In this interview, I discuss what’s needed for microfinance institutions to progress and develop in the Middle East, how we began and implemented our programs in that region, and the milestones we recently celebrated in Georgia and Pakistan.
I want to thank The Banker‘s Middle East editor, James King, for having me on the show. Here’s the link:
I will remember 2013 as a year of great struggles, both professional and personal. But it looks like both FINCA and the family — if indeed there is any separation between these two — are ending the year on the upswing. There is always the temptation to heed that little whispering in the ear “It can’t last”, but for once I’m just going to enjoy where we are right now.
No small amount of satisfaction is derived from my recent trip to Lahore, Pakistan, for the rebranding launch of FINCA Microfinance Bank, Ltd., a fantastic event marked by a sell out crowd of 350 dignitaries, staff, media and artists, as well as great food and even some great (and blessedly brief) speeches. Afterwards, one of the dignitaries commented to me about our delegation from FINCA HQ: “So many foreign businessmen seem like they just want to do their business and get of the country as quickly as possible. But you FINCA people seem to really enjoy the great things Pakistan has to offer.”
Got that right. New countries — I’ve only made four trips to Pakistan, so it still qualifies as “new” — always pleasantly surprise me, in large part because their charms are largely lost behind the sensationalist headlines that typically capture only the bad things that occur there, which of course are no more representative of the land and the people than the acts of senseless violence that occur in our country.
There are new prospects on the World Peace front, as well, aren’t there? We could choose to heed that soft voice in the ear: “It can’t last”. But let’s not. Let’s give it a chance. And who knows? Maybe this time it will last, and a Better World is just around that Bend in the River.
We kicked off the branding campaign for our bank in Lahore, Pakistan this week amidst great enthusiasm among the board and staff. The bank is performing well under the capable leadership of our CEO, Mudassar Aquil, and his team. While under no illusions about the challenges of operating a microfinance bank in Pakistan, we are optimistic about the future and our ability to improve the lives of thousands of Pakistani microentrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in this neck of the woods, it looks like its ‘game on’ in Syria. I imagine Obama is in that ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ mode these days. He lives in the shadow of the Iraq WMD fiasco. He probably remembers Bush at that press conference in Bagdad, who instead of receiving a bouquet of flowers from a grateful Iraqui girl had to dodge a pair of shoes flying at his head. But this time, the evidence seems incontrovertible, and the world can’t turn a blind eye while Assad tries to make gassing his people an acceptable means of crushing rebellion.
A good time for me to head to my next destination, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we will be celebrating both our 10th anniversary and a big milestone, as DRC joins Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Mexico in the “Platinum Tree” Club of FINCA subsidiaries that serve over 100,000 active borrowers.
Whew, it’s been a long journey, and a lot of work by many dedicated people. But what a blast!
People often ask me what motivates FINCA to work in some of the toughest, most difficult neighborhoods on earth. The answer is: the people need us. It’s easy enough to be dissuaded by the headlines that come out of these countries — civil wars, crime, political instability — but what you have to remember is the scary headlines don’t tell the story of the 99% of the population that just gets up every day, goes to work, and tries to make a living. FINCA serves the people that stay behind when the trouble starts. The people that will be there after the problems are over. The people that are rebuilding their societies, brick by brick. Hardworking people with good values who only want what we all want: a better life, with dignity, and a brighter future for their children.
We’ll be there for them as they strive for it. Building Tomorrow Together.
I had a nice swim at the pool in the Serena Hotel spa this morning, the same place where in 2008 the Taliban killed six foreigners while they were exercising in the gym. Security has been beefed up since then, obviously, and there have been no further incidents.
While you may criticize Karzai for many things, you have to admit he’s courageous. As the fuse burns closer and closer (first his half brother killed, now his head Peace negotiator), he pours on the gunpowder, announcing a “Strategic Partnership” with India, Pakistan’s least favorite neighbor. His choice of words was calculated, no doubt, to counter any presumptions on the part of Pakistan to pursue a “strategic deepening” with its neighbor to the north, which Afghanistan has described as “wanting to make us a 5th province of Pakistan”. If this doesn’t move Karzai up on ISI’s hit list I don’t know what will.
Today more hunting for dough, and hopefully a chance to visit the troops and our clients. Everything still quiet in Kabul, inshallah.