Apr 30, 2015, 10:07 AM
Having been working with and engaging the apex body of the Village Savings and Credit Associations in The Gambia over the year in several meetings, Reliance Financial Services Limited signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on 17 April 2014 to seal its partnership with VISACA Apex, at a ceremony held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia.
“We at Reliance are very proud to be associated with the V-APEX given that financial inclusion is the mandate of our organization and evident in our company’s tagline ‘Changing Lives’,” said Reliance Financial Services’ Managing Director Baboucarr Khan.
According to Mr Khan, the strategic partnership sets out to fully take advantage of the synergistic opportunities between the V-Apex and its beneficiaries – the Village Savings and Credit Associations (VISACAs).
“We hope that the partnership between the V-Apex and Reliance Financial Services would serve as an inspiration and catalyst for positive change for the promotion of more effective linkage banking relationships for the efficient development of the financial system to support financial inclusion,” he explained.“The widening of the bankable base in The Gambia will go a long way in wealth creation and the spurring of economic development thereby making a positive contribution to the attainment of MDG1, which is the alleviation of poverty leveraging on microfinance as a platform.”
The MOU between V-Apex and Reliance Financial Services has life-changing objectives and systemic corrective measures under its scope of activities for VISACAs in The Gambia.
These include training and development of the management and staff of the V-Apex and through the V-Apex also develop the capacities of the VISACAs in areas such as strategy and product development, sales and marketing of financial services, principles and practices of good lending, customer service and risk management.
There will also be provision of a robust information technology platform; development of alternative and additional revenue lines starting with remittances (domestic and international); marketing, rebranding and re-positioning of the VISACAs with a view to inspire confidence within the communities they operate and to serve their customers better.
The partnership, according to Mr Khan, will start with a pilot programme with 15 VISACAs out of the total of 80 VISACAs present in the country. It is projected that all the VISACAs will be integrated into the partnership programme by the year 2018 in line with the strategic blueprint developed by the V-Apex.
First established in the country some thirty years ago, the VISACAs have been faced with perennial governance issues, and to address some of these challenges, the VISACA Apex was formed in 2010 to act as a long-term technical partner to VISACAs.
“One of the strategic thrust of the VISACA Apex is to build strategic partnership with industry leaders like Reliance Financial Services (RFS),” VISACA Apex General Manager Alhaji Mohammed Sawaneh said.
“We at the VISACA Apex have no doubt that this partnership is a win-win for both institutions. While the partnership will enable RFS to expand its outreach, it will enable [us] to improve the corporate image of VISACAs and thereby improving confidence in the VISACA System.
“The VISACA Apex and RFS both cherish our shared belief in financial inclusion for the rural poor, which will ultimately lead to rural development and rural regeneration.”
Mr Sawaneh said the V-Apex intends to use its advantage of proximity to its clientele to bring financial services to all rural dwellers in The Gambia.
These services, he outlines, include providing financial services to the economically poor small farmers, especially women; easing transportation for students by providing bicycle loan products for them; enabling poor rural women invest in human capital by investing in school uniforms, school fees and health; and enabling youth invest in innovative business activities including IT.
The V-Apex GM noted that providing financial services in rural Gambia is a “huge challenge”, which relates to obstacles to and shortcomings of financial markets, urban-biased policies, systemic weaknesses of rural financial markets, and poorly designed interventions.
These challenges are, however, not insurmountable, he says: “We believe that by partnering with other like-minded institutions like RFS, we can together achieve our cherished dreams of providing cost-effective financial services for the rural poor.”
He acknowledged the contribution of the Gambia Government and its partners in consolidating and strengthening the rural finance sub-sector.
RFS-V-Apex partnership applauded
Any initiative that works to promote the development of microfinance and the inclusion of the poor in access to financial services will win the support of the Central Bank as “it works ardently to ensure that microfinance becomes an integral part” of the financial system, said the Central Bank of The Gambia’s Microfinance Director Bai Senghore, in his remarks on the occasion.
“It is indeed insightful that Reliance Financial Services recognizes the potential of the VISACAs and has taken up the reigns to partner with the VISACA Apex in the drive to improve the operational and financial sustainability of the lot,” Mr Senghore noted.
“This will indeed go a long way in strengthening the much neededinstitutional linkagesto deliver financial services to the majority of the population in a most prudent and cost-effective manner.
“For us at the Central Bank, we will continue to provide the enabling regulatory and promotional environment to support the development of the non-bank financial sector in a safe and sound manner.”
Rural Finance Project’s coordinator Lamin Fataju also applauded the strategic partnership and sound activities undertaken by both parties in improving the status quo of V-Apex and, by extension, VISACAs in The Gambia.
The partnership between RFS and V-Apex has the over-aching goal of rural financial inclusion, as “more than 70% of The Gambia’s population still does not have access to financial services”, yet these rural economic operators contribute approximately 30% of the country’s GDP through agriculture.