A global financial institution recently visited Benin. They decided to target African francophone countries because: 1) the solutions they offer are unknown to the public; 2) there is little ongoing financing by the financial institution in francophone countries due to cultural and language gaps; 3) of the need to go beyond statistics and make direct contact with the target population and 4) Africa is “hot” right now, in terms of potential, market and growth rate. However, in order to really take advantage of this visit to maximize benefit to both the financial institution and to potential borrowers, I had to learn to present “outside of the box” opportunities in such a way as to make them understandable and interesting to the financial institution. This meant bridging a gap in understanding and perspective to bring the two sides closer together. Here are some lessons I learned for facilitating finance:
The right people in the room:
When the visit was announced, it was critical to identify the “right people” to be invited. Who are the bank managers most likely to understand the opportunity presented and take action? Who are the most credible entrepreneurs and associations Who really represents the priority sectors of health and agriculture? How do you ensure that roundtable discussions are inclusive and representative, of all layers of a sector, and all people?
I contacted umbrella organizations that bring together multiple women’s associations. Women’s associations may intervene in the agricultural sector, or in general economic activities and show huge potential. However, most of the women we contacted were uninterested in participating because they were unsure of what they would present or whether to trust the veracity of the invitation. Getting them to come required follow up and explanation of who was coming and why.
Be on message:
Once the women agreed to participate, we needed to make sure they were on message in the roundtables. They needed to understand the objective of the visit, they needed to practice how they would present their activity and how an investment would fit with the financial institution's priorities. The roundtable participants needed to use the phrases, terms and ideas of interest to the financial institution in order to “speak the same language.” Not only did they have to practice, but they had to understand why talking about themselves in such an unusual way was critical to success.
Know your worth:
In practicing for the roundtables, we realized that the women’s humility and modesty would get the best of them. Collectively, five women represented more than 4 million USD invested in a local microfinance institution. By presenting their monetary worth – as well as the fact that they represented hundreds of stakeholders through their network of associations – the women were able to offer a more compelling and interesting opportunity to the international finance company. These opportunities might have been ignored without the preparation and hard work of so many.
Hugues Lokossa is a supply chain management, heath systems strengthening and program management expert with more than 15 years of experience. Mr. Lokossa has worked with private and non-profit sectors, in both Benin, Haiti and Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is part of AEI’s ecosystem of experts.