From Bangalore to Bucaramanga and back: Ujjivan and Fundacion delamujer’s knowledge exchange on microfinance best practices

July 28, 2014

Exchange participants and Ujjivan staff members Murli and Sneh ‘Excellente’ and ‘Perfecto’ are the words which echo in our minds when recollecting our visit to Fundación delamujer in Colombia this past April. As members for an institution that prizes learning from its peers, we were honored to represent Ujjivan in this knowledge exchange organized by Women’s World Banking. It was a unique opportunity to learn best practices for individual lending, a methodology which has become so evolved in Latin America, from a microfinance institution MFI that shares our focus on serving low-income women.

Fundación delamujer is a leading MFI in Colombia and fellow Women’s World Banking network member. It was founded over 28 years ago and is headquartered in Bucaramanga, a manufacturing city in Colombia. Over the course of its long existence, it has seen many changes but the true transformation started four years ago when the small MFI decided to grow rapidly and expand to all parts of the country rather than being confined to the small city of Bucaramanga. They also introduced and grew their individual lending portfolio. Their current footprint is 258 branches (up from 34 branches just 5 years ago) with a customer base of 4.59 lakhs. Given all of these characteristics and the fact that Colombia, like India,is a highly evolved and competitive market for microfinance, Fundación delamujer was the ideal institution for Ujjivan to have a knowledge exchange with: theirgrowth story gave us useful insights as Ujjivan begins to rapidly scale up of its group lending and individual lending businesses.

What did we learn?

Fundación delamujer has a very structured marketing and sales process. To reach out to the target customer at massive scales, it undertakes various sales activities, including community campaigning through small engaging activities, door to door marketing by the loan officers, van campaigning and roadshows apart from using regular channels like TV, radio, posters, canopies etc. 55% of new customers are sourced through referrals; the existing customers are rewarded and recognized for referring a good acquaintance as a new customer.

Product diversity. Fundación delamujer offers individual business loans and consumer loans of various kinds. There are special loan products for rural areas based on agriculture and related activities. All these products have several variants which are offered to different customers segmented into three distinct categories with the help of a credit scorecard. All the processes, whether in the front office or in back office, are clearly defined and there is a lot of emphasis to adhere to the same.

Staff. Fundación delamujer takes pride in the quality of personnel it hires. All the loan officers are appropriately profiled before recruitment using psychometric tests. Their training methodology includes e-learning modules, classroom training and most importantly, extensive mentoring by the supervisors while on the job. As a result, the productivity of the loan officers is very high.

The learning was not all one-sided… it was a knowledge exchange after all. Over the course of the trip, we were able to share our expertise in organizational best practices and group lending. Ujjivan has consistently ranked among the Best Places to Work in India for three years, in the company of firms like Amex, Visa and Google. Also, because Ujjivan is a successful group lender, we were able to discuss our strategy and approach to our hosts from Fundación delamujer.

Inside Fundación delamujer with Women's World BankingOur week-long visit to the leading NGO MFI of Colombia was facilitated by staff from Women’s World Banking: credit manager, Ms. Bettina Wittlinger, network and business development manager Mr. Gil Lacson and Fellow Ms. Ines Marino (who also doubled up as the interpreter during meetings and even dinner time!). They helped us make the most of the learning opportunity, helping us prepare for the trip and while there, gently nudging us on ways to maximize what we learned.  We are thankful to Women’s World Banking, our resource partner and consultants, and their experts who accompanied us.

Overall, the experience was fantastic with so much of useful learning for life and not just for business. It was wonderful to get a glimpse of the Latin American culture. Another joy is that the Fundación delamujer appreciated our openness and thanked us for the mutually enriching experience. Lastly, the 30 hour journeys flying to and from South America from South Asai have been memorable ones, with people of different countries, cultures and background giving us different perspective to life. And here is a travel tip when you go to Colombia: have their peaches! They were so juicy in Bucaramanga, or as the locals say, Suculento!


Co-written by: Sneh Thakur and Murli Manohar