The little MFI that could

Kyrgyzstan, June 22, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mary Tam/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Kompanion loan clients in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Mary Tam/Mercy Corps

What did you do on your sixth birthday? Kompanion, the Mercy Corps-founded microfinance institution, or MFI, will celebrate its six-year anniversary this October -- the same month elections are to take place in Kyrgyzstan. What would ordinarily be cause for celebration is now a date that seems irrelevant compared to the current crisis in a country that appears to be stranded at sea.

As icing on its would-be cake, Kompanion has become the country’s largest financial institution as measured by number of clients: 109,917. That's no small feat for a company whose mission is to be the leading community development financial institution in Kyrgyzstan. Kompanion’s loan portfolio is now $37.3 million -- evidence that a significant portion of Kyrgyzstan's economy is driven by the micro-market. This provides a great snapshot of the local business community: micro-entrepreneurs, majority female, who are utilizing individual and group loans to grow their businesses that involve agriculture, livestock and commodities.

But there are no plans for a party, or a cake, and no desire to celebrate. Instead, the country floats in the wake of disturbing violence, searching for the right course of action and for mechanisms that will move it toward a solution.

In this time of need, Kompanion and Mercy Corps are taking the initiative. In addition to organizing a rapid needs assessment in Osh, Jalalabad and densely populated border areas, Kompanion has offered up its main office building in Osh as a temporary workspace for the global relief community. It may serve as a hub for information sharing and coordination amongst organizations such as Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services and the International Rescue Committee.

This microfinance institution may miss out on its birthday party this year, but that is not stopping the company from growing and developing its skills in leadership and cooperation. And when Kyrgyzstan arrives safely in port, or is at least en route, Kompanion and its devoted employees will have a lot of celebrating to catch up on.