To begin with, brigades are defined as passionate groups of volunteers mobilizing toward positive social change.
From a big picture perspective, the microfinance brigade I am going on is one of the ten brigades Global Brigades provides undeveloped communities as part of its holistic model.
Global Brigades practices holistic development, which is the system of collectively implementing health, economic, and education initiatives to strategically meet a group's development goals. For Global Brigades, it includes the preparation, delivery, and follow-up of it's ten unique programs conducted in collaboration with community members, student volunteers, and local technicians. Only 6 programs are currently working in Ghana, and they include:
- Medical brigades- work with licensed medical professionals and community health volunteers to provide comprehensive health services in rural communities with limited access to healthcare
- Dental brigades- provide immediate and preventative dental services in rural communities without access to oral care otherwise.
- Water brigades- empower communities to access sufficient clean water through infrastructural development, water treatment, community leader training, and education.
- Public Health brigades- empower rural Ghanaian communities to develop sustainable health solutions and establish a standard of health quality with an emphasis on preventative methods and education in rural communities by engaging the efforts of both volunteers and community members.
- Microfinance brigades- provide rural community members a community banking system, with access to loans, financial literacy programs, and education to increase production and foster a culture of savings and growth
- Business brigades- empower businesses and entrepreneurs within communities with the tools to make wise decisions to grow their streams of income through financial planning and operations and marketing consulting.
The mission and vision of my microfinance brigade is to provide rural communities with a strong financial system to access loans, savings accounts, and capital to fund community projects and education initiatives, resulting in a culture of community empowerment and financial literacy.
In rural Ghana, inaccessibility to financial services is a major challenge for community members. Evidence gathered by Global Brigades' programs, combined with previous experience in the communities showed that the most rural farming communities do not have access to affordable financial services, such as savings and loans.
Without these crucial financial resources, community members depend on intermediaries who often take advantage of them by charging high interest rates on loans and offer very low prices for their crops. This pattern traps many community members in a cycle of debt with most farmers only making enough money to feed their families and purchase necessities. Communities are left unable to plan for the future to save for emergencies, education, home reparations, or to reach any other financial goals.
The microfinance program methodology consists of community bank formation, bank support, and financial literacy education for families. My fellow brigaders and I will work with Global Brigades staff and the community to establish community-owned banks and provide follow up on those banks. Brigaders provide financial education and guidance on developing economic solutions to improve income during our time in Ghana.
For even more detail about what I am going to be doing, here is a sample itinerary from other mircofinance brigades: