Sammie Rayner: Fighting Poverty in Ghana with Microfinance and Major Impact

Sammie Rayner

Lumana founder Sammie Rayner is a featured speaker at the Women in Innovation Summit (WINS) 2012 on September 22, 2012, at the Intiman Theater in Seattle. To learn more about Lumana, visit

With her educational background in business and fluency in French, Sammie Rayner could have taken the well-traveled corporate career path. Such a path might have involved a financially secure position with a multi-national corporation, or perhaps a for-profit business. Instead, inspired by a talk and book by Nobel laureate Dr. Mohammed Yunus, she decided to take a very different path. In 2008, she traveled to the small seaside village of Atorkor, Ghana, and worked for months with the chief, Dr. Samuel Adjorlolo, on a pilot project to implement a micro-credit program. With $3,000, she worked directly with local entrepreneurs, training each in financial literacy and providing each with a small loan.

Founding Lumana

While running the pilot, Sammie also connected with other motivated young people who wanted to create a microfinance institution to serve the community. The following year, Sammie founded Lumana, a Seattle-based non-profit that is dedicated to empowering individuals in rural Africa at several levels of poverty with the tools to eradicate poverty.

Since its inception, Lumana has blossomed into a major source of financing, education, and hope for rural African villagers seeking a way out of poverty. Serving 13 villages in two geographic regions in Ghana and employing 8 African staff members, Lumana provides much more than loans. Using a layered microfinance plus approach, Lumana combines microloans with financial education, mentorship, and goal-setting to help ensure that individuals receiving financial assistance have sustainable success.

So far, Sammie has spent a collective year in Ghana. She and Lumana’s co-founder Cole Hoover alternate visits, and between the two of them, they strive to visit twice a year. While in Ghana, she stays between six to 12 weeks at a time. “You have to stay relevant in what you’re doing. Phone calls are not always sufficient,” she says. Attention to local needs and a steady presence in Ghana are hallmarks of the Lumana approach. “So many development initiatives come in for 12 to 18 months and are then gone, in some cases leaving the community worse off,” she explains.

In contrast, Lumana’s success and integration with the communities they serve have only grown. Today, Lumana serves 700 microfinance clients and has provided $292,000 in loans. Of Lumana’s borrowers, 91% are women. And Lumana has flourishing partnerships with local organizations in Ghana, such as the Atorkor Development Foundation (chaired by Dr. Samuel Adjorlolo) and the Anlo Rural Bank.

To participate in Lumana’s microfinance program, individuals in a village form a cooperative and then apply to Lumana for a loan. When the loan is approved, members of the cooperative attend business boot camp to learn basic accounting, how to track and increase their profits, and how to save money and grow their businesses and develop leadership skills. Monthly meetings with local mentors help them keep their plans on track and develop new skills. Microfinance operations in rural Africa present special challenges due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic distance, and more generally difficult climate for businesses. “It can take years to get a commercial business license approved and a commercial bank account set up,” explains Sammie. For these reasons, only 5 percent of the global microfinance industry extends to Africa. Of that fraction, very little extends to rural areas such as those served by Lumana.

Expanding Lumana

Despite these challenges, Sammie is excited about Lumana’s expansion and transition from pure microfinance operations into the small-to medium enterprise sector, which involves investments in businesses in the $10,000 to $25,000 range. Two pilot projects, a tomato cannery and fish farm, will provide opportunities for smaller businesses downstream. This holistic, systemic approach fuels the longer-term vision for Lumana.

When working with rural communities in Ghana, Lumana focuses on addressing questions such as “What systems will help village economies thrive, and what are the levers and the links?” As Sammie explains, four factors that are critical in creating a healthy community are: Food security (agriculture), income generation (jobs), health (for example, clean water and adequate sanitation), and infrastructure projects. Lumana’s 10-year horizon is to create an environment in which businesses can sustainably provide these services in the rural villages in which they operate.

Making the Most of Early Opportunities

As a young girl, Sammie grew up in an entrepreneurial environment and therefore never saw being a female as an impediment to her success. “I was doing the family’s accounting when I was 16 and in charge of the catering team when I was 17 or 18,” she says. With this early exposure to business and the confidence that came with it, Sammie focused instead on how she could add value and work her way up. Where does she see herself in 5 to 10 years? “I see myself demonstrating that Africa is a worthy place to invest,” she says.

Just as Sammie had opportunities to develop confidence and skills as she was growing up, so Lumana provides opportunities for young people. Young people interested in serving in Ghana can apply to become fellows, to get hands-on experiences in the villages that Lumana serves. Sammie recommends this experience for individuals who have been to Africa at least once before and who want to accomplish specific goals during their time with Lumana.

Sammie’s advice to young women? “Always look at yourself and make sure that what you’re doing is aligned with your own values and strengths. Take the time to learn about yourself.” She also recommends finding mentors who can serve as role models. “Find people who really care about you and once you find those people, don’t let them go.”

Connie Rock is a writer, photographer, and inveterate traveler who has been to more than 30 countries. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, and will begin studies this fall in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington. Her blog is at:

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