“I want everyone to go to school. Every child should not be left behind.” – Interview with Joshua Opoku-Mainoo, Sinapi Aba, Ghana
Opportunity International has the privilege of counting Sinapi Aba among its oldest and strongest partners in our mutually aligned missions to transform lives through increased financial inclusion. Building on this long history of working together, Sinapi Aba is also now one of our key partners for Opportunity EduFinance in Ghana.
Joshua Opoku-Mainoo is Programmes Manager of EduFinance & Impact at Sinapi Aba Trust. He joined in 2007 as a loan officer and then transitioned to roles as a relationship officer and finally marketing officer before starting his current role. Notably, Joshua has been instrumental in building Sinapi Aba’s education finance portfolio.
To learn more, Joshua kindly agreed to an interview to share on his role and relationship to EduFinance, how Sinapi Aba support schools, and what challenges he sees schools currently facing in Ghana.
I know Sinapi Aba has a long relationship with Opportunity International. Could you share more about how Sinapi Aba and the EduFinance program initially worked together?
Opportunity International and Sinapi Aba have worked together since years ago. They continue to maintain this relationship of both business and friendship. In 2008, we had done a market survey, and noticed there were defaults in the portfolio in the year. As part of the analysis, we found there was a client who was taking loans to provide hot lunches for their school which served a community of farmers. When they go out to harvest cola they leave the kids at her school but during the long vacation they were defaulting on payments while kids are with their parents. We realized we needed to look at a specific [loan] product to support schools. Tony Fosu Gyasi, our CEO, presented the idea to Opportunity to work together and design education-specific finance loans so that during breaks schools were not burdened with loans.
Opportunity continued investing in education financing after this, formalizing the “Education Finance” program 2012, which is how we have such a big portfolio. They have contributed so much financially – they augmented the portfolio and helped with the training of our staff with Technical Assistance, and also EduQuality to help us train clients.
Our experience of working with Opportunity EduFinance is excellent, as I have worked with the team over the years. We have a solid relationship, and we are able to share ideas and be honest no matter how difficult things look.
What is Sinapi Aba’s reach in Ghana?
Until 2019, Ghana had 10 administrative regions and this has now increased to 16. We work in 14 of these 16 regions and have 44 operational branch offices.
Our client base is more than 60% petty trading, 54% rural and also a significant number of urban poor. Our school fee loans target is to stop loan diversification. We wanted to design education products to stop existing clients from dipping into other loans to pay for their children’s education. We are now building on other new clients and not just working with existing clients.
We also work with low-income private schools in communities. We often start with unregistered schools and help them move up the government-registered grades. These grades define level, infrastructure, quality and class size. Over the last ten years we have moved all our schools up from unregistered to higher levels, including the highest level which is Grade A: Excellent.
Could you tell me about Sinapi Aba’s education finance pre-credit training for school owners before giving them loans?
We take the schools through designed training models for the clients. We have 16 modules that cover key principles including cash flow, petty cash, untrained and unskilled schools, school management and health.
All of these affect the type of support we give to schools and also feed into our ‘3 Cs’ which is how we decide whether we can give a loan to a school. The three ‘Cs’ are
1) Collateral – this is a Ghana central bank requirement that we provide this
2) Character – the character of a person
3) Capacity – do they have the capacity to repay the loan.
We have to look at all 3 Cs to decide whether to lend or otherwise.
What has been your experience with schools during Covid-19?
Covid-19 had a great impact on schools. Until January 2021 schools were not open and learners were at home. This meant there was a year of taking no money from schools as they had no learners. During Covid-19 many were taking loans to pay the salaries of their staff, businesses closed, 98% of clients used these loans to sustain themselves at this time and they were granted with a longer period.
It had a hard impact. A sad aspect was some couldn’t come back after Covid-19, so they folded up because everything had run down. Some took a local organization’s interest-free loans which helped them to restart businesses.
Eighty-six schools were unable to reopen after Covid-19, but we currently have 1,612 active school loans running. These are schools which also have savings accounts.
When schools reopened, Sinapi Aba provided PPE, Covid safety flyers and other social distancing equipment. As they came back we had no schools reporting cases of covid which showed that these interventions really worked.
What are the current challenges facing schools in Ghana?
Funding is the biggest challenge. More schools want to improve staff capacity and infrastructure. The demand for loans is rising but we do not have enough funds to meet the demand. Many school leaders want to improve buildings and furniture. 78% of loans were used for infrastructure improvements in the last year.
It is [also] expensive to meet the government requirement of all teachers being trained, This is easier for public schools to achieve. There is a lot of [teacher] attrition. It is a challenge to retain trained teachers and stop them leaving to go to public schools.
What does education mean to you on a personal level?
Education is my dearest dream for everyone including myself. A value I have is that I want everyone to go to school. Every child should not be left behind.
I encourage schools to introduce scholarships as I went to a government school myself and did not have a scholarship, although I was privileged as my parents pushed me to go to school. Because of this I encourage all the parents I meet to save something in order to pay for private school, at least at a basic level. I encourage them to do this, and I love what I’m doing in education.
My own career path was that straight from school I did my national service at Sinapi Aba. Then I carried on after my internship and worked here since moving up every level.
I was given a chance to explore how we improve the lives of people; I am people centered and I am in tune with people. I was a key lead person to do with bringing about education finance and today we have a strong product line. This was progressive for me within the institution, and it has given me a chance to grow. When I speak to any young person, I want them to grow as I had a chance to do through working for this institution.
To learn more, read our blog about Opportunity EduFinance's history of work in Ghana