In September 2023, I was able to experience the work of our partners in East Africa firsthand along with my colleagues Annette Ecila and Sarah Lesar. The visit allowed me to step away from my usual desk work and was my first time visiting our MFI partners. There is a huge difference in evaluating a partner from a distance compared to being actively immersed in the field, where I could witness the impact firsthand.
One of the partners we visited was a microfinance institution called VEP, which stands for Visionary Empowerment Programme. VEP is headquartered in the industrial town of Thika, Kenya. VEP is a unique and innovative MFI as it promotes microfinance via green energy. Typically, our partners’ primary purpose is expanding access to credit with a secondary vision of providing green energy loans. However, for VEP, the two go hand-in-hand. VEP provides a loan in the form of an asset like water tanks or solar lights. These assets provide essential resources that not only improve lives but also contribute to environmental sustainability and economic viability. VEP’s approach intertwines financial inclusion with environmental consciousness.
Our visit to the VEP office was followed by a 40-minute drive from the vibrant town of Thika to a rural community where we met several of VEP’s borrowers. The quiet community was located off a main road in which economic activity seemed to be centered. As we navigated the bumpy dirt roads and sparse housing, the economic struggles of the community became evident. The story of Ann Wangari stood out to me as a powerful example of the transformative impact that VEP’s loans have had in the community. Ann is a 54-year-old farmer, and cares for a family of seven children alongside her husband. Ann has received a range of loans from VEP which have included solar lights, a fuel efficient cookstove, a solar power bank, a water tank, and a cash loan for agricultural purposes. The loans in the form of assets that Ann received have enhanced her and her family’s daily life by providing security and access to basic necessities such as clean water and reliable lighting. The access to clean water is crucial for both the household and her livestock.
During our conversation with Ann, she reiterated that her life has changed because of the loans that she has received from VEP. She no longer has to worry about power outages. Although at times Ann faced difficulties repaying her loan during times of drought, she explained that VEP is understanding and flexible in such situations and worked with her to support her through her hardships. Her wishes for VEP’s continued existence and heartfelt expression of gratitude reflects the profound impact of microfinance in the lives of people like Ann.
A memorable moment was when Annastacia, a shareholder of VEP, offered Ann advice for her farm, as Annastacia herself is a farmer. It was apparent that Annastacia is committed to ensuring that borrowers not only receive financial assistance but also gain knowledge that will help them thrive. Annastacia’s ability to relate with borrowers and her genuine concern for their welfare and success is reflective of the supportive environment that VEP fosters.
Another moment that stood out to me was when we were driving through the community visiting borrowers, and I was able to see the green water tanks characteristic of VEP in almost every home. The visible impact of VEP’s initiatives on an entire community was a powerful sight.
The experience of witnessing the transformative impact our work was immensely rewarding.Overall, the opportunity to visit our partners in Africa has reaffirmed my commitment and passion for what we do at Envest, and it served as a reminder of the purpose behind our efforts.