Despite its significant economic growth and vast oil riches, Nigeria has struggled to fight poverty in the past three decades. Finance Monthly had the privilege to speak to Godwin Ehigiamusoe, a man who’s devoted his career to helping the poor and the vulnerable people of Nigeria.
LAPO (Lift Above Poverty Organization) is a non-profit community development organization committed to the social, health and economic empowerment of the poor and vulnerable. Please tell us about the company’s beginnings.
Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO) was initiated to address the challenges that the poor and the vulnerable are facing. I established the company in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State in late 1980s in response to the increasing level of poverty arising from the implementation of the central components of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). These components of SAP were the first devaluation of the national currency – the Naira; and rationalization of workforce in the public sector. The impact of programme implementation on poverty was enormous. For example, the number of Nigerians living below the poverty line rose from 18 million in 1980 to 67 million in 1996.
In mid-2010, we established LAPO Microfinance Bank- a premium Microfinance Bank. LAPO has also capitalized LAPO Microfinance Company in Sierra-Leone. The bank’s superior performance has been powered by flexible institutional structures and processes which effectively engage members of low-income households; owners of micro and small enterprises.
What are LAPO Microfinance Bank’s key priorities towards its clients? How has this evolved over the years?
LAPO Microfinance Bank prioritizes access to a range of responsive financial services particularly, micro loans. It has also committed enormous investments in client support activities and clean energy lending. LAPO Microfinance Bank provides basic micro-business management services to clients who are owners of micro and small scale enterprise. It facilitates access to insurance policies for poor clients. Its credit plus approach to service delivery is informed by the fact that low income people, particularly women contend with challenges beside lack of access to finance. Over the years, LAPO has expanded its loan portfolio from few products to a basket of responsive products. They range from farming to affordable housing and education loans.
How have the LAPO Microfinance Bank’s service offerings evolved?
Like most microfinance institutions, LAPO at inception started with mono-product which was a working capital loan for micro and small businesses. In its 5-year plan (2013-2017), LAPO Microfinance Bank prioritised product diversification. As a result, a number of credit and deposit products have been developed and offered to meet the varied financial needs of low-income people, micro and small businesses. LAPO Microfinance Bank is currently deploying alternative financial delivery channels to expand its outreach.
As CEO, how do you advise your team to make the correct decisions for the company alongside clients?
I emphasize client engagement which consists of regular interaction and assessment of their current and emerging needs. Other steps include efficient service delivery and effective performance management. I also prioritize innovations with the creation of Innovation Lab. Staff members are empowered with various training and capacity development programmes. They are encouraged and indeed involved in goal setting and a periodic performance review.
What are your plans for the company for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
LAPO Microfinance Bank shall seek to extend its range of services to actors in the rural economy. This is understandable; Microfinance should be made relevant to agriculture in Africa, given the fact that a large number of Africans engage in agriculture and allied activities. A range of products will be offered to meet the financial needs of the various segments in the agriculture value chain. We plan to deepen our cleaning energy lending in the coming years.
Your job must be very rewarding. Is this the motivation that drives you?
Indeed – the past three decades of engagement with poverty lending have been full of excitement. There is certainly a sense of fulfillment.
I am driven largely by the desire to address the scourge of poverty. This informed my decision to set up the organization in the first place, and has continued to propel my desire to scale up to reach a large number of low-income people and offer them a range of empowering products and services.
 In Poverty and Microfinance in Nigeria (2000) by Godwin Ehigiamusoe