Research on Ecuador’s digital platform to be featured at 18th Microcredit Summit

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The Microcredit Summit Campaign, as part of its 6 Pathways, is helping to highlight ways that digital platforms are helping to expand financial inclusion, especially for the extreme poor. We are pleased to share with you this Executive Summary of their research.

At the 18th Microcredit Summit this research will be included in the breakout session “The Digital Revolution and Financial Inclusion.” We hope to see you there!


>> Authored by Jorge Moncayo and Marcos Reis.

Financial systems have a vital role in national economies. They provide savings, credit, payment, and risk management products to society. In this sense, inclusive financial systems — those with a high share of individuals and firms that use financial services — are especially likely to benefit poor people and other disadvantaged groups. On the contrary, poor people must rely on their limited savings to invest in their education or become entrepreneurs. In addition, small enterprises must rely on their limited earnings to pursue promising growth opportunities (Demirguc-Kunt and Klapper, 2012).

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Mifos and DreamStart team up on Commitment – And they’re looking for a partner!

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Mifos + DreamStart logos
Join the Mifos Initiative and DreamStart Labs in a new, bold, and momentous initiative. They are collaborating on a joint Campaign Commitment that embodies the spirit of the 100 Million Project with its measurable approach and global outreach for the financial inclusion of the world’s extreme poor.

These two Commitment Makers will begin by providing a sample of savings groups from various countries with software to manage their financial records. Working in the lean startup method of “build-measure-learn,” they will adjust and fine-tune their software to meet the needs of the extreme poor. Not only will the software empower families and communities to become part of the formal financial services system, but more importantly, it will provide crucial data that will improve product design and the lives of the families who receive them.

BECOME PART OF THIS INITIATIVE. Mifos and DreamStart are looking for a partner to roll out this platform. The ideal partner for this project will be a highly motivated, committed organization with a global network of saving groups. The Mifos Initiative and DreamStart Labs hope to welcome this partner by the end of the month and announce this exciting new Commitment at the 18th Microcredit Summit in Abu Dhabi this March 14-17.

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#tbt: Digital Transactions for Products the Poor Can Afford

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The promise of mobile technology infographic: how it works
Rodger Voorhies, director of financial services for the poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States, talked to Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, for the 2013 State of the Campaign Report.

Larry Reed: What opportunities do you see for digital transactions making a difference in the lives of the very poor?

Rodger Voorhies: Like most of us, poor people live their lives through a lot of different kinds of financial connections, and payments are really the connective tissue that hold those financial transactions together. Unless we can figure out ways to help poor people transact in a way that is profitable for them and profitable for providers, we’re really not going to see large-scale financial inclusion take place.

Now, one of the most exciting things that’s going on for us is the ability of mobile money to reach down into really poor households, and so right now in a country like Tanzania 47 percent of households have a mobile money user. An exciting bit of that is not so much, okay, there’s one person in the household sending money to friends, but it might open up all kinds of innovations that before were previously unavailable.

So, let’s think about savings, because we know savings have a big impact on poor people. Well, it’s really hard to save, and poor people have to take a lot of self-control and we expect a lot of self-discipline out of them if they’re going to be able to save. If I can actually begin to transact digitally and I had defaulted into commitments accounts and savings accounts for school fees or whatever the mental maps are that work for me, I think we can see large scale inclusion that actually has a big development impact. And we know that the empirical evidence around these pieces work, so we know commitment accounts work, but poor people just don’t have a way to get those commitment accounts.

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Launching the 2015 Report in the epicenter of financial inclusion

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We launched our new State of the Campaign Report, Mapping Pathways out of Poverty in India, the epicenter of the current financial inclusion transformation. For two days at the Access/Assist Inclusive Finance India Summit, I heard about all of the technological and regulatory innovations that will be driving access to finance in the country over the next decade. Over the past 12 months, the government, regulators, and financial institutions of India have made huge strides, providing first time bank accounts to over 300 million people.

Some of the other numbers reported at the Inclusive Finance India Summit were just as staggering:

  • The country has more than 568,000 banking outlets now (including banking agents), compared with only 2,000 just 10 years ago.
  • In its first 68 years of existence, the Reserve Bank of India approved 12 new banks. In the next two years, 23 new banks will be established (i.e., 11 Small Finance Banks, 10 Payments Banks, and 2 Commercial Banks).

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The 2015 State of the Campaign Report in a nutshell

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An African farmer is linked into the financial system via her mobile phone.
In his presentation today at the Inclusive Finance India Summit New Delhi, Larry Reed featured Mapping Pathways out of Poverty: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2015. The report is now available online. We will also publish the full report in French, Spanish, and Arabic in early 2016. You can also read previous reports online, just select the year of interest from the drop-down menu “Previous Reports.”

At our 2013 Microcredit Summit in the Philippines, we focused on the partnerships required to deliver financial services to those living in poverty. At our 2014 Summit in Mexico, we focused on innovations in microfinance with a demonstrated capacity to reach those in extreme poverty. This year, we use the report to explore, in more detail, our six financial “pathways.” Each pathways has a chapter, and each chapter does the following:

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#tbt: Affordable Transactions for the Poor

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Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Ashe

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThrowbackThursday blog post, which was originally published in Resilience: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2014, under the chapter “Mobile Network Operators Can Build Systems that Reach the Poorest and Most Remote.” The section excerpted below describes how important mobile technology and digital financial services are for reducing the cost of doing business with the poor and hard-to-reach — both for the provider and the client. Read also Ian Radcliffe’s blog post from Tuesday in which he describes WSBI’s progress achieved so far toward a related Campaign Commitment.


