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Interview with Julienne Houngbo, ACFB (Association of Financing Funds of Benin) , Cotonou, Republic of Benin

Julienne Houngbo is a member of the Association of Financing Funds of Benin (ACFB), where she currently holds the position of president.

Aurélien Atidegla, novembre 2003

1- Introduction

Julienne HOUNGBO is a member of the Association of Financing Funds of Benin (ACFB), where she currently holds the position of president. She is a legally married mother of four who lives at home with her family.

 

2. What is the main goal of your economic activity?

The main goal of the Association is to «alleviate women’s poverty and hardship through loans, mutual help and solidarity among members». We fight for women’s welfare. Some years ago, when decisions had to be made in the neighborhood, women were never consulted. After we registered in the Ministry of the Interior, our association became a major representative in the councilperson’s decision-making process.

3.- 4. Are you engaged in a different economy? How does it differ from the dominant economy? If there is no difference, could you explain why not?

What we do at ACFB is not a race to attain individual wealth. Our search seeks to achieve greater well-being for the women members. We have another view of life. Solidarity among members is not merely guided by the desire to repay the loans. There is also a desire to establish peace and harmony within the Association and especially at the heart of each member’s home. Without interfering with the members’ marital lives, the Association works to preserve an atmosphere of peace within the home, helping members with the problems they encounter at critical moments during the year (the beginning of the school year, holiday festivities, deaths, celebrations). At present, we are organizing mutual funds for the purchase and reselling of food at the end of the year. Each ACFB has a managing council and monitoring committees. To obtain loans, members form solidarity groups (GS) based on affinity, creating what we call «solidarity collateral». The loans granted are not used to perform activities that involve the entire Association. In that, our association differs from production groups that receive joint loans and undertake joint activities. We are currently offering members three products: individual loans, solidarity loans, and a third category of loans. But if a beneficiary is having problems repaying a loan, the other members provide their assistance. We have four projects underway: school loans, granted during the back-to-school season; SOS health; literacy campaign; and food transformation (improved gari, tapioca, pies).

 

5.- 6.- 7. What does abundance mean to you? Is material abundance an aim or the means to achieve something else? What is that something else?

For me, having more possessions places a person above the rest. Abundance symbolizes the ability to cope easily with material and financial needs, it symbolizes relief, well-being, opulence. It is also a source of pride. If what we’re talking about is intellectual abundance, then I’m interested. But I don’t pay particular attention to abundance of material possessions. The abundance in question would never be seen as an aim in itself. It allows us to achieve a goal, something else. For example, satisfying basic needs is very important. In today’s society, there are references that ascribe greater importance to those who possess abundance. Abundance enables you to access fame, distinction in the media. However, it isn’t always essential to access such things.

8-9-10 What values do you and your fellow workers put into practice in daily life and at work? Is it possible, in your opinion, for these values to become the predominant values for society as a whole? How can these values be mainstreamed?

At ACFB, we share principles that guide our actions and stimulate a good working atmosphere. In the first place, solidarity among members is very important and it’s rooted in the idea of love for the fellow man. Credibility is also a value we try to foster. This is based firstly in our own responsibility. If we have no credibility, the members will not trust us. And, if members were to lose their credibility, the Association would be the one to suffer. It would collapse because the members would lose the trust they have in us. We also insist, above all, on sincerity in a couple. Indeed, if a woman is not honest with her husband she is not honoring our Association. Lastly, we strive to create responsible women in every aspect of life. It’s not by chance that we were able to win the councilperson’s trust. In order to incorporate these values in our members’ everyday life, we provide moral and financial assistance to people in need. While participation in person is not a mandatory under the regulations, it is required in practice. In fact, members who limit their assistance to providing financial aid only when a fellow member is in dire need should expect to receive the same sort of assistance when their time comes. Nobody will bother to approach them. In terms of assistance, ACFB also plays an important role as a marital counselor, providing assistance to young people in their relationships with their spouses. These values may one day become universal. Achieving this requires civic education, with the press as a means for spreading information. Exchange visits are also necessary. Moreover, we need to return to our tradition, which is very rich in values. Truth, sincerity and solidarity are something we’ve inherited from our ancestors.

 

11- What innovations have you developed in terms of organization, management and appropriation of the fruits of labor?

We’ve added cultural animation to the Association’s first undertaking, which is micro-financing. It’s a greater innovation that offers women a space for entertainment and an opportunity to provide paid services alongside the main activities for which they’ve received their loans. In the same way, we want to go beyond the limiting framework of loans to provide services and be useful in some way in our neighborhood. It is in this sense that ACFB is negotiating a maintenance contract for the Vèdoko Public Garden with the Municipality of Cotonou. The proceeds from the services are distributed equally among all those who participate in the task. As the activities progress, the interest will be divided threefold: 1/3 for the fund and the remaining 2/3 distributed among the members. The president does not withhold the members’ credits. Once the credits are granted, each member receives theirs directly, in front of everyone else. The communication’s good, and this allows for the development of trust among everyone involved.

 

Do you think working in solidarity networks or in solidarity production chains is important? What are these in your opinion?

 

Yes, we’d like to have a solidarity network, because if we act together we can achieve more. Networking is sharing experiences, conducting visits and exchanging.

 

14- Does your activity influence the life of the community? How and in which spheres?

Our activities, especially our aid to women in need and the credit access we provide, has enabled us to bring joy to poor homes. It has influenced the community. Children go to school and their parents are more or less happily assuming their responsibilities towards them. Young couples value harmony in their relationship. All of this has enabled us to exert a positive influence in the community we live in.

 

 

15- What is work in your experience? What is its value and meaning in life?

Work is actually the blood that runs through our veins. It is a human being’s worth. It confers dignity and respect. My work at ACFB today differs from the routine work of public administration. It not about paperwork anymore. I’m invited to the granting of loans, I make inspection visits to groups wishing to become members of our Association, I get involved with members in critical situations (with difficulties in repaying their loans), etc. Work is liberating; those who do not work, are not entitled to a compensation.

 

16- What role do women play in a cooperation and solidarity-based economic initiative?

Our association is above all a women’s association and women make up over 95% of the membership. So you see how it’s the women who play all the key roles there. But the role women play in a solidarity-based economic initiative is much more than that. Women are life itself and without them nothing is possible. They’re highly important, they’re the keepers of the values we foster.

 

17- How can public policies and the State contribute to the advancement of socioeconomic progress?

I don’t see how they can, as the State is above all capitalist.

18- ¿ Do you believe that globalization of cooperation and solidarity is possible? How can it come true?

It is difficult to visualize how globalization and solidarity can be reconciled. Nevertheless, it is necessary for solidarity to prevail in globalization.

{Interview with Julienne HOUGBO, conducted by Aurélien ATIDEGLA and Euloge AGBESSI

Institution: ACFB (Association of Financing Funds of Benin)

Locality: Aibatin 2 Cotonou, Republic of Benin

Date: 22/11/2003

Contact: 03BP4209 Cotonou, tel.: 079947}

Sources :

For the Vision workshop fo the WSSE.

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