• 25 Years of Microcredit Foundation EKI: Testimonials of Successful Business and Life Stories

    7.5.2021

    25 Years of Microcredit Foundation EKI

    Testimonials of Successful Business and Life Stories

    Microcredit organization EKI is one of the leading microfinance institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and numerous indicators of economic and social performance rank EKI among the most successful microfinance institutions in the world. In accordance with their business strategy and relevant legislation, EKI operates in the territory of entire Bosnia and Herzegovina through a microcredit foundation and a microcredit company. We discussed about their beginnings, development, challenges, economic and social mission, clients, employees, partners and investors with the Director of the Microcredit Foundation EKI, Mr. Esad Uzunić, and with the Director of the Microcredit Company EKI, Mr. Almir Sultanović.

    Mr. Uzunić, what would you point out as the specific and unique values of EKI over the past 25 years?

    There are many things we have been proud of over these 25 years of our operations, but the most important thing is that we at EKI have witnessed many success stories of our clients, in both business and private domain. We started and grew along with them, and our long-term cooperation and partnership have resulted in us being able to say that we are extremely successful in what we do. We currently serve more than 41,000 clients in whose hands we disbursed more than 190 million BAM of credit funds. Over the course of 25 years of business, we have cooperated with more than 230,000 clients and placed two billion BAM aimed at start-up and strengthening of entrepreneurial activities throughout BiH.

    Esad Uzunić

    Many clients have been cooperating with EKI from the very beginning, and they still trust you today. What was the key factor for that?

    Yes, most of the clients have been cooperating with us for years, and some of them have been with us from the very beginning. We have achieved this by constantly meeting two important goals in cooperation with clients. The first is the economic aspect of microcredit business, and that is the financial empowerment of beneficiaries in their start-up and strengthening of business activities through microcredits. On the other hand, strengthening entrepreneurship and generating income in households affect the strengthening of people’s potential and self-confidence that they can create added values and be more valued in the communities in which they live and work. Therefore, we pay equal attention to the economic and social effects of our business.

    It’s been 25 years, and looking back, how would you describe the beginnings and what is your organization today?

    EKI was established and developed through the Microcredit Program of the humanitarian organization World Vision International, which was launched in 1996 as a pilot project in BiH. After the end of the war, a significant portion of the population belonging to the category of low-income households, without the possibility of employment, was left to fend for themselves. They saw an opportunity to finance their business activities through microcredit and generate income for themselves and their families. Originating from the WVI Program, the Microcredit Organization EKI was established in 2001, and in line with the relevant legislation, in 2008 the organization was re-registered as the Microcredit Foundation EKI, which provides loans in the size of up to 10,000 BAM. Following the needs and demand of our clients, in 2014 MCF EKI, as the founder, started the Microcredit Company EKI, which is now able to finance more developed business activities of existing and new clients by means of bigger loan sizes. Despite all the challenges, especially in the times of crisis, such as the global financial crisis of 2008, the great floods of 2014, and now the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, EKI is operating successfully and stably all the time.

    What are the key factors for successful business operations of an organization?

    First of all, the financial stability is significant, and it is not possible without satisfied employees who are the driving force of our successful business. Also, EKI is fully committed to the continuous development of business and services that seek to meet the needs of clients, and we are especially proud of the socially responsible actions we implement in the community, where we live and work. With such an approach and attitude, we have been one of the leading microfinance institutions in BiH for 25 years now. Today, the EKI Group has 340 employees and operates through 77 offices throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. So, 25 years later, led by the mentioned principles, EKI continues to operate successfully, to the satisfaction of all employees, our clients, partners, investors and local communities in which we operate.

    You mentioned the economic and social effects of your business operations, which requires lot of efforts to make it all happen. What is the crucial point in it?

