Thibault Lescuyer


Retraining in microfinance

At 37, Catherine Liziard, has achieved her goal – she has now been working for a short time in the microfinance sector in Burkina Faso. That’s quite a change for someone who worked for 12 years as an IT consultant in French banks.

A leap into the unknown

“You have to be able to take risks,” Catherine Liziard believes. In 2009, this lady from Brittany took advantage of a “social plan” (redundancy programme) set up by Natixis, her employer of 2 years, to put an end to twelve years’ working as assistant project manager in banking information systems. If her employer had wanted to hold onto her, it was too late – her decision had already been taken: “It was a very personal approach. What I wanted was a job that took my personal values more into account on a daily basis.” That’s why she chose to retrain in microfinance and apply for a specialist Master’s degree at Brussels or Nancy. It ended up being Nancy, in the east of France, right at the opposite end from Brest, where she had obtained her DESS (former French specialist university degree, Master’s equivalent) and a Master’s in Economic Sciences.

Microfinance and TPE (Microenterprise) Master’s 2 degree at Nancy University

In Nancy, she found herself back at university among a majority of young students doing their first degrees. However, Catherine appreciated the fact that the lecturers were often experienced professionals. “The Master’s enabled me to have an overall view, which was extremely useful!” she says now. After her Master’s, an internship is a must. Once she’d looked into the matter, she decided to get into the heart of the action and sent her CV to the Aga Khan Foundation (AKDN ), which runs a worldwide microfinance network. Catherine was offered an internship in Burkina Faso, in the ‘First Microfinance Agency’. This is the type of field work that she recommends to all those who wish to work in the sector: “Anyone who’s motivated can always find an internship. For instance, in Burkina Faso, there are 300 MFIs!”

Work on a daily basis

Since she arrived in Ouagadougou in May 2010, Catherine has been working on a project for deploying the MFI’s new information system. This system handles deposits and loans made by the nine agencies operating in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Ivory Coast. When the internship is over, Catherine will be taken on with a local contract, as coordinator of the IT service.

“When you go into a bank in France, it’s either to complain or to negotiate a “large” loan. Here, customers come in to ask for small loans, for example, to buy three cows, which they’ll fatten for six months before reselling them,” Catherine explains, happy to see that her work serves a useful purpose.

Microfinance benefitting the poorest

“Microfinance isn’t a micro-bank – okay, we propose loans and deposits but we don’t have, or shouldn’t have, a profit-making logic,” Catherine believes, aiming to be clear-headed about her sector. “Microfinance isn’t a magic wand for reducing poverty but it must maintain its goal of serving the poorest,” she continues.

Does this mean there’s a discrepancy compared with what she was expecting? Not really, but an acknowledgement: “Often microcredit finances activities that already exist. For those who want to create a business activity from scratch, it’s still difficult to find a microloan,” notes Catherine.

A different pace of work

“There is a great deal of respect in work relationships,” notes the lady from Brittany, proclaiming her new way of life, with particular appreciation for the pace of work, which she judges “much healthier and less hectic than in Paris.” In the end, she is perfectly happy to have cut her salary by 2.5. This lady, whose father is a company director and mother a farmer, declares: “I don’t need a thing.” On the long term, she sees herself continuing to work outside France in line with microfinance needs. Nevertheless, she bears in mind one essential requirement – never take on a job that a local person could do.