AEC marks a major milestone in access to finance in East Africa

African Entrepreneur Collective approved its 1000th loan for refugee entrepreneurs, marking a major milestone in financial inclusion of refugees in East Africa.

This 1,000th AEC loan was given to Esperance Mazayire, a Congolese refugee who has been living in the Kiziba Refugee Camp since 1996.

Esperance has been a participant in AEC’s program since 2018, and the training and consulting services have prepared her to take on this loan so that her business can grow.

What started out as a small shop selling fabric to fellow refugees, Esperance’s business now also exports this African-print cloth to customers in the US. The loan of $3,000 will allow her to purchase more inventory to advance the scope of her operations.

“I have hope for the future of my business. I aspire to export my fabrics to more international countries and to grow my capital even more. The loan will add tremendous value to my business and my life. It will allow me to support not only my family in Rwanda, but also those members who have been resettled in the US and who struggle to make ends meet there,” said Esperance.

Breaking from traditional aid approaches, AEC sees refugees as active agents in improving their own livelihoods through business, and not as charity beneficiaries. Refugee entrepreneurs are a population often overlooked by mainstream financial institutions, but AEC is proving that these businesses are just as investable as any other.

“Refugee borrowers in AEC’s portfolio are repaying their loans at 98%, which encourages us to lend more to this community. They are using these funds to expand their businesses, creating jobs for other refugees as well as members of the host community. Access to finance allows our clients to improve their lives and contribute to the country’s economy,” said Claude Mazimpaka, AEC’s Portfolio Director.

AEC’s lending program is currently backed by global investor Kiva Microfinance. “Kiva partnered with AEC to lend to a population that few others would. Across our global portfolio of entrepreneur borrowers, refugees are proving to be investable, reliable, and are contributing to the economic growth of their communities. Investing in the first 1,000 refugee borrowers is a great start, and we’re ready to reach even more with AEC,” says Neville Crawley, Kiva CEO.

AEC provides low-cost financing to entrepreneurs with the aim to fill a gap with flexible, affordable capital for entrepreneurs who would otherwise see their business stymied by lack of access to finance.

To date, AEC borrowers have created more than 2,700 jobs and increased their revenue by an average of 78%.

Building on this impact, AEC seeks to provide an additional 3,100 loans in the coming year, and is leveraging new funding partners, digital technologies, and expanded staffing to bring the benefits of financial inclusion to more refugee entrepreneurs across Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.