Hello to Everyone.
I am Helmut Grossmann, trainer for the Certified Expert in Microfinance (CEMF) e-learning course. I also have designed most of the course material. So, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you a little bit about myself and the origins of this course.
The idea to launch CEMF as an online course was born almost seven years ago as a response to the growing number of applicants for the Frankfurt School ‘Microbanking Summer Academy’. Classroom courses kept our outreach in very low numbers. Since then we have developed an online course that is pretty much no-frills and low-tech to make access easy even in those regions of the world where internet access is limited.
When I had put together the first course materials I aligned the course content with the content from our Summer Academies. However, over the years, we revised and extended the materials, including more and more of the students’ feedback and my own professional experiences.
In my professional life, I was lucky enough to work and live in more than 20 countries, mostly in Asia and Africa. Right now, I live in Bogotá, Colombia, first time ever on the other side of the big pond. I have seen and learned a lot in those countries. I have tried to put that knowledge into the CEMF e-learning course. By now, I have clocked up thirteen years working for Frankfurt School of Finance & Management as a Microfinance Specialist and Senior Trainer. Previously, I worked for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, today known as GIZ. I don’t want to bore you with the details of my CV, but let me just point out a few memorable assignments that influenced the content of the CEMF online course.
To start with, my first overseas experience was in Sri Lanka. That was way back in 1989 when I did eight months of field research for my thesis in agriculture economics. After obtaining my degree I went back to that wonderful tropical island to work as a development volunteer and help set up a milk goat farm. For one year, I lived in a mud hut in a small village. After a few years of teaching in Australia I returned again to Sri Lanka to work as a micro-credit advisor in the state-owned People’s Bank of Sri Lanka. It was in those memorable Sri Lankan years that I started to understand what it means to live in poverty and how a simple bank account can make a difference to people’s lives (a safe place to keep your savings and the first step towards a bank loan). All the things that I took for granted in my home country, suddenly took on a completely different meaning. This is why, when I put together the CEMF course material, I always tried to look at microfinance from a poor family’s perspective.
Two more memorable assignments that I would like to share with you took place in Nepal and in Georgia. The link between these two countries were communities coping with armed conflict. In Georgia I managed a local economic development project in a small municipality that hosted refugees after the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. In Nepal I was advisor to a German project supporting financial cooperatives of smallholder farmers in the context of civil war (Maoist rebels fighting the government). In both these projects I learned about the importance of people working together in groups or cooperatives. Microfinance can be much more than just finance, it helps building social capital.
Finally, I would like to briefly tell you about my experience working in Nigeria and Indonesia as trainer of microfinance trainers. What I learned in these projects was that capacity development for the employees of microfinance institutions is also very important for their clients. How so? Because only well managed microfinance institutions can serve their clients in the long run. We don’t really help low-income families by dishing out a few loans. What they really need and want is a trustworthy financial institution that stays with them throughout their lives. Successful microfinance institutions grow with their clients.
It is in that sense that I perceive the importance and ultimate goal of the CEMF course. Participants should learn how to build sustainable financial institutions serving their clients, and they should develop the right attitude for their jobs:
- Empathy for clients, understanding their needs and putting their interests first.
- Commitment to good practices and sustainability, ensuring people’s savings are safe-guarded and loans are given only to those who are credit-worthy.
- Open-mindedness, constantly seeking better ways to serve clients with a variety of financial products.
- Modesty, accepting that microfinance cannot solve every problem on this globe.
More than a thousand students have gone through the CEMF course since we started almost seven years ago. On my travels I sometimes meet former course participants, and it is always a pleasure to see how they put to practice what they have learned during their training. Maybe one day I will meet you too…