Shepias Dube Business Reporter
A LOCAL financial institution, Inclusive Financial Services (IFS), will this year disburse about $2 million for up-and-coming business enterprises in Matabeleland region.
The money is expected to be shared between smallholder farmers and small to medium entrepreneurs.
In an interview on Thursday, company director Mr Gerald Zhou said it was high time rural people be economically empowered because they play a critical role in the country’s economic recovery strategy.
“This is time to empower the economically active rural and urban households and businesses through provision of diversified, ethical, sustainable and affordable financial services in a manner that is convenient and simple,” Mr Zhou said.
He said small to medium scale enterprises in rural areas had been marginalised by financial institutions because most of them don’t have collateral security.
Inclusive Financial Services works with local authorities and traditional institutions as guarantors for those in need of loans.
“Our clients get recommendation from the village heads, chiefs and even district administrators depending on the nature of the business,” he said.
Mr Zhou said this arrangement was convenient with villagers and had made the lending institution a household name in the region.
He said in the last two years more than 400 small holder irrigation farmers and hundreds of SMEs in Matabeleland region had received financial support from the financial institution.
Mr Zhou said his company’s cordial relationship with rural communities had enabled it to grow into a formidable force in the financial sector.
In the last five months the organisation has managed to establish three branches in Bulawayo and one in Gwanda town.
“We are also in the process of setting up a branch in Hwange to ensure that all communities in the target geographical space have access to the financial solutions,” said Mr Zhou.
The organisation has also entered into partnership with ZB Bank to offer micro-insurance and bill payment facilities.
This has enabled SMEs to have a one stop shop as they get more complimentary products additional to their working capital needs.
Some villagers who spoke to Sunday Business commended Inclusive Financial Services for assisting rural people to earn meaningful income.
Headman Thamsanqa Ncube of Mthanjambili village in Matobo District said the loan facility from IFS had transformed lives in his village.
“Most people have started income generating projects and can now send their children to school, thanks to loans from IFS,” said Mr Ncube.
He said more than 30 households in his area have benefited from the loan facility.
Mr Pilate Dube, a Binga-based businessman who has accessed IFS loan three times said the financial institution was the only hope for cash strapped rural SMEs.
“As SMEs in Binga we approached many banks in Bulawayo and they declined to give us loans. It was only IFS that came to our rescue,” said Mr Dube.