Dapaong in Togo is where Elke Struys, head of the Commercial Credits department at KBC, travelled to on behalf of BRS. Together with two members of the BRS Institute, Hugo Vleeracker and Erik De Vos, she visited the microfinancing institution UCMECS (Union des Caisses Mutuelles d’Epargne et Crédit des Savanes) in 2017. It was Elke’s first assignment, but she already speaks enthusiastically of “we” and “us” when she means BRS.

Look at the context

Elke: “UCMECS is a microfinancing project with which BRS, through the Belgian NGO Louvain Coopération, has been working together for several years now. At the request of BRS and as part of her graduation project, a Belgian student, Lien, left for this project in Togo in May 2017. Her mission was to study the efficiency of credit procedures on site. Hugo and Erik, who have been following this project for some time, asked me to brief Lien before she left about the critical screening of such a credit process. To align it completely with the Togolese context, I asked them a lot of questions about the culture there. Eventually, they asked me to join them on a mission to support UCMECS, among other things to improve its credit procedures.”


What I really enjoy doing

Elke: “I didn’t have to think about it for long. I have worked abroad for KBC in the past: in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. And I lived in China for a while. I find it really fascinating to get to know and understand a different culture by working with people from there. And then finding ways together to make things work better is something I really enjoy doing. Because you can’t just say: in Belgium things work like this, so do it like this in Togo too. Sometimes things work completely differently elsewhere than in our own country.

Being open to that other reality is very important to me. If children in Togo also have to work to provide enough income for their families, for example, you have to take that into account. Do not be too quick to judge. Try to understand their situation. You learn something new every day.”

What works here?

Elke: “To get to know this broader context, I first sat down with Lien in Togo. She had by then spoken to so many UCMECS employees that she already knew the situation there pretty well. With her I was able to check: what’s different here? What works here and what doesn’t? In consultation with credit advisers and all members of the Board of Directors, we then arrived at recommendations in a very pragmatic way regarding the granting of credits, their follow-up and pricing.”

With tact and encouragement

Elke: “You must also take this context into account when following up on previous agreements. With regard to marketing and putting new products on the market, specific advice had already been given and tasks agreed. When Erik and Hugo looked at the results together with UCMECS staff, it appeared that progress had not been made on all points. It is then important to look together at why this is the case. Are the agreements not clear? Do they not see the point of them? Hugo and Erik did this in a very respectful way. With the clear message that they cannot afford to waste time, but tactfully and with encouragement.”


Elke: “And now it is up to the Togolese themselves. I hope that the UCMECS staff really do get something out of our advice. They are certainly motivated, because they want their bank to be financially independent. And they seemed genuinely interested. When attention slackened during the meetings, a lady started off a song with one sentence and everyone soon joined in. With rhythmic hand clapping and at the end invariably the exclamation ‘Superbe!’ Then everyone was focused again. Perhaps we should try this at KBC too? As I said, you learn something new every day!”