YAKA BAGH VILLAGE, Balkh Province – Forty-year old Zahra is arranging plastic flowers and beads in a newly built room in her house. She carefully separates the flowers and threads them with the beads, arranging them artistically. The floor of the room is full of colorful flowers, threads, and beads.
Zahra used to work as a tailor, but stopped sewing when she learned about the First MicroFinance Bank Afghanistan (FMFB-A). “I got an initial loan of 50,000 Afghanis, ($850) from the First MicroFinance Bank Afghanistan two years ago. It was a great help to me, I can make a livelihood now,” says Zahra.
The loan from FMFB-A has enabled her to make plastic flowers and sell them at the market. Zahra, who lives in a seven-member household in Yaka Bagh village in Dehdadi district, Balkh Province, has been deprived of education like other women in the village. She cannot read and write, but ambition has made her a hard-working and clever flower maker.
“It gives me a very good feeling that I make and sell my own products. When I see that people buy and use my products, my self-confidence goes up further,” says Zahra, a mother of five children. After starting the business, she took another bank loan of 100,000 Afghanis ($1,700) to expand her enterprise.
Zahra’s access to credit was made possible through the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA). MISFA aims to contribute to Afghanistan’s economic growth by developing a viable, inclusive financial sector for the poor, and the underserved small and medium enterprises. It has received financial support from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) since 2003. In November 2013, IDA provided $50 million to the Access to Finance Project, which gives further support to MISFA to increase access to financial services of micro, small, and medium enterprises.
With MISFA’s support, the FMFB-A, which operates in 13 provinces, is able to offer financial services to smaller businesses, which would otherwise have difficulty in securing loans due to their size. The FMFB-A began offering financial services to its customers in Balkh Province in 2007, and has so far attracted 2,500 active customers, providing a total of 92 million Afghanis ($1.5 million) in business loans. Women make up more than one third (35 percent) of its customers.
Most of the beneficiaries of the bank’s loans were in difficult economic circumstances and have managed to change the course of their life through these loans. The bank has provided a good platform for those who want to expand their small businesses, according to Mustafa Khayber, FMFB-A Branch Director in Balkh. “In addition to providing financial services to customers, the FMFB-A offers advice for improvement of the customers’ businesses,” he says. “It also facilitates exchange of expertise and ideas in every aspect, particularly in marketing, between its old and new customers.”