« My vision is based upon the need for autonomy »

Alpha Ouedraogo

25 years after the establishement of ADA by Mia Adams, Alpha Ouedrago has been one of the first West-African partners to commit to the NGO from the very beginning. He recalls this long-term collaboration.

You have been General Director of the FCPB (Ridge of Credit Unions in Burkina Faso) during 15 years, then General Director of the CIF (Confederation of Financial Institutions of Western Africa) between 2000 and 2014. This was the period when you started working with ADA. What were the first hints of a collaboration ?

 The first project involved the institutional construction of microfinance institutions (IMF). ADA has emphasized its purpose as an NGO for a long time. From then on, we have focused on existing IMFs. I have made a custom evaluation for ADA of traditional Savings and Credit Banks. So very early on, it was focused on the savings and credit system, before focusing on the institutionalisation of the Federation of Credit Unions in Burkina Faso (FCPB). At that time I was in touch with Mia Adams to define ADA’s political strategies.

*institutionalisation is the transformation of development projects within autonomous institutions.

 We then set up a guarantee fund which is one of the major innovations in microfinance. The fund consisted in enlarging its outreach, which would enable the access to credit and savings services to the most deprived. With regard to the populations most at risk, the guarantee fund had just covered part of the receivables. It was very innovative, one of the first collaborations involved, which enabled the transfer towards the population with the entire banking system.

 Much later on, the rating intervened. As the IMFs evolved, the institutionalisation was accompanied by a financial complexification. Firstly we therefore lead the IMFs to auto-evaluate themselves, before getting familiar with the rating. That is the interesting aspect of ADA as it is one of the rare NGOs to take part in logical development and capacity building.

 

Since the beginning of the 2000s, you have acted alongside ADA to promote micro-insurance through ‘CIF VIE’ in Burkina Faso, the first insurance company in Western Africa to propose insurance products to excluded populations, through its network of agencies. Could you tell us a bit more ?

 Concerning the FCPB, after having put in place guarantee funds, we had to prevent the risks within the IMF. As the judicial field wasn’t favorable and generated lots of difficulties, we have quickly set up the insurance. So the second innovation starts with this guarantee fund, we began with two firms in order to professionalize the insurance product and deliver it to members. The first European expertise with ADA ; the other from Quebec with ‘Developpement International Desjardins (DID).

Gradually as the product was finalised, ADA accompanied not only the Federation of Credit Unions of Burkina Faso but also the networks as a whole. The product was then adapted to the industry, leading to an institutionalisation ADA took part in, namely the creation of CIF VIE insurance. The CIF is a regrouping of 6 cooperatives in 5 countries : Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Mali and Senegal. The collaboration with ADA has been very complementary concerning this project : along the process, the logical institutionalisation included supporting and developing the capabilities inside the privatised systems.

 

You are known for having a very correct vision of the microfinance sector. You are responsible for the ‘Caisses Villageoises’ (collective credit for women) concept. Where do you take inspiration ?

I am African from the South born in Mali, my parents are burkinabé. Firstly I did a training course in development economics. When I came home, I worked in Ministries in the agricultural development sector. And I also question myself a lot. I believe in the principle that if we want to enable access to financial services to the ones excluded, we cannot go on with the traditional financial logic. We have to rely on the number of excluded people’s potential. Through the numbers, we can manage to respond to the needs, but it is also an element that allows for the IMF to be profitable. This means there is a coherence in the objectives and the choices.

And I believe that all the work we have put in the last couple of years consisted in creating various markets : the savings market, the credit market and the insurance market. I think it is the number size which is the strength of microfinance. And the vision originates from the fact that there’s the possibility of providing assistance. As soon as there’s a response though, it also enables the institution to be profitable. Before the ‘Caisses Villageoises’ for example, the Caisses Populaires of Burkina Faso in rural areas required 15 years to finance themselves. With the arrival of the ‘Caisses Villageoises’ concept, we have auto-financed the rural ‘Caisses Populaires’ in 3 years. It was a win-win situation for both parties. Back in the day, with the impertinence of being 30 years old, I was saying that poverty was a market to take hold off. It shocked people but it remained the idea I was defending.

 

It is being said that you’re a man with a strong personality. Could this explain your success ?

Generally, I strive for the goal and I explain things the way they are. That is also what partners recognise. In African Diplomacy, we have a certain form of courtesy. It is a good thing but it doesn’t move the world forward. Generally I like to drink from the glass I have gotten. It can be big or small but I drink with it. I also like to wear my own bag, not other people’s. I believe that my vision is based on the need for autonomy because I find that in the field of development it is something difficult to claim. If you do it, it is the other person that pays it and it puts me in a situation of unease. On the other hand, it is possible to make a compromise with the other person : institutions such as ADA can say : <> I am more comfortable with this principle, considering that it lies within ADA’s philosophy. By the way there is a reason why after 25 years we are still together, even if I’m a part of the archives.

 

How do you think ADA has evolved the past 25 years ?

I think that ADA has remained faithful in terms of its continuous efforts towards development. ADA has always been present, concerning all the institutionalisation or transformation processes. I also like the idea of establishing transparency, the driving force behind governance. For example, at the CIF we put in place something I call the ‘crossed inspection’, meaning that ADA was crossing to be able to conduct an inspection and ensure transparency, whilst having little financial means.

And even when she had an investment fund readily available, she respected your will within CIF to proceed with other alternative financial mechanisms that contribute to the development of creating an insurance company. I found that extraordinary. Something else that does not appear much in ADA’s written documents is the fact that it was at the core of risk management. At the time she had put me in touch with a bank in Luxembourg that was specialised in this field and who’s presence was greatly felt during the discussions.

 

The SAM in Burkina Faso coincides with the birthday of ADA, do you think that it is a beautiful symbol ?

Yes it is a beautiful symbol. I had already participated to the SAM in Dakar in 2015 ; the idea was to see how all this capitalisation could be articulated with local institutions. Being an IMF, we probably weren’t organised enough for this, as it is difficult for an IMF to reflect on whether it is capable or not to integrate this discussion element. These are the first thoughts but we did not go further.

 

It has been four years since you retired. Are you still as involved in the sector ?

Since three months, the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats d’Afrique de l’Ouest) and the state have asked me if I could help to redirect an IMF and I accepted. So yes I am still involved. Whether it be with the Federation or the CIF, I am lucky to have been a pioneer. One now has to know how to manage the ones arriving.

 

What are your projects ?

I am going to continue to aid the IMFs experiencing difficulty here in Burkina Faso and I am going to see which types of alliances we could develop in order to achieve it. One has to suceed in protecting the governance, because this remains a major problem concerning African Institutions.

 

 

 

 

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