chris megargee

The Unsung Heroes of Microfinance

Justinano Osco drove his dirt bike right into the meeting room where 11 women–members of a communal lending group, or village bank, sat awaiting him. The “room” was an open field in Achocalla, Bolivia. Justiniano is the loan officer who leads the twice-monthly meetings for this village bank, providing trainings, facilitating the loan process and supporting these women who are working to better their lives with the help of microfinance.

I had the opportunity to meet Justiniano-a loan officer with Global Partnerships microfinance partner CRECER-last summer. I was immediately impressed by the respect that Justiniano showed the members of this village bank and the rapport he had with them. He started the meeting off with an icebreaker that involved jumping up and down in place-which led to lots of giggles as the women bounced in their broad skirts, derby hats perched on their heads and long braids flapping at their sides

(Watch a video of Justiniano leading a training in Achocalla.)

He then led a participative training on good nutrition, complete with posters of the food pyramid.

Though he has every reason to be proud of his work, Justiniano is soft spoken and humble. An agronomist by training, he has served as a loan officer with CRECER for 11 years. He loves his job, in large part because he knows he is helping his own people.

Like many microfinance loan officers, Justiniano has a background that is very similar to the clients that he serves. He grew up in a poor, rural community: His parents were small farmers, working a tiny plot of land with a few animals.

“My childhood was very difficult. I didn’t know what shoes were,” he explained. He described how he and his clients “share the same culture, the same traditions, the same language.” (The entire bank meeting was conducted in Aymara, the indigenous language spoken in this region.)

Justiniano’s daily attire is a padded jumpsuit he wears for protection over his clothes as he rides his motorcycle. It’s a must, given that he visits four village bank meetings per day, traveling over rough dirt roads to get to each one.

Justiniano visits 20 meetings every week, with some requiring a two-and-a-half-hour ride. His dedication to visiting communities in remote regions is typical of micofinance loan officers and reflects a key difference between microfinance institutions and traditional banks. While banks have an office in the city and require you to go to them for service, microfinance organizations are proactive in their outreach, traveling to where their clients live.

Justiniano is one of hundreds of loan officers with Global Partnerships microfinance partners who make these connections happen. If there are heroes in the world of microfinance, surely Justiniano and the many loan officers like him must be counted among them. The members of the 20 village banks Justiniano visits on his dirt bike each week would surely agree.

This post first appeared on the Global Partnerships microfinance Summer 2010 Newsletter.