In March 2013, I traveled to South Africa as a Bankers without Borders volunteer with the objective of assisting the Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF) with the certification of the correct use of the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI), a poverty measurement tool developed by Grameen Foundation. PPI certification is recognized by industry bodies and investors alike, and will help SEF enhance transparency, gain recognition within the microfinance industry, and may even lead to receiving favorable terms from socially-focused investors. SEF is a microfinance institution headquartered in Tzaneen, South Africa that aims to eliminate poverty by creating a supportive environment where credit and savings services foster sustainable income generation, job creation and social empowerment. It assists over 87,0001 clients, 99% of whom are women, and has disbursed over $200 million USD in loans since its inception in 1992.
Even though South Africa is one of the most developed countries in Africa, it still faces a number of significant challenges, including its transition from apartheid, social inequality, rampant poverty at the bottom of the pyramid, and having the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, among others.
Given the challenges facing South Africa and my curiosity in microfinance, this was a great opportunity to match my interests and contribute to SEF’s main objective of alleviating poverty in South Africa.
I had a remarkable volunteer experience. I found a country rich in resources, nature, human capital, and hard-working people with strong community ties. I was hosted by a highly motivated and proud staff at SEF. I also had the opportunity to meet SEF clients who have taken advantage of access to formal financial markets. These clients have generated and increased their income and improved their quality of life in ways such as building or furnishing a house for their families.
To those interested in microfinance, emerging markets, or looking to contribute to alleviate poverty, I highly recommend volunteering with Bankers without Borders.
--William Arambula, J.P. Morgan