5 years later...

Five Talents' supporter Martin Williamson returns to Tanzania

I have just returned from a trip to Iringa in western Tanzania to visit the Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF). There were six members of the group made up of Five Talents staff, trustees and supporters.

I last visited MBF just over 5 years ago and I was really encouraged by the changes that I saw in the operation and the reach of the team. Five years ago there was a small team of five working out of a small office serving around 2,000 clients. Most of the clients were based in and around Iringa. There was concern as to how the project which had been operating for just over 2 years would develop, become sustainable and grow into the vision that Bishop Donald had for it to help the poor out of their poverty.

Encouraging Growth

The organisation that faced me this time was a confident, well managed and much larger operation that was now serving just under 6,000 clients spread over a much wider area of the region. The team is currently led by Japhet Makau a businessman who also operates two schools and is a member of the board of trustees for MBF. He is planning to step down from his role as CEO at the end of the year and the hunt is on for a replacement who can take MBF onto the next level of its development.

However as with any growing organisation it continues to face challenges which need to be overcome in order to meet the vision that Bishop Donald still has for MBF. Some of these challenges are a result of being a successful and sought out MFI and possibly the clearest one is a lack of loan capital to increase the number of clients who can benefit from MBF. In order to fund the expansion MBF have borrowed from a local bank but as they have limited resources this can only be part of the solution. In addition as the clients businesses have developed they are requesting ever bigger loans from MBF and there is a need to find ways in which clients can be encouraged to graduate away from MBF to the next level of financial institution.

Looking to the Future

As solar power has become more accessible MBF has started to provide loans for a solar power kit. This enables the clients in remote areas with no other source of electricity to have light in their homes. This is much safer than lamps and will enable children in the households to study more efficiently.

During our visit we were privileged to witness the opening of the first branch office at Mafinga which is about 100 kms south west of Iringa. The new branch has about 15 centres with roughly 40 clients in each centre. This represents a great opportunity to spread the work of MBF in this area. The role of the 5 staff in the office will show whether the MBF model can replicate itself outside the immediate surroundings of Iringa. If they are successful then with the right personnel and the support of diocesan leaders the MBF model could bring hope and relief to other areas of Tanzania especially in rural areas where few other MFI are prepared to venture.

As I look back on the trip there are many things to be thankful for including:

  1. The vision of Bishop Donald, which has not dimmed even in retirement or due to other demands on his time;
  2. The great work in setting up and establishing MBF by the previous CEO;
  3. The vision and drive of the current CEO and the team that he has built up in MBF;
  4. The dedication and professionalism of the loan officers and their willingness to travel long distances to meet, train and service the needs of the clients in the rural centres;
  5. The opening of the first branch office in Mafinga and the extension of MBF to the Mufundi district.

There are many challenges ahead that the organisation needs to overcome if they are to continue to serve the poor in both urban and rural areas these include:

  1. A new CEO who can share the vision to grow and develop the scope of MBF and its operations;
  2. The growth of a local support network which can make MBF sustainable within Tanzania;
  3. The successful operation of the new branch; so please pray for the staff in Mafinga;
  4. Opportunities to help clients graduate to the next level of financial institution as their businesses grow and become more successful.

However some things have remained the same from my first visit back in 2009 and the most striking are the stories the clients tell of the differences that MBF has made to their life and the lives of their families. This gives them self confidence and a hope for the future and can also demonstrate the love of the church for the poor and marginalised and that they are not forgotten. There is a great benefit for the clients and the communities in which they live in having the support and facilities that MBF can offer and we need to find ways in which Five Talents can partner MBF into its next level of development.