Thomas Awiapo

Thomas Awiapo: Enigma in the financial world

While world financial institutions and markets are failing, village SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Communities) women are making it big in the financial world. To describe this scenario, I will say, “Water is running up hill.” What an enigma!

These world financial institutions are supposedly equipped with the highest IC technology with the most impeccable security features. They hire the most qualified professionals to run their financial businesses and yet they crumble in the face of financial crisis. These poor village SILC participants have never seen a computer; they don’t even have electricity. The majority of them never had the opportunity to go to school and so cannot even read and write. Most of them start with an initial capital range of $5 to $20 and they manage their businesses totally by themselves with just a little training from Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Why and how these women succeed with almost nothing while the world’s prominent financial institutions are melting down is the million dollar question for you and me to answer. What is their magic of operation?

Sudan drilling

Members of a microfinance group in Yendi, Ghana, are unlocking their safe to collect and distribute loan money to the rest of the group. Photo by Mikaele Sansone/CRS

While we all continue to ponder this question, let me share with you a few insights I gathered while interacting with SILC members in the village of Goziire, Ghana. I have hung out a lot with participants of SILC during some of their meetings and transactions; I have observed and asked one question after another regarding their modus operandi. Now, the enigma is unfolding and I can confidently tell you the secret of their remarkable success.

Participants of SILC have a unique way of doing business. It is the genuineness, the sincerity and mutual respect with which they do business. Honesty, transparency and the spirit of corporate responsibility are the basic principles of all their business and financial transactions. They are not obsessed about making money by any means—“whether by hook or by crook.” They do not “sell the poor for a pair of sandals” as in the words of the prophet Amos. It is not just about making profits, it is about making profits in a just and fair manner. It’s about making money right while upholding your own dignity and the dignity of others. It’s about making profits while maintaining right relationships.

These simple business women are my financial heroes. There is a lot to learn from them. As we do business at our various levels, the lesson I can share with you is that, yes, business is about making profit. But at the same time, realize that the end does not always justify the means. Let’s make money right, just like these SILC participants are doing.

SILC is a holisitc programming approach that provides a strategy to increase low household income. It achieves its goal by providing people, primarily women, with income-generating opportunities through access to self-managed savings-led financial services. In fact, the concept of SILC has resonanted so well with rural communities and it is growing and spreading in its effort to uplift entire families and communities.

Describing the impact of SILC in her life, one woman said, “I am glad I have access to credit for my business but I am most grateful for the SILC welfare fund that I can turn to whenever the need arises. I no longer have to go from house to house, neighbor to neighbor begging for money in times of desperate need.”

Another woman, a mother of three children and a SILC member also said to me, “With the help of proceeds from SILC I am now in a better position to provide for the nutritional, educational and health needs of my children.”

From the field, I can tell you that SILC is a great family and community builder. I humbly appeal to individuals and organizations that have the means and the opportunity to promote the goals and objectives of SILC anytime, anywhere, not to hesitate to do so. It is a creative way to empower people, especially women and their families.”

– Thomas Awiapo
As a child in Ghana, Thomas Awiapo was a beneficiary of CRS school feeding programs. Now, as an adult, he works for CRS Ghana and travels to the U.S. annually to tell his inspiring story to American Catholics at schools, parishes and communities. Thomas will be a featured guest blogger and will be reporting from Ghana about the issues he witnesses firsthand.

Watch the video: Empowered for Life: The Thomas Awiapo Story.

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