Alumna Lenora Biche Co-authors Book Chapter on Informal Savings Groups in Africa

Hailing from Bamenda, Cameroon, alumna Lenora Biche graduated in 2021 with a B.A. in Business Administration. She is a junior researcher at the Policy Experimentation & Evaluation Platform in Portugal, the founder of the fashion label BICHE, and a personal stylist at Lenora’s Confident Closet. Lenora recently co-authored a chapter in Transforming Africa: How Savings Groups Foster Financial Inclusion, Resilience and Economic Development (Emerald Publishing Limited, 2022) with Dr. Christian Wolf.

Alumna Lenora Biche

Alumna Lenora Biche

Congratulations on co-authoring a chapter in Transforming Africa: How Savings Groups Foster Financial Inclusion, Resilience and Economic Development. How did this come about? 
In 2019, the JCU Institute for Entrepreneurship launched a program called Mentors for Growth, which I applied to. Professor Silvia Pulino paired me with Dr. Christian Wolf, an entrepreneurship researcher with extensive experience in Africa. Wolf not only mentored me on my career decisions, but he was also keen on connecting me with resources that could foster my growth. It was then that I got connected to editor Dana Redford who alongside Dr. Wolf mentored me on how I could contribute to the SG4Africa project, an ongoing research project on savings groups in Africa (a consortium that researches the pan-African phenomenon of savings groups), that was coordinated by the Policy Experimentation & Evaluation Platform in Portugal (PEEP). I went on to do qualitative research throughout the summer of 2019, with numerous interviews, data collection, reading, and analysis.

It was a joy for me to take a deeper look into savings groups, not only in Cameroon but in many other African countries. It was particularly exciting because a publication like this would open up a broader conversation in academia about the potential of these groups and how they could foster financial education and economic development in the African continent.

The project went on for over 9 months. It took about 4 months to do the research, which consisted of Dr. Wolf and I conducting interviews with different representatives from about 15 African Countries. The interview partners were selected from among the members of the various country teams within the SG4Africa consortium. The interviewees were individuals engaged in research on savings group behavior in their country over a considerable time.

Where did you get your inspiration for this project?
I was raised by a single mother who worked hard and made sure that I had a comfortable life growing up. In addition to this, I also noticed how the people in my community always supported each other. I watched my mum, aunts, and most of the older people in our community join forces to help each other financially. Almost all of them were part of these savings groups that are locally known as “Njangi.” These groups would meet every month at a member’s house where they would have a small celebration with food and then go on to each contribute a sum of money. The lump-sum would then go to a different member every month. Many members of these groups went on to start businesses, build houses, fund their children’s education, and carry out other transactions with the money they raised from these Njangi groups. In essence, Njangi groups have been a core part of my childhood and adulthood because my mother was able to raise a lot of funds for my education and our household through her participation in these groups.

The chapter I co-authored with Dr. Wolf explores the theme of Njangi groups, how they are spreading in developing countries, and how they can contribute to financial inclusion and development. We identified a total of 8 major competencies for leading an informal savings group. Some of them include financial, ethical, digital, entrepreneurial, and leadership competencies. We also learned that leaders were in charge of setting high standards on ethical matters, fostering transparency within the group, and establishing trust and confidence internally and externally.

When I began my research I knew from prior knowledge that trust was a fundamental characteristic on which many Njangi groups were built. It was really interesting to back up my observations with research. I was also fascinated by the many similarities that spring up across different African countries. These groups have different names in each country, but at the core, they have almost the same founding and leadership principles across the continent.

You recently graduated from John Cabot University. How would you describe your experience at JCU?
Life-changing! JCU gave me the opportunity to explore my interests and develop my talents. The John Cabot community supported me especially because I was away from home throughout my college experience. I was able to build a family away from home, make lifelong friends, learn a new language, immerse myself in a completely new culture, and meet wonderful people from all over the world. JCU also assisted me financially because, in my second year, my country experienced some political instability which put a strain on my family’s safety and finances. JCU was there to support me and contribute to my growth as an individual and as a member of the community. I gained confidence and courage to excel in the world through my time at John Cabot.

Transforming Africa

Transforming Africa

Are there any professors/classes that inspired you?
Professors Silvia Pulino and Mary Merva were instrumental in my growth at JCU. Both of them encouraged me to explore my interests and pointed me towards opportunities, people, and platforms that could support my work. They were always available to listen to my ideas and projects and provide their feedback. I also worked as a resident assistant during the summer of my research project. My supervisor Vanessa Di Carlo was aware of my workload and she supported me throughout, checking in and making sure that I had enough resources to properly manage it all. She would always send words of encouragement and motivation my way. I would also add that the JCU library was a great help during my research.

Your interests range from African fashion to education and entrepreneurship. How do you see yourself in the future?
I am a firm believer that with confidence and the right strategy we can excel in more than one discipline in life. When I am not working, I spend time building Lenora’s Confident Closet, which is all about helping individuals express and showcase the best versions of themselves and their brands. I am currently based in Kigali, Rwanda, but I work virtually as well to provide my services as a personal brand strategist. My work involves business management, personal branding, fashion design, styling, confidence coaching, and marketing. In the next 3 years, I see myself owning and managing a personal branding agency for high-profile celebrities, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. I have already started doing so as some of my current clients include Grammy nominees, business owners, and public speakers. Doing all of this from the African continent enables me to tap into the abundance of resources as well as foster growth and economic development within Africa.

Do you have any advice for current students?
JCU provides so many wonderful programs and initiatives that are extremely beneficial to students, not only academically but also career-wise. You should explore as many of these opportunities as possible, find out which ones align with your interests, and take advantage of them. Students can easily get bored of the daily classroom routines so these extracurricular activities can serve as a motivation. For me, being able to do this research outside of class actually fueled me and sparked my interest in many topics within the classroom as I was able to make connections and apply that material to the project.