Jan and Isabelle met the people behind the dossiers

“Even more than before, I now know for whom I work and why I do it.”

The investment committee of BRS Microfinance Coop has a very important task: they decide where the investments go. These decisions are based on files, figures and memos that come in via Incofin IM, but our employees also engage by going on site and meeting the people behind the dossiers. In this way, we get a better understanding of the reality and get to know our potential partners. Isabelle Cardinael, investment manager at KBC, and Jan Bergmans, financial manager at Cera, sit on the investment committee and went on a study tour of microfinancing projects in El Salvador and Honduras.


“Having nothing”

Isabelle: “For years I have been reading investment memos about microfinancing institutions and their customers. And then I found myself in the middle of the reality. All those memos suddenly came to life. A poignant difference...”

Jan: “The reality was a shock to me, too. Suddenly you meet all those people referred to in our business files, in their own environment. Only then do you realise how hard their life is. And how important it is that they have opportunities to move forward.”

Isabelle: “You know that microfinancing makes a difference. But it was only there that I fully understood what that actually means. An example: we were received by a group of women who had started a trade in natural beauty products, shampoos and creams. When they started, they had nothing. Not even a table to work on. They bought it with a microcredit. When they told me that, I realised that ‘having nothing’ there literally means having nothing.”

More than money

Jan: “With a small loan for purchasing basic materials, you help people to launch their business. And BRS Microfinance Coop helps make this possible by providing loans to the microfinancing organisations that these people turn to. In this way, these institutions can further professionalise and expand.”

Isabelle: “Now microfinancing is not just about money. Just as important is that microfinancing institutions also coach their customers. They work on their self-confidence and give all kinds of training.”

Jan: “With regard to product development, for example. The beauty product women originally sold their shampoo in a recycled cola bottle, without a label. Now they sell stylised bottles with an attractive label and a recognisable logo. In this form they have also taken the step of offering their shampoos to hotels. A big step forward for them.”


Isabelle: “Our experiences there confirm the necessity of what BRS Microfinance Coop does. I now feel even more empathy for people living in poverty. Thanks to this study tour and talking to people over there, I have a better understanding of where this poverty comes from. Large-scale land ownership and income inequality play an important role in this and, in El Salvador, the civil war.”

Jan: “Climate change is also affecting them. Small local farmers have to adapt their crops and make them more resilient to changing weather conditions. That takes time.”
Isabelle: “This trip has enriched me personally. It is special to experience that what you do is relevant on the other side of the world. I’m definitely going to share that within KBC.”

Jan: “Even more than before, I now know for whom I work and why I do it. I am convinced that everyone who was on the study tour is now an ambassador for BRS vzw and BRS Microfinance Coop!”