"Backpacking through Asia with friends during the long university summer break, we were young, idealistic and on a budget. Myanmar sounded interesting – an adventure off the usual backpacker track. The country was not in great shape in January 2007, after decades of military rule and economic mismanagement.
Severe poverty was entrenched, and political freedoms nearly non-existent. Yet many of the people we met in Kalaymyo (in northwest Myanmar) were talented, resourceful, business-savvy and ambitious. In spite of their circumstances, they seemed to have everything it might take to operate a successful small business. Well...almost everything. It soon became apparent that a huge barrier keeping many people in poverty was a lack of access to affordable start-up capital.
Conditions there were perfect for microfinance, but the political situation meant it simply hadn’t happened. We were naïve enough to give it a go. The ZMF Bank came into being, and we set up ADC back in New Zealand to support it.
Early on, funds to capitalise ZMF were spirited through Yangon airport and exchanged for large bundles of local currency by nameless strangers in musty underground rooms, before being hidden in our packs for the journey north to Kalaymyo. This journey was usually either on a run-down old government plane or on a 24-hour bus ride over seemingly impassable roads – both equally frightening.
A decade on, ZMF is flourishing. To date over 6,000 loans have been provided, with a combined value of more than $1.2 million. ZMF’s clients (over 85% of whom are women) continue to thrive, pulling themselves and their families out of poverty through successful small businesses.
We have both been fortunate enough on a number of occasions over the years to witness first-hand the difference microfinance is making in the lives of ZMF’s clients. The bank’s success is a testament to the enormous passion and energy of the dedicated local staff, as well as the loyal support of the ADC community back here in New Zealand.
We feel hugely privileged to have been part of the ADC Microfinance journey so far. But the most exciting thing is that this feels like it’s still just the beginning.”
- Andy Colgan and Geoff Cooper