Centre for Grassroots Economic Empowerment, CGEE,is undoubtedly one of the biggest success stories in women empowerment in Nigeria. It started as a savings and credit scheme under the Justice Development and Peace Commission, JDPC, of Catholic Diocese, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.
However, in order to overcome the geographical constraint of not being able to operate outside the territory of its mother diocese, without encroaching on that of another JDPC, it went for another registration under the name Centre for Grassroots Economic Empowerment in 2007.
Headquartered in Ijebu-Ode, the CGEE has built a brand recognised for offering one of the most flexible repayment terms and lowest interest rates on micro-loans compared with what is obtainable from other similar institutions or microfinance arrangements in the country.
By the end of December 2013, CGEE had attained a Gross Loan Portfolio of about N10.9 billion, serving about 100,000 clients; 100 per cent of who are women and operating about 78 branches and business offices in the six South-western states of the country. (See charts)
Giving insight into some of the factors responsible for this impressive performance, Mrs. Florence Ogunnupebi, its coordinator, said: “At CGEE, we don’t only focus on the money, we pay special attention to the training and proper education of our members, especially in the areas of financial management, leadership development and how to strengthen family unity. We try to enlighten them on political issues and on how they can be involved. We are happy to say that some of our women have grown to become women leaders in their wards.”
CGEE uses a group-lending methodology that allows each member of a group to receive her loan individually, but must be guaranteed by the group she belongs to, because the issue of collateral does not arise. And in order to reduce the risk associated with default, especially in situation where a member relocates, the CGEE does not encourage family members to belong to the same group.
CGEE is also reputed for achieving excellent loan repayment rates with its members – one of the factors that endeared it to UNHCR.
UNHCR works to provide training solutions strategy for refugees in Nigeria, and after training they are provided with funds for start-up. But for some reasons, the UNHCR had problems getting back its money, so they contacted the CGEE for the management of the funds since it had been successful at getting back its money from its members. CGEE assisted UNHCR in the management of its microfinance funds and achieved a very good result with them.
In the next five years, the CGEE hopes to have expanded well beyond the South-western region and be effectively serving about 60 per cent of the poor women in those states.
Women empowerment is at the heart of everything they do at CGEE. In the words of Ogunnupebi: “Women empowerment brings about more self-belief and self-confidence. It gives women a voice and makes them realise that they are important as any other person. It makes them to believe that what the other person can do, they too can do it.
“One beautiful thing about women is that there is no money that is too small for them to manage. When you give women little fund they know how to manage and make something out of it. So, when it comes to microcredit and women empowerment, yes, the money may be small but they still invest it and statistics shows that it has helped a lot of women to discover themselves and improve their standards of living.”