping people. When you help a client buy their first home, or get out of debt, or implement a savings plan, it feels hugely satisfying because you know you’ve done something that’s going to a make a difference in that person’s life.”
Learn more about Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s International Fellowship program at akfc.ca.