    Economic and social effects in the ECI merge into one point. I would call it our synergy with clients and with everyone else we work with. In BiH, we have a significant share of able-bodied unemployed people who also do not have the opportunity to finance their business ideas. We have witnessed numerous stories that, with our support, have resulted in success. We witness excellent energy, commitment and realization of ideas that have led and still lead to the success of our clients, and simultaneously to our success, too. All our research and indicators speak in favor of the fact that the income in clients’ households has grown significantly after multiple investments of loans in business activities. Also, business development has had positive impact on increasing employment rates and improving living standards. A good part of our clients has grown from their small-scale entrepreneurial activities, and have progressed and registered their businesses, thus generating public revenues on various bases, through taxes, contributions or administrative fees. These are all economic and social effects.

    What does the concept of your socially responsible business refer to?

    Our concept of corporate social responsibility is implemented through three key segments. The first is certainly a responsible and transparent relationship with everyone we work with in our business, primarily with clients, but also employees, partners and investors. The second segment is in providing non-financial, technical and additional services to our clients, such as the operation of the EKI Business Club for clients in which we help them network and connect and thus enable them to cooperate with each other and expand their market. I would also like to mention our new project that was launched last year, and that is the “EKI Business Entrepreneurship Academy”, which we established with the European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE). Within this Academy, we organize various educational workshops on entrepreneurship for our clients, and as part of the project we grant awards for the best business ideas. The third segment is about EKI’s sponsorships, donations and humanitarian activities that are aimed at supporting children and youth, either through support to institutions or individual assistance. We are proud that part of these funds is provided by EKI, and part by the employees themselves.

     Microcredit Company EKI is a response to the needs and demand of the clients

    Mr. Sultanović, was the establishment and operation of the Microcredit Company EKI a natural follow-up to the development of the organization?

    Exactly. At the time when the Microcredit Company was founded, EKI had matured as an organization to make such a step ahead. The Microcredit Company EKI was established in accordance with the possibilities provided by the legislation regulating the microcredit sector. On the other hand, it was the result of our research and our strategic orientation, which we have been preparing for a long period of time, adapting to the needs of our clients. In addition to the possibility of disbursing loans in the size of up to 50,000 BAM, there are other benefits for clients with more developed businesses. It is actually our approach to market adaptation and our contribution to making the microcredits gain an even more significant role in entrepreneurship.

    Almir Sultanović

    The founder of the Microcredit Company EKI was the Microcredit Foundation EKI and since 2014, both organizations have been operating parallelly and in synchrony. Who are the clients of EKI Microcredit Company?

    After 7 years of operations of the Microcredit Company, we can say that the trust we have built over the years with our clients, partners and investors, along with the experience from MCF EKI, have borne fruit. We have long been building a brand and reputation, taking it one step at a time. The synergy between MCF and MCC EKI is an exceptional business venture and leads to the success and continuous development of the organization. The business activities of the Microcredit Company and the Microcredit Foundation are strategically planned in detail and both organizations operate throughout BiH. However, the focus of the Microcredit Company EKI is to meet the needs of clients with more developed business activities, especially larger and developed agricultural producers and farms, legal entities and small and medium enterprises. Also, we have clients active in other economic activities, trade, various small businesses, services, craftsmanship, and other clients who need credits in the size bigger than 10,000 BAM. In the years behind us, our clients have been developing their businesses, the Microcredit Foundation has grown and clients’ businesses have developed in parallel with it, so through the activities of the Microcredit Company we strive to monitor and support business activities and needs of our clients.

    Is this accompanied by tailor-made credit products for these clients?

    It certainly is. Before the establishing of the MCC EKI and still, we constantly carry out market research, and based on the findings we develop credit products that strive to meet the real needs of clients with appropriate loan sizes, repayment terms, interest rates, required guarantees and loan purposes, adapted to different niches, with simple approval procedures.

    How do you see the future development of the EKI Group?

    So far, we have based our earlier improvements on the continuous market research, opinions of clients and employees, as well as on the analysis of the world’s best practices. For several years now, we have been focused on the digitalization of business, both in internal and external processes and in communication. Our main objective in this segment is to make optimal use of new technologies in order to improve business, brand recognition and communication with the market. In order to make some more serious steps in this regard, we are faced with certain legal restrictions and discrepancies, but we hope that appropriate solutions for such issues will be reached soon. EKI also actively considers and designs additional services and products, which could be available to clients once the legal and regulatory conditions are met.

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