From mission to outcome: an eventful journey

In June 2016, four BRS volunteers experienced first-hand how eventful a BRS mission can be during their week in Kinshasa, DR Congo. Sarah Leclercq and Philippe Matthijs of CBC Assurances worked for Mecreco, a cooperative savings bank, while Tom Geladé and Patrick Tulpin of KBC Verzekeringen went to work for CGAT, an organisation that offers support to local health insurance funds and offers health insurance. During the day, they each worked on their own projects but in the evenings, they discussed the day’s experiences. Sarah, Tom and Patrick look back on an exciting adventure.

Sarah: “The reality in Congo is pretty harsh. At dinner, we used to discuss what we had seen and experienced during the day. Thankfully the others were on hand to boost our courage when morale was low.”

Patrick: “To be honest, I was very happy that I had not travelled there on my own. In the evenings, it gave me the opportunity to vent my surprise and other feelings. In that sense, we were a good sounding board for each other.”

Tom: “Because this was my second mission for BRS in Congo, I knew more or less what to expect. The economy was doing much worse compared with the previous year. When we were there, both companies had just cut the wages of their entire workforce by 30%. Purely to ensure their survival. To be honest, all the employees took a very matter-of-fact approach to this wage cut. The doctors that work for CGAT could earn more elsewhere but they stay on. They do so out of conviction, to help the poor.”

Patrick: “Before I left, I was more invested in the technical side of things, I saw it as an outlet. But once there, I remember saying to Tom: now I know why I’m here, when I saw how difficult the conditions that these people work and live in really are! Suddenly everything you do there becomes a lot more tangible.”

Tom: “Your grasp of their daily reality is much better when you’re there. Things that we find self-evident are anything but in DR Congo. Not every office has a laptop. And even if you have one, there isn’t always electricity.”

Patrick: “We spent one day visiting the local offices of the health insurance fund, talking to the employees. What do you find difficult? What would make your job easier? By being there and talking to them, you get a lot more information which allows you to build a database that is tailored to the people who will use it.”

Sarah: “You have to adapt to the situation on the ground. My job was to introduce the Mecreco teams to the performance indicators that BRS developed for microinsurance. Achieving the goal you set yourself can be quite complicated, however, when certain figures are lacking and it takes three days for these figures to find their way onto your desk. At the same time, you also try to meet their expectations at that moment. Sometimes the outcome is completely different from what you originally expected. But perhaps the achieved result is better, because you start from their interests, working on something that they can definitely use.”

Tom: “Sometimes you need to discard the agenda that you set beforehand. People suggest new things as you go along, and want to do this or that in their enthusiasm. Their working culture, which is a bit chaotic by our standards, is different from ours. Less results-oriented.”

Sarah: “We set ourselves a goal. We plan how we intend to achieve it and then we go ahead and do it. They start by establishing a relationship between the people, after which they tackle the issues. They tend to focus on the relational aspect when searching for solutions. Which is a good thing, but that’s not how we do it.”

Patrick: “Our mission was to assist CGAT with the creation of an IT system to monitor the health insurance fund’s figures. We mainly spent the first days talking them to draw up an inventory of their needs. We were only able to start building the actual data model on the last day. But the discussions in the run-up to this technical phase were very useful.”

Tom: “The working conditions can be quite difficult, but I definitely want to go back. Because I believe very strongly in what BRS does. I believe in the value of microinsurance and microfinance. And in the value of support by sharing expertise. It works.”

Sarah: “I found it a very positive experience. When all is said and done, we only give them one week of our time, but it means so much to them. We could really make a big difference if we would all spend more of our time helping people in the South.”