We are all colleagues

A long-distance collaboration? No problem: Skype and e-mail help you on your way! But experiencing the reality on the ground and talking to people face to face is still important. KBC colleagues Stef Cops and Jeroen Rottiers also experienced this when they travelled to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on behalf of BRS.



Stef: “We worked there for five days with the microfinancing institution Wasasa, a partner of BRS. ‘Wasasa’ means ‘stretcher’, which symbolises the help they provide to poor farmers.”


Jeroen: “The microfinancing bank came up with two questions. One was about attracting more savings to meet the rising number of credit applications. Other colleagues took care of that. The second question was about credits. And because Stef and I work in the credits department for agriculture and horticulture at KBC, it ended up with us.”

Stef: “Initially, the question was very vague. It was only after repeated calls and e-mailing back and forth that our assignment became clear: to provide guidance in compiling the series of tasks for their new agricultural expert.”

A cow is not farming

Jeroen: “Once we were there, we spoke to a lot of people: employees from a local office of the microfinancing institution and the farmers themselves. It was only then, on the final day of our mission, that we sat down with the people at the bank to jointly define the role of their agricultural expert.”

Stef: “We realised immediately that it was not so easy to translate our experience into theirs, and vice versa. The term ‘agriculture and horticulture’ alone caused confusion. When we used a cow as an example, they said: ‘That’s not farming. That’s business.’”

Jeroen: “To them, farming refers to what you grow in the fields. Corn, grain, etc. What you sow and harvest. Not the animals. You pick up on these kinds of misunderstandings more quickly when you sit around the table together. It is then easier to make adjustments and have a more in-depth conversation.”

Tipping point

Stef: “Moreover, other questions often surface when you meet in person. Here’s an example. Traditionally, Wasasa provides credits to groups of farmers. The farmers are then jointly responsible for their credit. As agriculture evolves and the bank grows, the requested credit amounts increase. Not everyone in the group is then still prepared to provide a guarantee. This is why Wasasa is considering granting individual credits. But because that’s new to them, they have a lot of questions. That’s why they came to us.”
Jeroen: “The crucial question is: what direction do they want to take? Do they stick to group credits and try to reach more poor farmers with them? Or do they focus on the customers who are growing by offering them individual credits? It’s a difficult decision that they need to seriously consider!”


Stef: “And that’s what they are doing. They were very keen to know how, at KBC, we determine how much credit someone needs and how you assess whether your borrower can repay the loan. You are happy to share this experience with your colleagues. In the end, we are lenders, just like them. And that creates a bond.”
Jeroen: “And that is also the future, I think: sharing our knowledge and expertise. KBC colleagues are also curious about it. Interest is growing. Yes, it is definitely promising!”