“My first real introduction to a microfinancing institution was a real revelation to me! I was deeply moved by the passion of its employees - from the CEO down to the employees in the branches. They all do their work based on the deeply-held conviction that they can make a difference.”
In December 2021, Hubert Benoot of the BRS Institute returned from his first international trip for BRS full of enthusiasm. He’d had to exercise patience. After his career in Trade Finance at KBC Bank, he had made a commitment to share his experience and knowledge with the South two years ago. And then the pandemic happened.
“As a new member of the BRS Institute, I – and my colleague Danny Pieraets and BRS employee Bart Speelman - were assigned a start-up: the cooperation U-IMCEC (L'Union des Institutions Mutualistes Communautaires d'Epargne et de Crédit). This Senegalese MFI provides financial services in rural and suburban areas. “Contacts with them were at an early stage and unfortunately we had no choice but to work online given the situation. This was quite difficult. Which explains why I was so happy to be able to finally travel to Senegal in early December.
The introductions kicked off with a big party on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of U-IMCEC. With two days of workshops, panel discussions and plenary sessions. And a lot of song and dance, it goes without saying. It struck me how enthusiastic everyone was.
In the following days, we met with U-IMCEC staff and the branch employees. I couldn’t help but be impressed. While this MFI is a young, small institution, it is also extremely professional. And it meets all the conditions for a cooperation with BRS: a cooperative that focuses on agriculture and aims for social impact.
I found out just how impactful they are when we met their clients. A greengrocer vegetable farmer who bought seed years ago with a first credit of 200 euros now has an agricultural business with which he supports his extended family. You can only achieve this with hard work and the support of a bank that believes in you. And that is exactly what U-IMCEC does.
This MFI has set itself some ambitious goals. They endorse the government’s plan to make Senegal self-reliant in terms of food supply. Currently, the country imports a lot of its food. U-IMCEC wants to change things, which is why they now focus on agricultural credits. By 2024, 45% of their credits must go to agribusinesses agricultural activities.
Quite the challenge. They’ll need to reach more farmers, which could be tricky in a region where people are not familiar with ‘banks’ or ‘credits’. In addition, Senegalese agriculture tends to be small-scale and very fragmented. And then there is the terrible drought, of course. Forcing farmers to irrigate, often using polluting diesel pumps. The financing institution focuses on sustainable agriculture, meaning there is a need for new loans, both for the purchase of solar panels and the construction of rainwater retention basins.
To achieve this, U-IMCEC established the Centre Financier Agricole (CFA), a new division that will provide support to its branches for rolling out agricredits. The future cooperation between BRS and MFI focuses on the centre’s growth and operations. Based on the ideas, structures and expertise of U-IMCEC and with coaching by BRS where necessary.
U-IMCEC has big ambitions, but thanks to their professionalisnm and drive, they have every chance of success!”