Charlene Lea

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Charlene Lea was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Charlene believed that she could invigorate responsible home loan lending in South Africa by addressing directly the needs of borrowers and the fears of lenders. Essentially, her idea was to close the gap between the actual and the perceived credit risk of low income borrowers. Knowing that lending at scale would only occur when unwarranted lender fears were laid to rest, she and her HLGC developed a series of insurance and reinsurance products that gave them partial protection from defaults. Knowing at the same time that counseling first-time borrowers is key to their performance and that temporary assistance is sometimes needed, she also developed risk mitigation strategies. Her goal was not to become and remain a large lender, but to entice the lending and insurance sectors by showing that this could be a profitable business and to stay in the market only to fill remaining gaps.

The need and the strategy for expanding to the rest of Africa are slightly different than what was relevant in South Africa. While the legal and regulatory environments differ in all countries, with some more advanced than others, most have well established and able lenders and insurers that can originate loans. What they do not have, however, is a robust reinsurance industry or adequate risk management for large scale lending to low-income homebuyers. Therefore, Charlene is taking the reinsurance and risk management aspects of HLGC and partnering with innovative, medium-sized insurance companies in other markets to facilitate bank financing to lower income people, and particularly those living with HIV and AIDS.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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