I had the opportunity to sit in on the first client trainings for two new community banks today and yesterday. Before receiving a loan from HOPE, clients need to pass through a fairly intensive series of training seminars. By the time they get to this first meeting, clients have met with loan officers in their homes or businesses, but still have lots of questions about HOPE Congo and loan details. At the first meeting, HOPE explains its mission and identity as a Christ-centered microfinance institution, describes its vision for positive impact on clients, reviews the loan products and terms, and explains how clients work together as a community bank and can advance into higher loans over time.
At the first meeting, loan officers started out speaking in French, but as many as half the clients felt more comfortable getting this information in Lingala or Kituba, two of the local languages spoken in this region. Luckily, Loveline speaks both very well and was able to translate everything. Having clients understand this information is of utmost importance. Loan officers are willing to stay and answer questions for as long as it takes for clients to have a crystal-clear understanding of what HOPE Congo does and why, and what kind of responsibility they’re walking into when they sign up for loans.
During three additional training sessions, clients learn more details about functioning as a community bank (they write bylaws, select a group name, elect bank president, secretary, etc), receive biblically-based business skills training (e.g. bookkeeping, inventory control, basic business strategy and marketing, etc) and learn the value of savings. Once these trainings are complete, clients are ready to receive their loans.
When clients walked into the meeting, they saw these verses written on the blackboard:
Psalm 127:1 – “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
Proverbs 24:27: “Finish your outdoor work, and get your fields ready.
After that, build your house:”
Jacinta, the Operations Manager, explained that her team chose these verses because they wanted clients to understand both the value of training and the fact that HOPE Congo is centered on Christ. “We want to say, right away, ‘Hey, before you do anything else, you need to come to these trainings and get your business ready because you need preparation before you can grow. Then, when you have more understanding, you can get a loan and start to build success.’ We tell them why we pray during our meetings. Unless God builds the house, unless your business honors God from the beginning, then all the training for the loan and all the work you do with the loan will be in vain. So we start all our meetings with prayer and commit them to God.”