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A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering along the pristine shores of Coco Beach. The rhythmic sound of waves crashing was interrupted by the distant thud of running shoes against the road’s concrete terrain. As the sound grew nearer, I saw a sea of marathon runners, their energy visible and determination evident in their strides. However, what caught my eye were their white and purple jerseys, all decorated with the words ‘Maendeleo Bank Marathon – Hatua ya Faraja’.

The buzz around the marathon grew as the day progressed, and the media covered the event. It turns out Maendeleo Bank was celebrating its tenth anniversary, and the event was blessed by the presence of a special guest – the Prime Minister, Hon Kasim Majaliwa Majaliwa.

Intrigued by this display of corporate responsibility and community engagement, I contacted Maendeleo Bank. A few emails and phone calls later, I found myself in the bank’s offices, seated across from the Founding Managing Director. As we get into conversation, the story of Maendeleo Bank began to unfold, revealing a narrative of vision, resilience, and community spirit.

Dr Ibrahim Mwangalaba Maendeleo-Bank-Manager

From a village boy tending to cattle to a banker shaping the financial landscape of Tanzania, the journey of Dr Ibrahim Mwangalaba, Maendeleo Bank's MD, is nothing short of inspirational. His story is evidence of the power of perseverance, mentorship, and staying true to one's roots.

But instead of turning away, the church leadership brainstormed a solution. “They came with the idea of consolidating the muscles within the church, from the people who have and those who don’t have,” he said. I couldn’t hold myself; I joked about the ELCT being the Robinhood of the churches. However, unlike Robinhood, the church did not steal from those who had; instead, it pooled resources to create a revolving fund, offering loans with affordable terms to those in need, ensuring the fund’s sustainability. The CEO’s eyes lit up as he reminisced deeper into the bank’s inception. “They formed the committee in 2008 to establish this bank. That’s the origination of the idea to start the bank,” he said, emphasising the church’s proactive approach.

He dived into the specifics, explaining how they established share pricing to make it accessible. “One share equals five hundred shillings, and the minimum share ownership should be a hundred shares,” he detailed. This strategy ensured that “everybody in the church could manage to own a piece of the shares within the bank.” The MD’s face lit up with pride as he recounted the success of this endeavour. “By the end of 2012, they managed to collect about 3 billion shillings,” he said, a hint of triumph in his voice. This was more than enough to set up Maendeleo Bank as a regional entity.

Maendeleo Bank's approach to raising capital was about more than just numbers and finances. It was about community, trust, and a shared vision. It was about a church and its members coming together, pooling their resources, and creating an institution that would serve the greater good.

The bank’s achievements continued further. “As we celebrate the ten-year anniversary, we’ve seen our capital grow from the initial TZS 4.5 billion to now TZS 17 billion. Our deposits have surged from TZS 3.5 billion in 2013 to TZS 81 billion, and our total assets have reached a commendable TZS 114 billion,” the CEO shared, his voice filled with pride.

Innovation has been at the heart of Maendeleo Bank’s strategy. “In 2017, we introduced unique products like poultry financing and in 2021 we introduced Wezesha Machinga product, which remains unparalleled in the market,” he highlighted. Embracing the digital transformation, the bank launched products tailored to the needs of its diverse customer base, ensuring convenience and accessibility. “Our customers, whether in Bukoba or Tanga, can open accounts with us and choose their saving modality through Timiza Vikoba product. They can start borrowing after saving for just three weeks, showcasing our commitment to flexibility and customer-centricity,” he elaborated.

The CEO also touched upon the bank’s contribution to the Tanzanian economy. “Since 2013, we’ve issued loans totalling 230 billion to over 43,000 borrowers. Of this, about 76 billion was directed towards SMEs while TZS 41 billion to micro-enterprises, reflecting our commitment to supporting grassroots businesses and fueling economic growth.”

Reflecting on the past decade, the story of Maendeleo Bank is one of strategic foresight, unwavering commitment, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. It's a tale of a bank that set ambitious goals, achieved them, and then set even loftier ones, always with an eye on serving its community and contributing to Tanzania's growth.

The limitations of being a single-branch bank were palpable. “Customers want convenience. They want to access their funds, conduct transactions, and seek services without travelling miles,” he explained. The MD recalled instances where potential customers hesitated to open accounts, concerned about the bank’s reach and accessibility.

But in these challenges, Maendeleo Bank saw opportunities. “We focused on our strengths,” he said with a determined glint in his eyes. “Our connection with the community, our understanding of their needs, and our commitment to personalised service.” The bank invested in training its staff, ensuring that every customer felt valued and heard. “We might have had one branch, but our service was second to none,” he stated proudly. Over the years, as the bank expanded its footprint, added more branches, and embraced digital banking, the initial challenges became stepping stones to success. “Every challenge taught us something. Every setback was a lesson,” the MD shared, his voice filled with gratitude and wisdom.

One of the significant challenges the bank grappled with was non-performing loans (NPLs). “No bank is immune to NPLs,” the MD admitted, his expression sombre. “They are a reflection of the market’s volatility and the inherent risks of lending.” He delved into the intricacies of managing these loans, from early detection systems to restructuring strategies. “Our focus has always been on proactive management. We invest in robust monitoring systems, regular portfolio reviews, and continuous engagement with our clients.”

The MD emphasised the importance of understanding the root causes of non-performing loans. “Sometimes, it’s external factors like market downturns or policy changes. At other times, it’s business-specific challenges,” he shared. By understanding these nuances, Maendeleo Bank could tailor its interventions, from offering financial advice to restructuring loan terms. But beyond the numbers and strategies, the MD’s perspective on lending was deeply human-centric. “At the end of the day, behind every loan is a dream, a vision, a family,” he said, his voice filled with empathy. “Our role is to support these dreams while ensuring the bank’s sustainability.”

