Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Rupert Scofield of FINCA International, a microfinance organization helping the poorest countries of the world

Rupert Scofield

 

Name of Social Enterprise?

FINCA International (www.finca.org)

Who is the person? What is there background?

I was born in NYC in 1949, graduated from Brown University in 1971, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala between 1971-73. Assigned to an agricultural services cooperative, I made $50 loans to indigenous peasant farmers so they could purchase fertilizer and other inputs to improve yields on their small plots of corn, squash and beans. Three things made a great impression on me: 1) although small, the loans had a huge impact on the well being of the farmers, who were able to grow more food and have a marketable surplus which enabled them to buy medicine, clothing and other necessities for themselves and their families, 2) of the 800 farmers who received the microloans, 799 of them repaid the loans in full, with interest, 3) the cooperative, after several years of operation, became financially sustainable, and is still in operation to day, after 40 years.

This experience suggested to me that you could build a financially sustainable business providing life-saving services to the poorest people on earth, who lived on less than a dollar a day. (my salary at the time was $150 a month, of which I was able to live on just $50, as long as I lived on the level of the people.)

What is your product?

FINCA provides financial services to world’s lowest income entrepreneurs, so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living.

Date officially launched?

1985

What came about that made them help in social change? Why was this social venture created?

I formed a strong bond with the Guatemalan Indians, identifying with their struggle to escape poverty and achieve social justice. Cruelly exploited by the landowning class, few of the cooperative members owned their own land. Most were sharecroppers or tenant farmers, allowed to cultivate a few acres of subsistence crops in return for working as laborers on the landlords’ sugar cane and cotton plantations on the Pacific coast. After the Peace Corps experience, working as a consultant for the United Nations, AID and the World Bank, I saw that the plight of the small producers was universal, and could be alleviated through microloans. With the founding of FINCA in 1985, by my partner in the consulting firm, John Hatch, I was able to realize my vision of creating a global financial services company dedicated to lifting people out of poverty

How many years and how many people has this person helped? How many people need help?

FINCA celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010, and has since helped millions of people in 21 countries of Latin America, Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East to a better life. Currently, we have 800,000 active clients, which means we are affecting the lives of at least 4 million people. Still, this is still a fraction of the people who could benefit from microfinance.

What is the cost per person that is being helped? Are you working on decreasing that cost by being more efficient?

Our average cost per client reached is $168, but varies by region. We are constantly innovating and reducing the cost of our services so that we can serve the lowest income micro entrepreneurs with affordable financial services.

Could others help you and how?

FINCA is seeking to partner with other social entrepreneurs working in developing countries who have come up with innovations in the areas of agriculture, health, education and small scale industry which would make our clients more profitable and/or improve their overall standard of living.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

FINCA employs over 6,500 people, most of them citizens of the 21 countries where we work.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out?

I have a blog at rupertscofield.com, and am on facebook and twitter (@rupertscofield). FINCA’s website is at www.finca.org

Youtube watch video URL?

FINCA’s Ambassador of Hope Natalie Portman talks about how FINCA helps mothers improve the lives of their families and create a better future for their children.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYQeDHZlm4c

What is the best advice you never got?

From time to time, people told me “focus, focus, focus”. Just work in one country, or on one thing at a time, don’t try to do too much all at once. If I had listened to them, FINCA would never have gone to so many countries in so many parts of the world, and we would not have had such a rich experience working in so many different cultures. Yes, it was exhausting at times, and the wheels came off more times than I care to remember, but somehow we always fought back and survived.

What is the one thing that you did right?

To quote from a section in my book, I always hired with a mind of remaining “the dumbest guy in the room.” By always hiring people who knew more in their area of specialty than I did, I was able to keep raising our game and remaining ready for the next stage of our growth.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

As our programs grew in size and complexity, we had to transform them into regulated banks and finance companies, and this meant hiring experienced financial managers from the formal banking sector. This created a major “culture shock” within the organization as the private sector people clashed with the non-profit folks. What eventually happened, however, was that the non-profit people came to appreciate the need for the bankers, and the bankers came to love the mission, and were eventually assimilated into our hybrid corporate culture.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Start with a deep understanding and sympathy for the down trodden people you are trying to help. Live on their level, and acquire an understanding of what is missing in their lives and the exact thing or intervention they require that you can supply that will unlock their productivity. Test it on a small scale, and if it works, then scale it up. If you have discovered something that really works, the financial and human resources you need will come with time, and, of course, a lot of persistence.

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

Don Quixote De La Mancha. He was the first social entrepreneur: a bit crazy, but committed to doing good in the world, and willing to sacrifice everything for his “impossible dream”.

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