Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Joseph Boah is an independent microfinance consultant and SPI4 certified external auditor who moved to Antwerp to further his studies. He holds two masters degrees as a result, speaks basic Flemish and French, and is keen to promote the development of microfinance in Ghana. He tells us more.
Why did you leave Ghana to live in Belgium?
I came to Belgium to pursue a master’s degree after I finished my bachelors at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). I thought Belgium had quality education and it was generally cheaper than the UK and other popular English-speaking countries. I also wanted to follow a particular specialisation in economics and I found that in Belgium. So, it was a perfect fit for me.
What did you know about Belgium?
Beyond wanting to study here, I did not know much about the country. But after a little research, I got to know Belgium as the centre of Europe and wanted to know more about the European Union, its activities and what it means to members.
While working with Brussels-based not-for-profit organisation the European Microfinance Network, I had a sense that the European Commission was much closer to Europeans than the African Union is to Africans. For instance, the Erasmus+ has become a household name for providing opportunities for young Europeans to know more about the EU and its different cultures through student exchange programmes, graduate traineeships and cultural programmes.
What I find intriguing about Belgium is people’s passive attitude to politics. Unlike Ghanaians in Ghana, Belgians barely follow political discussion. No wonder the country can run months without a government!
Did Belgium live up to these expectations or fall short?
The quality and cost of studies exceeded my expectations. Academic training in Belgium is very rigorous. Depending the particular programme, both theory and practice are emphasised during the study period. One thing I found useful was the strong partnership between the faculties and corporate professionals.
Although I did not follow a Master’s course in Ghana, based on my bachelors training there, I think this might be the missing piece of our academic training in Ghana.
Socially, I found it a bit challenging to get into the white community because typical Belgians are quite cold compared with their neighbours.
I find microfinance field more exciting because of its approach to development
What were you studying?
I have completed two masters. My first master was in development evaluation and management – which focuses on the management of the monitoring and evaluation systems of development interventions. The second was a specialisation in microfinance.
I work in both areas but find microfinance more exciting because of its approach to development.
Tell us more.
I offer technical assistance to microfinance institutions which is usually a requirement for different forms of funding. Occasionally, I offer training programmes for microfinance institutions either one of these areas or evaluation. So far, I have conducted social and financial audits in institutions within Europe, Asia, South America and a few African countries.
Microfinance is very useful for countries such as Ghana because of the low financial inclusion.
While micro entrepreneurs must meet difficult requirements to get access to loan facilities from banks, microfinance products are designed to remove these bottlenecks to expand financial inclusion for thousands of businesses to expand. However, the product design and overall strategy must meet the needs of the poor clients.
What professional skills have you gained that would be useful in Ghana?
I have a deeper understanding of development interventions such as microfinance and impact investment and would like to enter into e-commerce.
I believe microfinance is a powerful poverty reduction tool if designed well.
Although I don’t know much about microfinance in Ghana, I think most microfinance institutions in Ghana pay little attention to social performance which eventually affects their sustainability. I’d like to promote the development of microfinance in Ghana to take care of the needs of growing young businesses.
I also intend to set up a technical assistance centre for microfinance institutions and rural banks. Such assistance will focus on providing training and development through the Village Savings and Loans Association – an approach to promote efficient money management.
Which tourist sites would you recommend in Belgium?
I would recommend the Antwerp’s former harbour area Het Eilandje, the Port of Antwerp Rivierenhof, which is one park that is popular and has 130 hectares of green space.
In Brussels, there is also the Atomium (see above), which was built as the main pavilion and icon of the 1958 World Expo of Brussels (Expo 58) but is now a museum. And there is the Manneken pis (see below), depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin.
How have you managed to navigate around racial incidents in Belgium?
There are several times children and adults have refused to sit beside me in on public transport. During the Black Lives Matter protests, a lot of people were arrested and fine.
While racism is unacceptable to most educated Belgians in the cities, the story is totally different in rural areas where people act differently towards you.
Do you have plans to return to Ghana?
Yes. I am preparing frantically towards it. I came to Belgium to study and return to help my country, but the Ghanaian economy does not make that easier, so I need to prepare well before I return.
*All images of Joseph are credited to him.
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