Day 2:  8am bus for Tamale (capital city of Northern Ghana).   Much like yesterday, it’s hot and humid and the ride is long and bumpy.  The bus is air-conditioned, so it’s not too bad.   Colorfully dressed women carry food and drinks on their heads to sell to travelers.  The North is predominately Muslim and you see more mosques, men in kaftans and women with their heads covered.  The villages get progressively poorer the farther North you travel.  There are no signs of electrification.  I keep looking for signs of people selling kerosene, but there aren’t any.  I did however, see one village with a solar panel.

The ride was uneventful until we stopped at Kintampo Market for the requisite “15 minute” mid-trip break.  There was a lot of commotion as Pam and I were exiting the bus.  We learn that a man had tried to steal someone’s laptop.  Five or six guys from the bus take matters into their own hands– roughing up and yelling at the accused and then escorting him back on the bus for a trip to the nearby police station.    Through the police station window we see the guy has been stripped to his underwear and is being loudly interrogated.  We are told that there is zero tolerance for such theft in Ghana.  After seeing this guy beaten up, this is strangely reassuring.  Crime rates are seriously low by U.S. standards and I can’t fathom such a unified vigilante in my home town of Oakland.

We arrived in Tamale  around 5pm—three hours later than we were supposed to.  We are met at the bus depot by Mohammed Adams, Executive Director of Grameen Ghana.  Grameen Ghana is a nine year old microfinance bank with 7,500 customers and a $500,000 lending portfolio.  No affiliation with the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, but the bank receives some funding from the Grameen Foundation.

Grameen Ghana serves women earning less than $2 a day in rural and semi-urban communities lacking electricity.   The bank makes collateral-free  loans to women who sign up as a group (usually 5-6 members).  Individual loans are guaranteed by the other members of the group—peer pressure is Grameen Ghana’s insurance policy.  It is an effective strategy as the loan default rate is less than 1%.  If only U.S. banks could claim such success.

I was eager to meet Mr. Adams as I heard he was seeking out solar lantern options for his customers and was working out the details of an energy lending program.   Aside from solar lighting, he was considering options for cook stoves and agriculture aids.   He had recently been visited by four Columbia University students to get their input on how to structure such a program.  Mr. Adams explained, “clean energy and cook stoves are a vital element to helping women gain more independence.”  He had read all I sent him about SociaLite and was excited to explore possibilities.  He shared his model of working with communities and we discussed potential financial models that could be used and how we might collaborate.  His parting words, “I’d like to try this out as a pilot with a couple communities.  It’s a crazy idea.  I’m not sure how I am going to fund it, but I’ll figure something out.”  The next step would be for him to visit our engineering center at WA Polytechnic in the coming months.

Mohammed Adam, Director and Founder of Grameen Ghana

Grameen Ghana HQ