Continued from Grameen Dialogue # 61
In this part of the interview, Mr. Hai
Khan continues to discuss the specific
challenges and rewards of microcredit
programs in post-war Kosovo, delving
into personal as well as professional
GD: In earlier stages of KGMAMF operations,
you faced many infrastructural
problems, as well as post-war dangers,
such as mines, etc. that hampered your
operations. Do these problems still persist,
or how have they been tackled by
HK: I have heard from my colleagues that
in 1999 or 2000, there was no infrastructure,
roads, utilities, nothing…but I found
a better situation than the past. Now there
is electricity round the year, and a good
communications system. Roads from cities
to villages are still not so good, but others
are fairly good. I don't think there are any
landmines now. Perhaps there are few
problems in the region of Mitrovicia, but
not elsewhere. So the conditions are definitely
better than in early days.
GD: How are your living conditions
HK: Electricity is a big problem in
Kosovo. If you compare the overall socioeconomic
conditions now with what existed
in 2000, without doubt there has been a
lot of progress. But still there are problems.
This year the supply of electricity is
on a 4:4 basis, meaning four hours with
electricity and four without. For this, we
have some backup. In every house, there is
one room with a wooden stove, which uses
firewood to heat the room; so people are
protected if there is no electricity, as the
fire still provides heat.
GD: Please tell us about the recent
attempted robbery that took place in
Prishtina. This is the second such violent
event that took place at KGMAMF. Why
do you think KGMAMF or microfinance
is under attack?
HK: What had happened in Prishtina was
that four of our staff members from that
branch were out to conduct center meetings
and collect repayment. About 10 km
away from the city, in Obillage, their vehicle
was signaled to stop by two youth,
around 18 years old, who were armed with
weapons. Luckily, our driver was very
smart, and he pretended to stop, and then
sped off quickly when the robbers were
caught off-guard. The robbers then shot
twice at the car, but the staff escaped
unscathed. Although the vehicle was damaged,
the robbers failed, as they couldn't
harm our staff and take the €10,000 worth
of installment money.
I think this is a result of the socioeconomic
conditions of Kosovo, and it's not targeted
towards KGMAMF or microfinance.
Unemployment is a very big problem in
Kosovo, so there is crime. Also, these two
attempts happened only around the capital
Prishtina, where unemployment is even
more acute. It's not the same in other
GD: Now, moving on towards your personal
experience in Kosovo, do you feel
that there are many cultural barriers for
a Bangladeshi to work in Kosovo?
HK: Yes, there are a lot of cultural barriers
for a foreigner. Language is a very important
barrier, which I mentioned already.
Then, being an outsider, you are treated as
a foreigner. In Kosovo, the social structure
does not allow anyone to simply walk into
someone's house without a prior appointment.
But our Grameen philosophy is to go
to our borrowers'/potential borrowers'
home to talk to them about microcredit.
Since they are quite formal, this poses a
barrier for our program.
Also, there are still some areas of Kosovo,
where people are very conservative.
Sometimes I discuss with my other
Bangladeshi colleague about how this can
be so in Europe, that women are not interested
to come in front of us, to talk to us.
The sentiment is that, "Make your program
for men, we don't give permission to our
women to do such things." This is a very
different picture from what you would
expect in Europe, but this is admittedly in
a few areas. It reminds us of our country
actually. See, the perception is that women
do only housework. So if you give loans to
women, how will they utilize this credit?
But now, people have changed this position
and hopefully, will be convinced further.
GD: What do you feel you have learnt
from your experiences in Kosovo, particularly
from the people of Kosovo?
HK: No doubt we have learnt a lot from
the culture and society of Kosovo. The
most important lesson is their discipline.
Undoubtedly, they are a disciplined nation.
Their punctuality and sincerity are also
remarkable. Their family relationships -
still they live in a joint family; even in our
country the joint family has already broken
down, but they have it.
Last October, Kosovo had its second parliamentary
election. Just for our curiosity,
my colleague and I visited some polling
stations. There is something to learn from
them in how they conducted their election.
The atmosphere was so quiet, no demonstrations,
no meetings; just the voters
patiently going to the centers and casting
their votes. So there are many things to
learn from the Kosovo people.
GD: What about work ethics in Kosovo?
As a Bangladeshi, how does the work
environment differ in Kosovo from our
HK: The people of Kosovo are no doubt
very sincere. But not all five fingers are the
same. We have 21 local staff members,
who are all different individuals. But we
tried to create a good working environment,
mixing their culture with ours. As
you know, in Europe they follow the 9-5
work schedule. But if you look at
KGMAMF activities, people are working up to 8 or 9 pm. If someone doesn't finish
his work by 5, he knows that he must do so,
no matter how late. As our main focus is field
work, if we maintain a strict eight hour
timetable, we might not get all the daily
work done. So we created new work
ethics, combining the European and
Grameen cultures together.
Mr. Abdul Hai Khan, Project Director of KGMAMF, flanked by members of the project at a center meeting
GD: What did the prople think of you when you first assumed your position in Kosovo?
HK: I felt very welcome when I
first joined. The KGMAMF staff
welcomed me, and we have
worked very well together for the
past year. Now I understand
them, their skills, their way of
working…When I conducted my
first workshops for the center
chiefs of each branch, I felt that
the borrowers were also very
GD: How do you think they feel
about Bangladesh and its people?.
HK: There is a two-sided reaction,
both positive and negative.
They know Bangladesh is a very
poor country, a country that's always under
water, with political instability. This is the
negative side. The positive side is that they
admire Bangladeshis, particularly the poor
women, who have established such a large
organization like Grameen. They are
impressed about this and what they have
learnt from Grameen and KGMAMF.
Also, there are many Bangladeshis working
in UNMIK, the UN administration in
Kosovo. There are more than 94 police and
over 10 civilians, whose performance is
also very good. So now the Kosovo people
have a positive impression about
GD: So, what are your plans for
KGMAMF in the future?
HK: We plan to increase our outreach to 8,000
members by 2009, and disburse more than €50
million. We already have already introduced the
Grameen Generalized System (GGS) in
KGMAMF, so we'll have more savings products
in the future. We increased the loan ceiling, as
there are many borrowers who want to take out
more money to increase their business. If we
don't open a window for them, they'll go to other
commercial banks. These are members who
have been with us for the past four years, and we
have helped them develop their skills. Now that
they have become entrepreneurs, why should we
let them go to other banks? So we are providing
bigger loans for these borrowers.
We are seriously thinking of transforming
the project into a bank, which will be a
strong financial institution for the Kosovo
people. As I have already mentioned, one
of the main challenges for MFIs, is funding,
so becoming a bank will solve this
problem. We'll then get permission from
Banking and Payment Authority of
Kosovo (BPK), i.e. the
Central Bank of Kosovo, to
mobilize more savings, which
will provide the solution for
more than 60% of our funding
GD: Please give us an update
on KGMAMF operations.
HK: In August 2004, we formulated
a new loan product
circular. The new products are
providing fresh loans after six
months and also microenterprise
loans. Up to June 2005,
we have provided 776 fresh
loans after six months, and 40
microenterprise loans . So now
we have 40 Gold Members.
This number will increase this year, as we
are moving very cautiously at the moment,
letting borrowers see how microenterprise
loans can be utilized. And about 20% of our
members have already graduated out of
poverty due to participation in the
KGMAMF microcredit program.