Accion Ambassadors Blog

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“My future is bright”: the story of Madam Olori E. Odidbo

The pride of every microfinance institution is to know that its  support brings change to the lives of its micro-entrepreneurs and other low-income earners in society. This motivates microfinance institutions like Accion Microfinance Bank in Nigeria to want to do more. Continue reading


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Week two: Lessons, birthdays, and visits

The pouring rain in Lagos this weekend marked a refreshing start for my busy week ahead. The second week in my ambassadorship program started off with my first ever Yoruba language lesson – “ekaro” – which means, “good morning.” I’m starting to pick up on  Nigerian dialects through my colleagues!  I was happy to also know I actually pronounced it just like a Yoruba. But even more exciting, for my reward, I  was given  a Nigerian name – Ajoke – which means, “everyone cares for you.” So for the rest of my stay in Lagos, kindly call me Ajoke. 🙂 Continue reading


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Anything but typical: A day in the life of an Accion Ambassador

I think it is important to note that the typical day in my life as an Accion Ambassador is anything but typical. My day starts at about 6a.m., when I wake up. I usually get to work between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Once I get in, I create a list of things I would like to accomplish for the day. Some typical items on the list – going on client visits, visiting staff at branches, meeting with loan officers and branch managers, meetings with management, etc – are usually remnants from previous days.

On a day I am to visit branches, I plan to leave the office at 9 a.m., but the company driver is usually not ready till after 10 a.m. because he is probably on assignment and had to fight the incessant Lagos traffic to return. As I step out of the air-conditioned Accion Microfinance Bank (AMfB) building, I am instantly hit with the Lagos heat. I also take in the air and sound pollution fueled by the never ending Lagos hustle and characterized by honking cars in traffic, booming generators, and seemingly countless street vendors and pedestrians. I am to spend the next few hours taking all this in while I visit several AMfB branches.

Our driver, Fred (name disguised), then takes me from one branch to another so that I can interview AMfB customers and staff. Different branches exhibit different personalities – for example, the Ikeja branch is big, with a spacious waiting area while the Akowonjo branch could use some more space. The one thing that is constant in every branch I visit, however, is the constant activity in the bank. There are always customers in the waiting areas; staff swiftly pacing all over the bank; and people constantly coming in and going out. On the way back to AMfB headquarters, I patronize a street vendor selling gala – a popular Nigerian snack made with baked dough filled with sausage.

I return to AMfB headquarters at about 3:30 p.m. after having spent most of my day in traffic. It is now time to review my list of tasks for the day and check items off, but not before I am greeted with small chops – a small aluminum wrapped container filled with snacks, like spring rolls, samosas, fried plantain, puff-puff, and a couple of pieces of meat. At this point, I am wishing I had not purchase the gala.

One interesting thing about AMfB is how family oriented the work environment is. Every week since I started work, we have celebrated at least one person’s birthday with the distribution of small chops and complete meals. I also enjoy the open door policy of everyone, including the Managing Director. I have literally walked into her office without an appointment to ask questions about my project. But, perhaps what is most special about AMfB is the sense of purpose that has been distilled into the daily activities that the staff engages in. It truly is special.

My day usually ends promptly at 5 p.m. so that I do not keep our family driver waiting too long in the unpaved parking lot next to the AMfB building. In my many conversations with him, I recognize that he also has a life, and family, and dreams, and perhaps someday, he could be an AMfB client. Continue reading


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Traffic and Microfinance in Lagos, Nigeria

Last Sunday, I set foot for the first time in Lagos, Nigeria, accompanied by my two great supervisors, Francis (from Uganda) and Kwashie (from Ghana ).

What a busy and lively city, was my first reaction after the 45 minute flight from Accra.

We landed to the Lagos’s Murtala Muhammed airport (MMA). MMA is a bit larger than the Accra Kotoka airport, and, according to the federal airports authority of Nigeria (2006), it is the country’s busiest airport with nearly 900,00 passengers traveling through the domestics and international wings in just a three month period. Some construction was taking place to expand the airport when we arrived, mainly to the parking lot. The city of Lagos is among the most populated cities in Africa with a population of approximately 21 million. I was in awe when I realized that the population of Lagos is almost equal to the population of my whole country, Cote d’Ivoire, which has approximately 22 million people. Lagos is made up of a collection of islands connected by bridges. You can see a multitude of transit buses called “danfo” or “molue” (like the troto in Accra) getting people from one end to the other, but also intriguing are the keke napep tricycles on the same straight roads where others wait at bus stops.

One thing that surprised me as soon as I got into the city, was how some churches and mosques are very close to each other, only separated by one street, in some cases. And, I was even more surprised when registering for a mobile sim card, I was asked to specify my religious affiliation.

Generally speaking, the financial service industry in Nigeria is very developed, with many established banks and financial institutions. I was pleased to see how the Nigerian financial institution, United Bank of Africa (UBA), where I interned last year from the Dakar office, is leading the market in Lagos with its many branches throughout the city.

But, more importantly, I was there for the Training Need Assessment (TNA) of staff in the Nigerian microfinance industry, the project that I have been working on from Accra since I arrived. It was here that I would brave the intense traffic of Lagos to conduct the assessment. The TNA consists to gathering information around the training needs of select heads of staff from leading MFIs in Ghana and Nigeria. Then, that information is used to develop new programs, customized mainly for middle management, to address the needs that were identified in the TNA. The goal is to strengthen and develop the skills and capacities of the staff at local MFIs. Better staff lead to better operations, and that is good for the clients.

