On this first day of European Microfinance Week conference sessions, three participants described their visits to Bangladesh to learn how low-income families there have financed purchases of home solar systems. Tesfaye Befekadu, the general manager of Ethiopia’s Harbu Microfinance Institution, explained, “The exposure visit opened my mind to green microfinance…. I came back from Bangladesh with a lot of knowledge. I collected the managers, and we exchanged information and immediately decided this idea should go to the Board of Directors. Then I asked the Board to explain it to the shareholders.… I can say that all levels of the organization, down to the clients, own this program.” In the year since the visit, Harbu has delivered solar systems to 254 clients through its pilot Tullobolo program.
Chris Karayil Victor, the General Manager of India’s ESAF Microfinance and Investments, listed some of the motivations for acquiring solar lighting, such as the high cost of kerosene and elevated rates of snake bites, which are attributed to difficulty seeing the animals by kerosene lamplight. These factors help solar lighting meet the three criteria that ESAF has set for its “green” microfinance offerings: they must save clients money, improve health and reduce environmental impact.
The trips were funded by Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden (FMO), a Dutch development bank. Martine Sanders, a capacity development officer at FMO, noted that experience with poor quality solar equipment has discouraged Bangladeshis from adopting solar at a higher rate. Allan Sicat, the Executive Director of the Microfinance Council of the Philippines, said the same has happened in his country. Mr Befekadu cited the work of Lighting Africa to minimize this issue by certifying the quality of solar products.
Multiple audience members spoke in favor of the type of peer learning that Mr Befekadu and Mr Karayil Victor experienced in Bangladesh. Yekbun Gurgoz, the coordinator of the finance initiative of the France-based Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said, “We believe it’s the best way for practitioners to learn from each other.” Jessica Jacobson, a senior manager at Water.org, said, “It’s critical for practitioners to see how other practitioners operationalize the concept.”
This story is part of a sponsored series on European Microfinance Week, which is being held through November 18 by the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), a 124-member network located in Luxembourg. MicroCapital has been engaged to cover the event on-site.
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