Dubai Consultant talks about debt, honesty and loan sharks

Volunteering with Grow Movement throws challenges at even the most talented and experienced of consultants. Zeynep Saka from Dubai talks about the challenges of honesty in cross cultural communication in difficult business times. An incredible result from her sheer drive and determination to support Robert a retailer in Uganda.

Entering into a reality with constant suspense Robert is a veterinary by education and has opened his shop in February 2015 to sell agrochemicals to farmers in Gayaza area with the money he saved from working as an extension worker for 3 years and the long-term loan he took from a bank, or so he had said…

He doesn’t own a computer nor knows how to operate one. He didn’t have an email address or a Skype account up until July 23. Even if he goes to the internet café in Gayaza, there’s no Skype on their computers so the only way we can have lengthy sessions are with the help of Stella, our client manager, using her Skype account on her computer. The one technology he has is the whatsapp on his phone, through which we are able to keep in contact regularly.

When I asked Robert about his goal during our first session, he said he wanted to become “the one” who gives the best agrochemical input to the farmers in the Central Uganda Region. About 3 weeks, 3 sessions and many whatsapp conversations into our working together for finding ways of making Robert’s business more profitable, Robert’s debt problem became the main topic. All of a sudden his loan from the bank was no longer long term and his business was to be taken over by the bank if he didn’t pay the debt of about $200 on time, or so he had said…

As I came up with suggestions on how he could solve his issues with the bank, Robert was reluctant to consider them, and more fixated on asking my help to rescue him from the situation by sending him the money. He was not able to provide any official documents on his debt, so I called the bank to inquire about Robert’s situation and support him by introducing myself as his business consultant, but they couldn’t find Robert’s account…

The truth came soon after: Robert did not have a bank account; he had borrowed the money from a loan shark; he was 3 months late on his payment, he owed in total $500, he had his shop and the motorcycle he co-owned with his brother under collateral, the loan shark was threatening him with taking over everything from him unless he paid his debt in full.

Robert had been ashamed to admit before that his borrowings were from a loan shark and that he had failed. He apologized and again asked for my help. I was disappointed, worried, upset, angry, scared, mistrustful and confused on what was the right thing to do.

After consulting Stella, Claire, Himanshu and other consultants from Grow Movement, I decided I was not going to give him any money, but I was definitely going to stick around and continue with my utmost support to Robert to save him from the situation because I was not going to judge his reality as per the rules of mine.

Finally we did manage to find a way to pay off Robert’s debt and rescue his business from the loan shark. It took two weeks of constant coaching on negotiation, thinking outside of the box to sell 50% of his stock, by just being there for him. We are now passed our 9th session and looking into ways of restarting his business. Robert says, in Uganda if someone does something extraordinary for you, you give him or her a rooster as a sign of appreciation; so he wants to give me 10 very big roosters…

16th May 2018

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