Kodjo Hessou – Director of CODA, Deki’s field partner in Togo, Lome

Name: Kodjo Hessou

Position: Director of CODA, Deki’s field partner in Togo, Lome

CODA works with deki.org.uk to help small businesses and communities promote their own economic, social and cultural development in a sustainable way. CODA also works on essential services in the community including an orphanage, a school and a health centre.

How was CODA started?

Before we founded CODA we could see that there was a clear need for microfinance. There were many capable men and women doing nothing, with no jobs and no capital to get their businesses going. That is why we thought microfinance was the best way to help them.

The beginning was not easy. When we first started we were just a few people and we had to work hard to find good honest workers and an office space. We also needed authorisation from the government – a licence that allows us to operate as an MFI.

Was it difficult at first to explain the idea of microfinance to people and to encourage them to participate?

Yes, it was challenging to explain microfinance to people. The CODA staff also had to receive training so that everyone would have clarity about how the system works.

Has running CODA turned out like you expected?

When I think about my work I feel satisfied because my calling is related to helping and developing people. It makes me very happy to meet people in the community who were doing nothing before and who now have a microloan which allows them to work and build a better life.

What services would you like to see CODA provide in the future?

There is a lot more demand for microfinance out there and we want to be able to meet it better. Currently we are thinking about how to reach villages and establish branch offices there. In the villages roads and infrastructure are even poorer and people are even further away from traditional banking services, so there is a great need for microfinance.

What about microfinance makes you smile?

Microfinance is a system that reaches the poor people. There are a lot of people who cannot meet the banks demands, who cannot provide a guarantee or collateral. If you don’t have the guarantee you can’t go to the banks. In microfinance we don’t ask for all those big things before we give loans, so seeing how microfinance reaches those people makes me smile.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a loan officer?

We have meetings with our staff on Monday mornings and Friday evenings. Everybody is there, from the collectors to the people that work in the office. The Monday morning meeting is to encourage and motivate staff for the week ahead. They are not just working for their own salary, they are working for the people, and they are there to meet the needs of the people. They are also there to provide support and to answer questions. Some people don’t have enough money to eat, they may have a meal a day or even a meal in three days, which is very difficult. So our loan officers have to be well prepared to work with all kinds of clients.

Qualities like joy, genuine care for people and being really encouraging are very important as sometimes a business may not be doing so well and the loan officer needs to be able to pick that person up and give them the confidence to carry on.

So they have to be a happy person that likes working alongside others and have a genuine desire to help people?

Yes. In this business we need these qualities and in CODA we also look for a Christian world view.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles that microfinance faces?

For CODA the first and the biggest issue is the MFI staff – if they are not treated well or if they lack motivation they will not stay loyal and not turn up for work. The second is the clients, if they are not paying the loans back it can be a big problem to the institution. We offer a bonus to our staff, for example if all clients they look after pay back on the weekly collection they will earn a small bonus. This encourages the MFI worker to support the borrowers and get the best out of them.

In terms of wider microfinance issues there are a lot of microfinance institutions that start out meaning well. But sometimes the business grows very big with many branches, cars and a head office and they soon start to behave like banks.

So they stop providing social and start focusing more on the financial?

Exactly. Going forward we have some decisions to make. Our challenge is to never forget that this is a system to reach the poor. We must not forget our mission as we grow in size.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give to students who are considering a career in microfinance?

My heart is rejoicing when I hear about more people wanting to work in microfinance. It is very important to choose to help people. Make a decision to take this as a calling and not just as a job. There is nothing that will make you happier than making other people happy.

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