Husien Al-Jaber, a client of the Aga Khan Agency for Microfi nance, used to sell roasted beans from a cart on the street. With an AKAM loan, he was able to open a shop selling and repairing stoves. His income has risen 50 percent.
Photo: AKAM / Jean-Luc RayIn AKDN’s experience, a process of positive change sparked by AKDN agencies can gain its own momentum and become selfsustaining if – and this is where experimentation and innovation are important – there is both a correct mix, and a critical mass, of coordinated development activity. The components of this “correct mix” and “critical mass” can vary from area to area. In ultra-poor areas, agricultural inputs that lead to higher yields of cereals may be the best way forward. In others, access to credit may be one of the best ways to assist local populations expand their small businesses and generate new employment. In every case, getting to the right mix begins with listening to what the benefi ciaries want and need.
“There is some intellectual vanity to assume that the poorest, when they do not know how to read and write, are not able to think. [In fact,] it is they who, within local communities, are telling us how we can help them, and we have to listen and to constantly adapt ourselves to their needs, which evolve through time. Aid does not fall vertically on them; it is ‘woven’ just above the ground.”
Interview of His Highness the Aga Khan with Agence France Press, August 2008In Syria, access to microfi nance was considered a priority. Small businessmen and women needed to borrow small sums – usually averaging less than US$ 1000 – to start or expand businesses or purchase quantities of raw materials that would allow them to ramp up production. Husien Al-Jaber, pictured here, used to sell roasted beans from a cart on the street, but his income was not regular. To start a new business that would provide him with a steady income – selling and repairing gas stoves – he took out an Aga Khan Agency for Microfi nance (AKAM) loan. The new business has been successful: Mr. Al-Jaber’s monthly net income has increased by 50 percent.
AKAM programmes range from village lending cooperatives to self-standing microfi nance institutions to full-fl edged microfi nance banks. In addition to providing fi nancial services to the poor, these activities may include business or technical advisory and training extension services and business development programmes that work directly with local entrepreneurs. Usually, they are part of a wider integrated development strategy being implemented by AKDN within each country. When these activities gain momentum, “area development” programmes then spark “area revitalisation” – a process by which poor communities begin to see, and enjoy, the satisfying ascent to dignity and self-reliance.
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