One of my main roles as a fellow with SEDA in Vietnam is interviewing borrowers and then writing a journal update so that lenders can see how the borrower is doing. I have many questions that I like to ask most of the borrowers and one of my favorites is quite simple: What did you do before you started this particular business? This question is great because it really helps me learn about the person I’m interviewing; their previous jobs tell a lot about them. Take for example Ms. Nguyen Thuy Minh.
Ms. Nguyen, 45, currently runs a mobile phone business which she started four years ago and helps her daughter-in-law raise animals. Six years ago her husband was killed in an accident and that accident changed her life as she knew it. When most people think of microfinance they think of a poor person trying to empower themselves out of poverty and thus we assume that person was always poor and that microfinance is the opportunity they never had before. Ms. Nguyen’s case, however, is completely the opposite.
Prior to her husband’s accident, Ms. Nguyen’s job was running a confectionary factory for 16 years with her husband which employed over 60 workers—now that’s a favorable impact on a community, a locally owned business which creates jobs! She and her family were very well off until her husband’s death. For some reason or another his death meant the closure of the factory (I didn’t want to pry into all of her personal details about the accident and accompanying results but I assume her husband had many debts) and quickly propelled Ms. Nguyen and her family into the type of poverty they had never known before.
As Ms. Nguyen described her situation, she said her best option was to start a mobile phone business in her hamlet but it meant that she had to work harder than before for less money to simply get by. To help her business along and to help begin increasing her standard of living she decided to apply for a micro-loan (before, with the factory, her credit was good enough to get loans from traditional banks). Her loan has since helped increase her daily income and has allowed her to purchase more new phones in bulk, thus reducing her overall costs.
Ms. Nguyen’s story is a perfect example of an atypical borrower, but nonetheless microfinance has become a valuable tool for her. With that in mind, I think her role as Group Leader is also valuable to microfinance in her community because she can share her knowledge of business management with her other group members and possibly with many others in her community. In fact, one of my goals now is to see if Ms. Nguyen could possibly run a work-shop on business management with the other SEDA borrowers in her community which perfectly answers another question I like to ask borrowers: what impact do you and your business have on your community? And my oh my, what a potential impact Ms. Nguyen can have!/>