Sammie Rayner: The emphasis of this year’s event is on how Lumana is creating a model for supporting rural communities. When people hear of traditional microcredit, they think of Kiva, or of other different programs that are out there. A lot of those programs just work on either an individual level or just on a business level. What we’re trying to do is make strategic investments in different businesses that support the growth of a healthy community.
It’s a more holistic model to providing financial services. The reason the tomato is on the flier is that it’s a huge crop, a staple in the Ghanaian diet, but currently there’s about 50 percent post-harvest waste. Lumana is focusing on the farmer and making investments in farmers, as well as making investments in a tomato cannery that can purchase those inputs. Then we get to sign contracts with local schools, and kids get nutritious meals.
Especially when it comes to staple foods, like tomatoes, there’s already a market for it locally. Sadly, they’re actually purchasing their canned products from Europe and China because there just isn’t the infrastructure there to process and can what they are already making locally. We’re trying to connect those dots in the local market. One investment in the tomato canner has an incredibly ripple effect and helps to improve the sophistication of the market.
Jessica Tupper: I saw that you have a communication team in Ghana, and then you have the Seattle team. How does communication work between the teams?
SR: The majority of our team is in Ghana. We have eight full time local Ghanaian staff, and they’re primarily focused on managing our microfinance program. They do our business training with community members, they manage all the loans that we distribute. And now a lot of what they’re doing is going out and looking for more investments like this tomato cannery. The cannery is the first of what we call “village ventures,” which is our investment arm for Lumana.
I think the message for people here is that these businesses are really not all that different from the businesses in the United States.
Our U.S.-based staff works in really close partnership with our local US staff members who live in Ghana. Our staff on the ground really help to be a liaison, to make sure that what we’re saying in our fundraising lines up with what is happening on the ground – including ensuring that all the accounting and transparency and reporting is accurate. We talk to the Ghana team weekly, and then I’m over there about two to three months of the year. We do a lot of back and forth!
JT: What do you want people to know about Lumana for the event?
SR: Well, we’re working on getting our chief Loan Officer in the field to attend the fundraiser – and we’re really excited about this possibility. He’s Ghanaian, he’s never left his home country – he’s never even been on an airplane, but we’re hoping he can join us to connect with our community in Seattle. One of the coolest parts of our event will be getting to hear stories directly from the field.
The other message we’re trying to get across is the theme of the event: ‘Sowing The Seeds of Growth’. From our very beginning, we’ve been focused on building out our microfinance program, and this year we’re trying to jump into small and medium sized enterprise investments.
I think the message for people here is that these businesses are really not all that different from the businesses in the United States. Ghana’s in such a cool place right now. They have been a model for democracy in Africa and they’re ready for the middle class to take off. There’s still a huge gap, but it’s just an exciting time to think about Ghana as an investment opportunity. These are such creative, resourceful, entrepreneurial people, and that’s what Lumana’s all about, trying to recognize the business opportunities and helping them thrive.
I think it’s a more dignifying approach for development, to say “Let’s make investments in people.” Especially in those medium-sized businesses that can create jobs, folks can get themselves out of poverty if we just give that little leg up.
JT: What’s happening next for Lumana?
SR: This is a critical year for us in terms of growth. We’ve been testing making these investments and this is kind of catapulting us into a model where we’re looking at more of these small and medium sized enterprises. We want to pioneer this field of investing in bigger businesses that are lead by their community. The next step for us is taking what we raise at this event, and subsequent to demonstrate that these medium sized companies can pay back and show that it’s a viable model for rural African development.
Photo credits, GhanaMakeYouSweat, ChangeWA