LEAD’s commitment to training has been the requisite to success. Simply allocating capital to poverty-stricken, uneducated, people can result in
poor repayment rates, frustration for the clients, and ultimately a failure to improve the regional economy.
All of our clients are required to attend business training before they are eligible for capital. Our PEI, NEI, and AEI loan programs each have specific programs ranging from 2-days to 12-weeks. Prospective clients are instructed in a range of subjects, including basic record-keeping, business ethics, marketing and pricing. Classes are held in all county offices, and each is equipped with a proficient local instructor, to function as the education coordinator.
An additional component of our loan program requires each prospective client to save a certain amount of money as loan collateral. Saving also instills good money management practices and allows the client to participate in his investment. Savings are returned to the client, when his loan is disbursed.
Due to the high demand for agriculture loans, LEAD created the Agriculture Empowerment Initiative for small farmers, in 2010. From the perspective of a lending entity, agriculture loans are high-risk, because of the chance of default from crop failures and market demand. To mitigate risk for the new program, LEAD hired an agriculturalist specialized in training micro-farmers.
Our technician ensures that each farmer has received training in disease and pest control methods, high-yield techniques, and marketing concepts. Each farmer
is trained for three days prior to receiving the loan and has regular access to agricultural services. Crops are regularly assessed by the LEAD trainer, which allows farmers to alter
methods and techniques when necessary. As the farms grow, clients will learn more about how to develop agribusinesses by studying and understanding the total value chain.
One of LEAD’s more unique program components is mentoring. International affiliates, Partners Worldwide and LEAD Grand Rapids, act as mentors or
consultants in LEAD’s daily operations. The constant communication between institutions provides accountability and continual learning opportunities for each party.
LEAD also offers clients the opportunity to participate in a tiered mentoring program. As business owners go through training, some skills may need further development through a mentor. Through profile matching, international, regional, and local mentors are arranged for interested clients. Mentoring provides extra accountability for each business owner, and allows each participant to learn “best practices” from the other’s business. Sharing ideas and information are important steps to improving business skills and operations.
International mentors from partners and affiliates for some of LEAD’s larger clients are being established. The opportunity to glean ideas and understanding from North American professionals, will give Liberian businessmen a competitive advantage.