By Moses Nosike
Mr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Lift Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO), a development micro-finance institution. He is a graduate of Sociology from the University of Benin and a masters degree holder in Development Studies from the same University.
He began his involvement in micro-finance as a cooperative officer. He has consulted and offered services on micro-finance to local and international institutions like The World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, NAPEP and Central Bank of Nigeria.
In this interview in his Benin office during the companyâ€™s AGM, heÂ restated his passion for micro-credit financing in Nigeria.
As the executive director, can you tell us the mandate of Life Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO)?
The mandate of LAPO as a development organisation is to supportÂ people in need with financial services as well as social empowerment service. AndÂ weÂ do this through our branches across the country. WeÂ workÂ mainly withÂ women.
Who are your target clients?
Our clients are mainly low income persons especially women, because we have come to realise that they are involved in micro enterprises and in most cases they are deprived of access to financial serviceÂ in the formalÂ sector.
How is LAPOâ€™s scope of networking?
Weâ€™ve over the yearsÂ planned and extended our services to 16 states of the federation. And we do this through a branch network. Currently, we provide services to 270,000 women with micro financial services.
LAPO disbursed N10.2b to micro-entrepreneurs in 2008, whatâ€™s its current capital base?
Weâ€™re no profit organisation, so the implication of that is that LAPO is not capitalised in terms of share capital, but over the years, weâ€™veÂ been able to accumulate surpluses which have actually formed our equity.
At the moment, weâ€™ve saved enough to be able to do what we did last year, by our providingÂ over N10b as loans and this year weâ€™ve planned to deliver N18b.
With the state of the economy now, can you forecast the future of LAPO and other micro-financial institutions in the country?
Weâ€™re very clear where we are going to. So the first thing in the next few months is for us to fully transform into a regulated micro finance bank, that will be completed by December this year.
Secondly, we want to also strengthen other units of our operations. For instance, we want to vote for more resource to support health services for low income persons. We want to look at the issue of micro insurance in order to see how risk issues can be addressed especially among the poor people, because I realise that the poor people are very vulnerable and the fact requires risk management support. We want to also see how we can support development of micro finance practices in this nation through our academy known as academy for micro finance and enterprise development. These are pointers to the direction to what we intend doing in the next few years.
OnÂ LAPOâ€™s AGM…
Normally, annually, weâ€™ve representatives of our clients coming together like a forum for us to review our activities in the past one year and at the same time to also have an insight into what will be happening within the organisation anotherÂ twelveÂ months.
Basically, thatâ€™s what our annual general meetingÂ isÂ all about, just likeÂ any other organisation.
What are the challenges so far?
Well, after several years, there have been challenges. I have always been associated with challenges at various stages of the development ofÂ the organisation.
Initially, the biggest challenge for me was to see how people react and accept an idea of providing financial services to low income people without collateral requirements.That as an initiative was quite a challenge to convince the people. As we move ahead other challenges come in.
Currently, there are two major challenges we face, one is the fact that we need enormous resources to be able to provide financial service to a very large number of Nigerians, realising thatÂ within the financial system we need to raise money for instance, for the commercial bank and that can be quite challenging.
Secondly, as we grow and become complex in terms of structure, and operation, we therefore require personnel skills and that will demand a lot of invest-ment in capacity building and training.
How do you generate resources to fund these financial services, are you into partnership?
At the beginning we raised resources from donations. Over the past few years, we have built partnership with financial institutions that provide fund.
On general note, whatâ€™s your advice to the government of Yarâ€™Adua?
My advice:To address poverty in this country, you look at it from two perspectives. The first one is to support the activities of non governmental organisations and indeed National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) to be able to act directly as addressing poverty by working with the poor.
Secondly, is to see how youth investment can be made in infrastructure, that definitely will enhance the capacity and productivity of the generality of the people. If you therefore put this two together, it will be able to make reasonable impact on poverty.
In the next 5 years, what level do you want to take LAPO?
What we want to do in the next five years is, first of all,Â to deepen our financial services by coming up with several products and at the same time expand our outage – covering more states. Weâ€™ve also started implementation of our African regional strategy which involves setting up micro finance institutions in a number of African countries. We currently have a very vibrant micro finance bank in Sierra Leone.
In addition, we intend to also strengthen our social services department by providing quality health services and micro insurance services especially and supporting help for our clients.
Are your services restricted exclusively to the women?
There is no clear policy that we empowerÂ women and not the men in LAPO, but the reality is that we have women more in poverty than the men. So we preferred to channel our resources to people that will react to poverty faster.