Work hard, be honest, remain humble. That was the direction given to microfinance expert Masuna Chikami by his father when he graduated from high school in Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe — a hard reality for a man with great ambition. The memory of those words remains fresh almost 30 years later, as “Chikami,” as he is known to friends and colleagues, traces the arc that brought him to Accion’s Africa hub in Ghana.
Mindful of his responsibilities as the second of nine children and the need to not only support himself but also help his siblings, Chikami began applying the work ethic for which he’s now known. His first job was as a temporary teacher, and he saved money to take his agriculture qualification courses. After putting himself through school, he secured his first job as a loan officer for an NGO in Zimbabwe, where he worked with women in rural areas. “The women were so happy to see me when I would arrive,” he explains. “And it was so inspiring to see people working so hard and paying back their loans.”
He was quickly promoted and continued to rise through the ranks of microfinance, keeping three instructive principles front and center at every step: honesty, humility, and hard work. Those values were instilled in him by his late mother, who always welcomed him to his hometown of Chivasa but would soon send him on his way, saying, “You need to go back to work.”
Accion had the great fortune of getting to know Chikami when he was serving as the general manager of MicroKing, a former Accion microfinance partner in Zimbabwe. He joined Accion in 2006 to help launch Accion Microfinance Bank (Accion MfB) in Nigeria.
When he started, Accion Microfinance Bank had no banking license, no branches, and no clients – just one small room shared by five people who were working to get the institution off the ground. The hours were long – typically until midnight – but he holds the project up today as his proudest moment. Accion Microfinance Bank is now reaching more than 120,000 savers and over 43,000 loan clients through more than 300 loan officers and 31 branches, and Chikami continues to manage teams of Accion consultants who pilot new products and technologies that stand to improve the bank’s reach, client service, and efficiency. “One thing that helps me fit in well here,” says Chikami, “is my ability to work with a diverse group of people. My work and life experiences give me perspective on different cultures, professional backgrounds, and business problems. So, I’m able to support our partners and build strong relationships with them.”
Chikami has accomplished a great deal in collaboration with his technical assistance teams and our four partner MFIs, which are currently reaching some 83,000 clients in Africa. He sees great possibility in the region, as digital finance continues to take hold and improves access and convenience. But he cautions that client protection is critical — especially for Africa, as many new players enter the market not all with the clients’ best interests at heart. He and the team at Accion are working to promote strategic leadership in the region and ensure that best practices are enforced throughout the industry through a staunch commitment to training and capacity-building.