The methodology for the first part of the project is pretty simple: either send the online survey by email, conduct a phone interview, or, interview the MFI staff in person. It is the latter that brought me to Lagos. As we all  have experienced, face-to-face interaction is the best means of communications. In just five short days, I visited seven different Nigerians MFIs (including Accion partner, Accion Microfinance Bank), and  interviewed staff from all areas of their work: the heads of  the Human Resources department, the Operations department, and the Credit department, and the Branch managers of four institutions. Everyone I met with was very accommodating to the project and provided great input from their personal experiences and job priorities related to their own training needs and those of the MFI in general. At some places, I was faced with additional security measures, because of the latest attack in Abuja. Roads and streets have written names, signs and numbers to ease your driving, although when driving in Lagos traffic, patience is key.

After a very fruitful five days experiencing life, traffic and microfinance in Lagos, I left and headed back to Accra. Now it’s time to get to work on consolidating all of the information I collected … Continue reading


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My first time meeting a client

On June 27th, I interviewed my first AMfB client, Mrs. Ramosa Rufai. Mrs. Rufai, married with two children (a six year old girl and a four year old boy), owns a clothing store. She travels to Dubai and Senegal to purchase and sew material to sell to her clients in Nigeria. She has been running her business for 10 years and had never gotten a loan. She received her first loan from AMfB last year, after much encouragement from Uche, her loan officer at the time. Here’s her experience:

Before the loan

Mrs. Rufai was skeptical of banks, scared of hidden charges, and usually increasing interest rates. She said “I just did not trust them (banks), but Uche (Mrs. Rufai’s loan officer) kept coming and telling me that AMfB would take care of me and not let me down. He really explained everything to me and said that the loan would help my business.” I was unconvinced that she needed the loan, because her shop seemed to be doing well, she was able to afford to travel to Senegal and Dubai, and she was on top of her household expenses. But Uche’s persistence and his fundamental belief (true of most AMfB loan officers I have met) that AMfB could really help Mrs. Rufai paid off, and she took the loan.

The loan in action

Mrs. Rufai used her first loan to purchase her ticket to Senegal. All of a sudden, she realized that she could purchase more products from Senegal while paying the same standard amount for freight. She took advantage of the loan in the following ways:

  1. She purchased more clothes thereby getting a bigger quantity discount than before
  2. She spread the freight cost over more clothes she purchased
  3. She took more orders than before considering that she was able to purchase more clothes
  4. She admitted that the loan forced her to save more and spend less on frivolities

What comes next 

Mrs. Rufai informed me that she is in the process of getting another AMfB loan for a trip to Dubai within the month. I realized that AMfB had not only helped her grow her business, but it had done something more important. AMfB had helped Mrs. Rufai believe in financial institutions again, and hopefully with this belief comes a long-term symbiotic relationship with AMfB.

While I do not think that microfinance is a panacea to solving most of the world’s problems, I think that, if done right, microfinance has the potential to impact many lives positively. I see the impact AMfB has on its clients and the quality of the relationships that are created and I am inspired. Continue reading


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What Does a Debit Card Have to Do With Microfinance?

I asked myself the same question when I was assigned my project: to come up with a strategy to increase the uptake and usage of newly administered Accion Microfinance Bank (AMfB) ATM debit cards. In order to truly appreciate the difficulty of the project, it is important to understand the typical AMfB customer.

A typical AMfB customer (I will write a post profiling a typical customer in the coming weeks) is a woman, aged 25 to 35, who is involved with some sort of trade – sewing, sale of provisions, small restaurant business, etc. She is usually numerate, but not literate, with her days starting early and engaged only in activities that will improve her family’s lot and her business. There is little to no time for superfluous indulgences. Additionally, her understanding of the relationship between a bank, cash, and money is clear – a bank is where you go to collect cash; that cash can then be used as an exchange for goods and services. There is little room for learning how to use a little plastic card, built on a sometimes precarious technology platform that promises all the benefits of cash and more. Continue reading


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What does the future of Nigeria have to do with Accion Microfinance Bank?

I left Nigeria almost fourteen years ago and while some things have changed, a lot has stayed the same. For example, there are still major power outages daily, but more people now have generators; virtually everyone now has a mobile phone, however, the network coverage is very poor; there are a lot more cars on the roads and at homes, but the road infrastructure to support the influx of automobiles remains lacking. The underlying theme in my observation is that when it comes to individual purchases and expenditures (cars, mobile phones, generators, etc), Nigerians excel. But when it comes to infrastructure expenditures, whether public or private (public utilities like electricity, mobile phone coverage, roads, waste management, security, etc), Nigerians flounder. A fundamental question on why this is the case, is one that I will address in future blog posts.

The juxtaposition of the typical state of affairs in Nigeria and the operational success of Accion Microfinance Bank (AMfB) makes AMfB’s successes over the past several years all the more impressive. In roughly seven years, AMfB has grown from a small microfinance bank in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, to a bank that now employs over 500 people; has 21 branches in the city; has more than 120,000 savers and more than 25,000 active borrowers; and an active loan portfolio of over N3Billion (over $20Million). AMfB has also won the coveted Best Microfinance Bank Award three times in a row, with no signs of letting up.

The mission of AMfB is to economically empower the micro-entrepreneur and low income earners by providing microfinance services in a profitable, ethical, and sustainable manner. The vision of the organization is to become the market leader in the provision of microfinance and related financial services at world class standards. And they are well on their way to achieving that.

One of the small businesses that AMfB lends to - an internet and technology center.

One of the small businesses that AMfB lends to – an internet and technology center.

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