Monday, June 14, 2004

Updates in Dushanbe

Assessing clients started, today. It's interesting how my brain only seems to remember the really enjoyable things that I've done, and I somehow always manage to filter out the not-so-fun stuff. I remember how much I learned, last summer, when I worked for FINCA, and how much I wanted to develop our data set and improve the tool. I conveniently forgot, however, how exceedingly obnoxious it can be to administer a 4-page questionnaire to fairly uneducated people. Nagina and I surveyed 4 groups with five clients in each group, today, and it took us approximately a whole hour for each group. I realize that I can be a naturally impatient person, so I have to take a deep breath, sit down, and read every question out loud, explain, and give endless hypothetical examples. Today, for example, I spent over twenty minutes explaining the difference between daily gross revenue and profit. After 20 minutes of examples, everyone nodded their heads, wrote down their numbers, and profits still exceeded revenue. It's also interesting to realize that in spite of all the many hours my partners and I put into making the questionnaire as explicit as possible, I can still find all kinds of things that can use improvement.

We're not really pressed for time, right now, because Tajikistan has a clientele of only about 200, because they started operation in January. I am concerned, however, that other country programs are going to be almost impossible to finish in just two weeks. Additional problems will arise in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, where we'll train a few local college students to gather this data in the future. When I first thought of returning to the NIS to work with FINCA, I had hoped that the training of local college students to gather data over time would occur in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The FINCA programs are brand new in these countries, and the clienteles are small enough to institute not just a new policy for collecting client data, but a new culture that encourages transparency and oversight. It will be very difficult to institute a program in Kyrgyzstan that requires clients to be regularly assessed. They have over 25,000 clients in that program and over 200 office staff. I talked with the Tajikistan country director, Adam Blanco, about this problem over the weekend, and he agrees that Tajikistan would be the place to institute longitudinal client assessment. He has just recently joined FINCA from the for-profit banking industry. He agrees that gathering additional client data would be imperative if FINCA programs are going to become self-sustaining by gaining access to expanded investor capital. I'm hoping to work something out with him before this is all finished. We'll see how that goes.

I'm not sure all the stuff in the preceeding paragraph makes sense; I haven't explained most of this stuff in depth, yet, but I'm sure it'll become clear with future posts. Anyway, we go back to Kurgantyube tomorrow, and hopefully will be able to meet with approximatley 40 clients. I forgot to mention that things are going a little slower here in Tajikistan because we are not able to invite women clients to come to large group meetings at cafes where we can assess them 100 at a time. There is a stigma in this traditional Islamic society against women going to cafes or restaurants by themselves without their husbands. That's why we have to meet with the groups individually. We're making headway, though, and I'm pretty sure I'll remember this as 'fun' a couple months from now. I did get to go up to see the mountains over the weekend. This is a beautiful country. I posted a few more pictures in my folder to the left. I haven't put too many on there because they take a long time to upload with this slow connection.

That is all.

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