Study Tour Bulgaria: Voices of Oikocredit's Clients

Study Tour Bulgaria: Voices of Oikocredit's Clients

May 17, 2012 at 5:20 PM - by Leah Gage - 0 comments

..and our clients’ clients

This week I’ve felt the overwhelming spirit of cooperatives, having visited three agricultural and credit institutions founded, owned, and managed by a collective of individuals working together. I’ve met a range of people, too – cooperative chairpersons, managers, employees, members, borrowers, and overall beneficiaries in the community. Their words and their stories really speak for themselves. Not every story is one of success – but every story was one of gratitude for an institution built by and for people just like themselves in the interest of creating a stronger community and a better life for its members.

Zlatka, pictured with Jordanka Ilieva, chairwmoan of Doverie

Zlatka Dimitrova, Borrower & Member of Doverie Credit Cooperative

Zlatka Dimitrova is one of the founding members of Doverie. Her daughter, Velichka, and her two grandsons are all members of the cooperative and work together to raise bees at a 200-family apiary at their home. Her current loan is for 700 BGN (about 400 USD) to help pay for her medical expenses. She is not able to work right now because of her health. I asked her why she originally joined the cooperative in its founding days.

“I wanted to be a member of the cooperative to support the cooperative. Nowadays, our coop is big and increasing [in members]. We can rely on this coop [to] always provide for our needs. … I’m so relaxed and secure there, as if I’m home. And I can share anything with the chair lady.”

Velichka Dimitrova, Borrower and Member of Doverie

Velichka and her mother, with the bee houses in behind

Velichka runs an apiary with her mother and her daughter. Her two sons each have a loan of 5000 BGN (totaling about $7500 USD) to invest in the 200-bee family apiary.

“The money we receive from the business goes back entirely into the business. We’d need to double the bee families in order to turn a profit.”

 Sunai Mitev, member of Doverie Agricultural & Credit Cooperative

Sunai’s family contains four members of the Doverie cooperative. He is currently repaying about a $15,000 loan to the cooperative with which he is purchasing implements, such as drip irrigation and some machinery. They rent the land they farm from their neighbors, providing income to the community. In addition, their family farm, he says, employs “half the village” – some 500 people from neighboring villages throughout the year, where unemployment is upwards of 50%. I asked him about the impact of his family’s efforts on the community.

“Not only do these people rely on us for employment and income, but we provide community and relationships.”

The Mitev Family - Sunai is pictured among his brothers in a black polo shirt.

Velichka Slavova, Chairwoman of Niva 93

Velichka Slavova is a founding member of the cooperative Niva 93. Niva, which means “field,” is a production cooperative that rents land from its members to cultivate a very wide variety of products – grains, coriander, fennel, rape seed, honey, apricots, plums, cherries – in addition to running a town market. The coop is quite a force in the town – it provide 103 permanent jobs and about 150 seasonal jobs. It also provides funding to the local kindergarten. I was pleased to see that Niva was led in large part by women. Velichka, who is a founding member of the coop and has been its chair since nearly the beginning, was also once the mayor of the village. We commented to her that it was exciting to see women in such positions of leadership.

Women in power: Ivanka Ilieva, Niva's Chief Accountant; Mira Andonova, Oikocredit Bulgaria Country Manager; Velichka Slavova, Chairwoman of Niva

“Our entire accountancy department is women. 4 of the 9 members of our management board are women. Our head accountant is a woman; the manager of our trade union is a woman. This is quite normal for us here.”

Chairperson Yuri Dudev, Russe Kasa

Yuri Dudev is the chairman of Russe Popular Kasa, a credit cooperative financed by Oikocredit since 2002. Russe is an industrial town in Bulgaria that has been hit hard by the economic downturn, resulting in high unemployment. I asked him to describe the mission of Russe Popular Kasa.

“The idea of the credit cooperative is the base of our work. To combine the resources of all our members which are very small separately but when joined together they become an economic power. In this way we can help the people who want to develop a business.”

Erdinch Osmanov Hasanov, client and member of Russe Kasa

Erdinch has a busdriving business in the town of Russe, Bulgaria. His most recent loan allowed him to purchase a new bus to add to his enterprise, which now consists of 2 buses and three employees, not including his family members who are also engaged. Like all members of Russe Kasa cooperative, he was brought to the coop by another member and engaged in a personal relationship with the Executive Director (pictured above), Pavlim. Pavlim consulted on his business plan and helped him secure his first loan. We asked Erdinch, What does Russe Kasa mean to you?

Erdinch on his bus

“If it wasn’t for the loan I received from Russe Kasa, I would not have this business today.”

Georgi, atop one of the sofas just built in his shop

Georgi Georgiev, Carpenter and Furniture Maker, client of Russe Popular Kasa

Georgi Georgiev is a client of Russe Popular Kasa, a microfinance cooperative with close to 700 members. Russe Kasa has been an Oikocredit partner since 2002. Georgi has a carpentry and furniture business that employs seven people. His current loan from Russe Kasa is helping finance new machinery and the renovation of his shop. Commercial banks can sometimes offer lower interest rates to business owners with more collateral. We asked Georgi whether he would ever consider taking a loan from a bank.

“No. I tried it once, but I had a bad experience with these banks. The conditions [of the loans] kept changing.  … I like the spirit of cooperatives.”



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