Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Adet Kachi

November 1, 2009 Posted by Update

In 2006, Adet Kachi became CEO of Yehu Microfinance Trust, a Unitus partner serving the rural areas of coastal Kenya. This October, we were pleased to arrange for Adet to visit Equitas, a Unitus partner based in Chennai, India, as well as attend the 2009 Unitus Leadership Summit. We recently sat down with Adet to learn more about his vision for Yehu and for the wider microfinance landscape.

Q: We’ve just wrapped up the Summit. What were your impressions, as a first-time attendee?

A: The conference was great—very enlightening, very informative. The areas that were carefully selected were relevant, at least for us as an institution. It was good exposure to get to know how others are doing things and issues that they’re grappling with and at what levels.

Q: You recently did an exchange visit to Equitas. Tell us a little bit about that experience and some highlights that you took away from that visit.

A: Because I have so much I could share about Equitas—we could spend a whole day here—I’ll summarize a few key success drivers.

First, detailed written processes, procedures, and systems. Each and every process at Equitas is detailed and written. They have a clear, developed communication structure that ensures that every policy and every procedure reaches the people who need to know about it.

Second, knowledge within the senior management team of what happens on the ground. The basic on-the-ground knowledge that the senior management staff has is very strong, regardless of whether they’re in operations or not. That really ensures they can be of help in terms of support and in terms of coming up with better ideas on how to do things within the organization.

Third, completely transparent approach. Transparency is across their organization, right down to the members. The average member knows even how the interest that they are being charged has been calculated—not just knowing what it is. The kind of knowledge the individual member understands in terms of the basic mission and vision of the organization as well as clear policies and procedures—why those policies and procedures are in place—that also just amazed me.

Q: What type of innovative technology did you see?

A: To give you an example, I’ll talk about operational practices. After every meeting, the loan officer sends information to the main office through text message—number of members, time, and amount of money that has been collected. The SMS system has then been configured into their MIS. So automatically, information is generated, first of all, to acknowledge the text message and also to update the data in the system. Once it’s updated, you can see it on an electronic screen showing the status of various meetings. So they have very clear information in terms of time, money, and number of members attended.

For each meeting, the screen wavers for various statuses: green, yellow, or red, meaning it’s over and no message has been received. When this happens, an automatic text message is sent to several people: [to] the loan officer to state why he hasn’t given the responses for the meetings, to the branch manager asking to take action because this officer has been transmitted, and to the area manager to take note. So you see, already the system is automated—that’s technology. It saves so much time and you can now be able to track in almost real time these officers and hundreds of thousands of clients in a fairly easy way. And it puts checks and balances in place for cash management.

Not only that, but with disbursement [of loan money], the risk management staff randomly picks about 10 percent of disbursements and calls specific members to check if they received the money, how much they got, if it was on time, and whether they were happy. That’s another one of their strengths.

And that is all within a very short time. And that’s technology. That’s how you use technology very innovatively. This has actually made them one of the most efficient MIS users in the industry. The efficiencies are almost two and a half times more than the nearest immediate competitor.

Q: So out of those practices at Equitas that you mentioned, do you think there are some that you can take back and begin to implement at Yehu?

A: Yes, definitely. If I may talk about communication, I would definitely want to upscale that—come up with a well-customized strategy that can enhance the degree at which information flows to the right people. Then the obvious thing that I’m going to take up is to replicate a direct commitment to training—everyone participating in trainings, including me.

Then, I may look at continually strengthening our processes. We are fairly structured in terms of writing our processes [down], but there is still room for improvement, looking at the levels at which Equitas had reached. Obviously, I will work on this issue of transparency and push it much more. We also are basically a very transparent institution, very, very transparent, but I still have learned from their [Equitas’s] systems. I think I was doing it more from a conviction but this time I’m encouraged to do it. I have a lot of energy now to really do it because it worked well.

One of the people [microfinance clients] that I was able to talk to, about why they chose to remain with Equitas, said it was because of their transparency. It was very clear—the enthusiasm, the passion, the excitement of those women—that image is so strong in my mind. To have such confidence in the institution. And one would have expected that maybe because these guys are demanding of the payments on time, you could find some kind of strain on them. It wasn’t there. These women were reciting that oath with their hearts. I think this is lovely.

Q: Unitus’s Africa Microfinance Growth Centre kicked off this last spring. How have you liked being part of that program? What has your experience been so far?

A: Unitus and the Growth Centre, I think, is the greatest thing that has happened to Yehu this year. It offers me a forum to stretch my abilities. For me, the Growth Centre is first and foremost a forum in which to interact with my fellow peers, which is great. I don’t have the privilege of interacting with my peers because I’m based in Mombasa and most of these MFIs just have branches in Mombasa. So that in itself is offering a good opportunity for me to enhance, stretch, renew, [and] improve various management and leadership skills.

And since the Growth Centre has a practical approach, not an academic approach, it makes all the difference. It helps you see how to apply the different models and the mental models that are in the textbooks—taking the academic world into the real world. In the simple tools that they’re developing—that’s how the Growth Centre is helping a lot.

Of course, the challenge will still be how I’m able to translate that and pass it on, because the value of the Growth Centre will be to the extent I’m able to pass that information on to others so that it can be institutionalized. But, in short, the Growth Centre is complementing very well in terms of pushing our strategy within the organization.

Q: Tell me a little about where you want to take Yehu.

A: In two or three years, we want to scale up. Actually, we’re quite ambitious. We want to push our members to about 25,000 to 28,000 by then. We need to come from six branches to 15 or 17 branches. I think once the MIS and the systems are in place, that will leave me quite a bit of space to push more on diversifying our funding sources. It’s definitely ambitious. But it’s doable.

Q: Last question: You’ve talked a lot about the challenges and struggles as well as your passion. What inspires you the most about being part of Yehu?

A: First, the self-discovery of the people I work with has been very, very rewarding because I see people change and start seeing themselves in a new way which they’ve never done before. Seeing their sense of self-worth, self-esteem—it makes them see how much they can make real, significant contribution. That has really been inspiring.

Second, then, when I see those women, their confidence and ability and their ability to change their lives, in terms of taking responsibility for the direction of their destiny and in how they’re utilizing these funds. I’m seeing—especially through those center meetings—leaders being created.

During our last immediate election, we had about three of our members who stood for the local seats and basically, the leadership has been built through these meetings because we try and make the meetings run themselves—we just support. And to me, for someone to be able to have an opportunity to change and influence their destiny, positively, I think is very, very inspiring. I think having a little bit of impact on the fate of humanity in a way that makes a positive contribution has been really my strongest drive when I wake up very early and get to sleep very late.

Q: Thank you for sharing that with us, and all your insights. It’s been a pleasure. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I also want to say this: I am so grateful for Unitus—that they are facilitating this particular vision. For them to have chosen to trust Yehu, at its extremely humble position, I think for me is very humbling. We didn’t really think that we deserve to have had this opportunity with Unitus. But for you to have that trust in us, we really, really appreciate it.

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