Microfinance in Sri Lanka

Mixing business with pleasure was no problem for RESULTS National Manager, Maree Nutt who stumbled upon and then visited a Grameen microfinance replication program while on her recent holiday in Sri Lanka.

After a number of wrong turns we finally found ourselves at the remote and idyllic surfing spot.  Fortunately, ‘remote’ still meant that our post surfing reward was breakfast at the equally remote and simple Hilltop Canbanas and café run by the ever friendly owner, Dilani.

Imagine my surprise when my son Jack spotted that our tea was served in mugs emblazoned with the words ‘Grameen microcredit’! I soon learned that Dilani’s husband Indika was the manager of a nearby branch of what is now called “Prime Grameen”.

Starting with some talk about Muhummad Yunus and RESULTS, it didn’t take long before Dilani had arranged for me to visit her husband’s branch of Prime Grameen in the bustling town of Monaragula, the following week..

Prime Grameen has 48 branches around Sri Lanka. The Monaragula branch has fifteen staff, most of whom spend Monday to Wednesday going out to the villages to collect weekly loan repayments and savings deposits from their 2.600 women clients.

My visit was at the end of the week when approved new clients come to the branch to receive their first loan. The process had begun two weeks earlier with discussions with Branch staff go into villages to identify potential clients who interested in improving their lives financially and who are sufficiently poor by the Bank’s formal assessment process.

Apart from credit, a package of financial services is provided. For example a $2 life insurance policy provides immediate cancellation of the loan plus 50,000  (approximately $400) rupees to the family should the woman borrower die accidentally.  Each woman must also open an interest bearing savings account (9%) and save a minimum of 60 rupees or 50 cents per week over 51 weeks of the loan.

A very important part of Prime Grameen’s business model for sustainability is to offer a range of other savings products to the non-poor.  Fixed deposits and children’s savings accounts offer good incentives and are available to any member of the public. These deposits help provide the loan capital as well as cover other costs.

At the branch that day I met Soma, a smiling and gentle 55 year old woman who would receive her first loan of 25,000 Rupees (just over $200) for a sewing business. She is widowed and her son lives in Colombo but does not visit or support her to any extent. She planned to buy 2 sewing machines and have one worker assisting her from her home. She seemed very sensible, modest and capable, and also very excited. I look forward to seeing Soma one day with her life improved

I also thank Muhammad Yunus for the gift of Grameen which has been replicated to near and far corners of the world.

RESULTS has long advocated for increase quality and quantity of microfinance (credit, savings and other financial services) within the Australian aid program. Most recently RESULTS volunteers have also advocated to protect the Grameen Bank from threats to its operations and governance from the Government of Bangladesh. See more at www.results.org.au

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