by Miranda Barham, WAM UK Steering Committee
WAM UK hosted a very interesting evening with special guest, President & CEO of FINCA, Rupert Scofield. Rupert shared with us the journey he has been on since starting FINCA in 1984 to today’s challenges of finding social enterprises, running profitable microfinance institutions and running fundraising campaigns.
FINCA started on a quest to identify investible social enterprises to fund and partner and in doing so, discovered that they were already funding a number of these. Examples of this include over 200 “charter schools” in Uganda, and a community health clinic in Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rupert explained, “I stumbled upon a charter school on the outskirts of Masaka, Uganda when I went to see some clients who had purchased solar lanterns from Brite Life. “Do you want to see our school?” one of the clients asked me. “You have a school?” It seemed unlikely; this was a remote community many miles from the nearest paved road. They took me to meet a former teacher who had left the public school system and, with a series of Finca loans, built seven classrooms and hired other teachers to teach grades K through 6.”
By having the school right in the community, the students avoided the perilous 5 kilometer walk to the nearest public school where they could be preyed upon by pedophiles. Finca was also financing the other side of the transaction, making loans for school fees to the parents of the children.
In Lumbumbashi, two physicians had left the public healthcare system and, with a series of Finca loans, build a small clinic and a 10-bed hospital. They were treating the people of the community for the four most common illnesses in rural Africa and charging $2.50 per consultation. If the patients were destitute, they provided treatment for free.
FINCA is passionate about social enterprise. Rupert believes that the current trend of social enterprises moving into the vacuums left by a faltering, underfunded public sector services will continue, and eventually social enterprises, small, medium and large, will be the main vector for meeting the basic needs of people living at the bottom of the pyramid. He explained that an added bonus will be that these social enterprises will collectively employ millions of currently un/underemployed young people, which is a huge and growing time bomb which, if not addressed, will destabilise all developing societies.
For those of you inspired to take up the social enterprise challenge, Rupert has some words of wisdom, “Find a disadvantaged/oppressed constituency, live amongst them, walk in their shoes until you feel their pain and figure out a way to be useful.” He recommends working or volunteering for an organisation that works in this space and then with experience gained, striking out on your own. He says that’s when the real adventure begins.
“If your idea is powerful enough, it will withstand the many mistakes you will make. Remember that nothing works the first time, so be stubborn and persistent. Stand up to the skeptics and keep plugging away. You will find, also, that your passion for your mission will attract fellow travelers. You also have to pick your head up every now and then and see who is imitating you and possibly doing it better than you are. The life cycle of new technologies is getting shorter and shorter. Picking the winners is going to make the difference between success and failure.” And After five decades in the space, Rupert should know.
If you would like to support FINCA’s latest campaign to raise £1 million in support of women taking their first teps in business, please donate here so that FINCA can help them generate the extra income they need to buy food, pay for healthcare, and put their children back into school.
In the last few months, faced with rising levels of conflict and migration, women have been forced to find new sources of income to support themselves and their children. With your help, FINCA can make a difference.