It is fitting that last week here in Croydon was Enterprise week and this week is Global enterprise week as during the last UK-Nigeria meeting we were all reminded how Fantsuam Foundation grew in response to the needs of the local women traders.
Frances who has been a UK based supporter of Fantsuam has just returned from vsiting John Dada and the team and shared with us her abbreviated history which tells how microfinance arrived at Fantsuam.
Fantsuam Foundation: An Abbreviated History by Frances
The very early beginnings:
John Dada first came to Kafanchan in 1972 to work in a school after he had completed his A levels and before starting at university. Kafanchan is in the central part of Nigeria in an area known as Southern Kaduna . It is about one and a half hours drive from the city of Jos where John was born and brought up. Very near Kafanchan is the village of Bayan Loco, which means 'place of the locomotive', as this used to be a former railway centre.
Before he left Kafanchan John bought some land in Bayan Loco and went into business rearing pigs, with his friend Layi. In 1973 John left Kafanchan for Zaria, in the north of Nigeria to study for his first degree in microbiology and continued with a masters degree in 1977. During his time in Zaria he became involved as a volunteer at the 'Beth Torrey' home and school for children with learning disabilities. He also worked with WIN (Women in Nigeria) whose main project was social support for women with vaginal fistulas following childbirth. This was his first experience of volunteering and he became the general secretary of both organisations.
While he was in Zaria John met a friend called Kuka, who decided to move to Bayn Loco to help Layi with the business that he and John shared of looking after the pigs. By now a piggery had been built on the land and it was decided to build an additional five rooms on the site to provide accommodation.
In addition to looking after the pigs, Kuka also studied and completed a health technology course. When the building of the five rooms was completed she opened a chemist shop and a clinic in one of the rooms. Later Kuka's mother joined her and they both stayed there till they both left for Kano in 1997.
Some of the basic elements of Fantsuam Foundation were in place very early on. John knew Kafanchan and Bayan Loco well. He had bought land for a piggery and built some rooms on what was later to be the site of Fantsuam Foundation. During these early days Kuka had even opened a small clinic there.
Next steps – micro-finance
John continued to work at the university in Zaria where he had studied and in 1992 he came to the university of Leeds in the UK as a research fellow. In 1994 he decided to settle in Leeds and enrolled in the school of nursing to retrain as a nurse. Once qualified he continued nursing while also studying for a masters degree in public health at the Nuffield Institute in Leeds. This opened his eyes to many new ideas and in particular he came across an article in the UK Guardian newspaper describing the development in Bangladesh of micro-finance, the provision of very small loans to poor people to develop businesses. This system of micro-finance led to the setting up of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh whose sole business was the provision of such very small loans. This model of micro-finance is known as the Grameen model.
While John was in Leeds he kept in touch with friends from the Nigerian diaspora and two such friends donated money from their own resources to provide micro-loans to women in their own villages in Nigeria,following the Grameen model.
Comfort Kazanka,whom John knew well from Nigeria, agreed to attend a three month training course in general development studies in Birmingham,UK, funded by the Methodist church in Germany. Micro-finance and the Grameen model was included in this training. Then in 2000 Comfort went for a further two week training in Bangladesh run by the Grameen Trust and co-funded by the Commonwealth Institute. It was a two week intensive training and students were able to visit individula borrowers and attend their group meetings. They were told that the repayment rate was 100% and Comfort remembers thinking, 'I don't think this will work in Nigeria!'
On Comfort's return to Nigeria following her training, John collected his retirement pension benefits from his former job in Zaria and gave it to Comfort to start the first micro-finance programme. He also starting spending more time in Nigeria and gradually settled back there from Leeds. With the benefit of her overseas training Comfort disbursed the first loans to 55 women in her home village of Kunyai about 5 miles from Kafanchan. She used the 'staggered' method whereby ten women received loans and when they were repaid after one month a further ten and finally after a month the remaining five. The second community to receive loans was Bisat.
Other field officers were recruited to work alongside Comfort and together they ran training courses in the use of micro-finance . For example in Kagoro, a few miles from Kafanchan the team first attended a meeting with the local chiefs to gain their support and then presented the training to 200 women . Despite her long experience as a teacher Comfort felt overawed in front of all these women.
The micro-finance service has continued to expand with grants from very large and much smaller organisations to provide capital to provide more loans. The philosophy of the Grameen model is to help women to use the money they have borrowed to make money by starting a small business. Training in some business skills is part of the training they receive before receiving any loan and in 2008 a volunteer from UK was recruited to help develop business skills. At that time there were six Field Officers recruiting women who wished to borrow small loans: providing training, disbursing loans and collecting repayments. The number of borrowers was about 1,500.
A new product has also been developed called 'Adashe' – the Hausa word for 'savings'. This is a departure from the usual model of loans but builds on a practice common in the community of groups of people getting together to save either for some business expansion or family expenditure such as school fees or a wedding.
Sadly the work of micro-finance was interrupted in 2011 when extreme violence hit the town of Kafanchan. This may have been due to a combination of factors but seems to have been sparked by the outcome of local and federal elections. It manifested itself in violence between the Moslem and Christian communities although there were many examples of people putting their lives at risk to help members of the 'other ' community. In the course of this violence, homes and businesses were burned down including the main market in Kafanchan.
The after effects of this violence affected the small businesses run by the women who had loans to repay, some of whom were based at the main market. It also limited the ability of the Field Officers to travel in safety to collect repayments. After a year things are more settled but not the same as before. There are four Field officers with altogether about 1000 clients. They plan to expand the Adashe programme and also to continue with a practice established before, of providing training on issues to do with family planning and child care alongside the training on loans and business development.