In the intricate dance of business dynamics, Maendeleo Bank's journey is evidence of its resilience, adaptability, and unwavering commitment to its customers. It's a story of navigating challenges with foresight, empathy, and a deep sense of responsibility.

But as technology advanced, so did customer expectations. “People started seeking convenience,” he explained. “They wanted to bank on the go, anytime, anywhere.” The rise of smartphones, mobile apps, and online platforms heralded a new era for Maendeleo Bank. “We had to adapt, and quickly,” he emphasised.

The transition to digital banking was challenging. “Introducing new technologies meant training our staff, ensuring our systems were secure, and most importantly, gaining the trust of our customers in this new medium,” he shared. The MD recalled instances where customers, especially those accustomed to traditional banking, were hesitant about digital platforms, fearing security breaches or technical glitches.

Yet, Maendeleo Bank rose to the occasion. “We invested heavily in technology, ensuring our platforms were user-friendly and secure,” he said. The bank also launched awareness campaigns, educating customers about the benefits and safety of digital banking.

But the evolution didn’t stop there. “Banking is not just about transactions; it’s about understanding and meeting ever-changing customer needs,” the MD stated. Maendeleo Bank continually strived to stay ahead of the curve, from personalised loan offers to tailored financial advice.

Ultimately, the bank’s journey from traditional to digital reflects its customer commitment. “We evolve because our customers evolve,” the MD concluded, a smile playing on his lips. “And as they grow, we grow with them.”

  1. Maendeleo Marathon:

In a display of community spirit and unity, the bank organised its first-ever marathon in September 2023. “That was our first marathon ever… we expected to have almost 3,000 people to participate, and eventually we had 4,800 people who participated,” the MD recounted. The marathon wasn’t just a sporting event; it was a cause. The aim was to raise funds to support people living with autism and to renovate their facilities. Additionally, the bank sought to assist premature babies at the KCMC Moshi Hospital by purchasing specialised equipment. The Prime Minister graced the event, further solidifying the bank’s reputation and commitment to community initiatives.

  1. Maendeleo Bank Choir:

In a harmonious blend of banking and art, the bank boasts a choir comprising its staff. “Their primary objective is to offer banking services… those you saw there is the extracurricular,” the MD explained. This choir, formed out of love and pride for the bank, trained diligently, showcasing their talents and representing them in various events. “They were not paid, no allowance… they are coming here, gathering here to train for two months consecutively,” the MD shared, emphasising the staff’s dedication.

  1. Football and Other Engagements:

The bank’s engagement with the community is wider than marathons and choirs. They also have a football team ready to play for the bank and engage with the community through sports. These engagements are evidence of the bank’s holistic approach to community involvement beyond traditional banking services. Maendeleo Bank’s community engagement initiatives paint a picture of a bank deeply intertwined with its community’s fabric. Whether through marathons, choirs, or CSR initiatives, the bank continually strives to make a positive impact, embodying its name ‘Maendeleo’, which translates to ‘progress’ or ‘development’.

We are now in third tenure of strategic plan, 2022 to 2026 where the bank has set four strategic pillars which are; Transformational business growth – with objective to increase profitability hence creating value to Shareholders by extracting microfinance potentials, leveraging on technology where digitalization is a key agenda, Customer service transformation and improving governance and risk management.

This vision was not just about expanding the bank’s physical presence but also about deepening its impact. “We established an agribusiness window in 2015, which received tremendous feedback. Our goal was to expand this to different parts of the country, making it a key product offering.” As the bank celebrates its ten-year anniversary, the achievements are evident. “From a capital of TZS 4.5 billion, we’ve grown to TZS 17 billion. Our deposits surged from TZS 3.5 billion in 2013 to TZS 81 billion, and our total assets now stand at a commendable TZS 114 billion,” the MD shared with evident pride.

But what does the future hold for Maendeleo Bank? “As we set our milestones for the next five years, and eventually the next decade, our focus remains on serving our community,” the MD emphasised. The bank is eyeing a national presence by 2024, aiming to open branches in all capital cities. “We also aim to fully utilise digital banking, ensuring we capture a significant number of customers through this medium.” Furthermore, the bank’s vision extends beyond traditional banking. “We’re looking at establishing a fully-fledged insurance company in the coming years,” the MD revealed, highlighting the bank’s diversification plans.

A Journey of Faith, Vision, and Resilience

From the humble corridors of a church's vision to the bustling epicentre of Tanzania's banking sector, Maendeleo Bank's journey is nothing short of inspirational. Born out of a desire to uplift and empower the community, the bank has grown in size, reach, impact, and influence. At the helm of this transformative journey stands the MD, a beacon of leadership whose personal story mirrors that of the bank itself. From a Tanzanian village to the boardrooms of banking institutions, his trajectory is evidence of the power of dreams, determination, and dedication. Under his stewardship, Maendeleo Bank has navigated challenges, seized opportunities, and set benchmarks. But beyond the numbers, strategies, and milestones lies the heart of Maendeleo Bank - its values. Rooted in honesty, integrity, and commitment, the bank's ethos reflects the church's teachings that founded it. These values, coupled with a relentless drive for excellence, have propelled the bank to its current stature. As we reflect on Maendeleo Bank's story, it's evident that it's more than just a bank. It's a symbol of hope, progress, and community spirit. It's evidence of what can be achieved when vision, leadership, and values converge. And as the bank looks to the future, one thing is sure: its journey has only just begun, and the best is yet to come.

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