Transaction costs pose a significant challenge to those seeking to provide financial services to people transacting in very small amounts or living in remote areas. The cost of providing the service often exceeds the price that the client can afford to pay. People living in poverty must manage daily transactions with incomes that are small, inconsistent, and often unpredictable.

Ian Radcliffe, of the World Savings Bank Institute (WSBI) reported its research that calculates that people living in poverty can only afford to pay about USD 0.60 a month for financial transactions, an amount far lower than the cost to employ staff to manage the transactions. Moving transactions to mobile platforms can drastically reduce many of these costs.


An interview with Ian Radcliffe, Director of World Savings Bank Institute. Download a transcript of the video [PDF].

Low-income clients have shown the ability to adopt new technology when it provides them with essential services at much lower cost or with much easier accessibility than the alternative. A study by William Jack and Tavneet Suri of the M-PESA mobile payment system in Kenya describes how their system grew from its launch in 2007 to cover 70 percent of the Kenyan population today. The study stated that “while M-PESA use was originally limited to the wealthiest groups, it is slowly being adopted by a broader share of the population,” including those in the bottom quartile of household expenditure. [1] Compared to the option of receiving money from relatives far away only on their sporadic visits home, or through a USD 5 bus ride into the city, low-income people in rural areas quickly found out how to get access to a mobile phone, receive a funds transfer on it, and travel to the nearest agent to turn the digital funds into cash.

In addition, access to mobile payments can play a key role in reducing vulnerability and building resilience. Jack and Suri studied low-income families in rural Kenya who experienced economic shocks. Those with access to M-PESA received a greater number of remittances and more money from friends and family than those who did not have access to M-PESA. Access to mobile money gave them the ability to tap into a larger network and weather the economic crisis.


[1] William Jack and Tavneet Suri, 2011, “Mobile Money: The Economics of M-PESA,” http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/wgj/papers/Jack_Suri-Economics-of-M-PESA.pdf.

WSBI’s journey in making small-scale savings work

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Mobile banking service, Popote, in Tanzania, allows savings banks clients to access their account information anywhere. Photo courtesy of WSBI

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>>Authored by Ian Radcliffe, Director, WSBI-ESBG, Belgium

WSBI has long been a supporter of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and its goal of helping 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. As an organisation that represents the interests of approximately 6,000 savings and retail banking institutions across 80 countries, advancing financial access and financial usage for everyone is core to our members’ missions.

In fact, it is part of a heritage that can be traced back to our members’ roots that in some cases go back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries in promoting self-help among poor communities. And, since it has nowadays become broadly accepted that financial inclusion brings material economic and societal benefits including lifting people out of poverty, the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s mission is entirely congruent with WSBI and its members’ values.

Our Commitment to the Microcredit Summit Campaign was announced during the 2013 Microcredit Summit in the Philippines and renewed again at last year’s Summit in Mexico. Our commitment focuses on two elements:

  1. Identifying successful inclusive finance strategies for youth markets.
  2. Holding events with our partners and member banks to share knowledge about pricing research and the implications on offering savings products for the poor.

Both Commitments have been pursued under the auspices of WSBI’s major financial inclusion program that started in 2008 and that will come to an end later this year. The program’s aim was to significantly increase the number of savings accounts among the poor, working with savings and retail banks primarily in 10 countries [1]. We were developing new business models and distribution channels and, in many cases, taking advantage of mobile technology.

At the end of this particular journey, we are delighted that six of the banks that sustained projects throughout the life of the program doubled savings accounts, and their growth continues. They have developed business models based on lower-income populations and in so doing, these six banks have undergone significant internal cultural shifts, leading to strengthened identities by clarifying their market positioning. One bank even managed to turn a 75 percent dormant customer base into a 75 percent active one with almost all improvement coming from modest-turnover, low-balance savings accounts.

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Making small-scale savings work in a digitized world
September 23, 2015
Four Seasons Hotel | Washington, D.C.
8:15 AM to 2 PM
Learn more

The banks’ projects were inevitably supported by a great deal of research and analysis performed by WSBI (including the youth research referred to in our Campaign Commitment), which is available on our website. And, apart from project implementation, the core goals of the program included articulating and disseminating lessons learned to a variety of stakeholders, which is where the Campaign Commitment of holding events with partners and member banks comes in.

On September 23rd, WSBI will run its final major event under this program: a workshop in Washington, D.C., entitled Making small-scale savings work in a digitized world.” We will showcase the successes and challenges faced by the banks that participated with us in our journey. Panel sessions and debates will address how banks and their projects have evolved to adapt to changing environments and competitive pressures. We will explore how strategies, institutional cultures, and practices have adapted as a consequence of program lessons. We will also examine what remains to be done and how the banks and others see the way forward.

The accumulated learning on display at “Making small-scale savings work in a digitized world” will be of clear interest to savings and retail banks, policymakers, and other practitioners involved in the financial inclusion world. The program and registration may be found here; participation is free and we really encourage anyone interested to join us at this workshop.

As we all work together in progressing our journey towards full financial inclusion, WSBI remains committed to continuing its work in this field, as witnessed by its commitment to the Universal Financial Access 2020 goal announced at the World Bank Group’s 2015 Spring Meetings. We are actively forging new partnerships aimed at addressing critical legal and regulatory reforms needed to facilitate WSBI members’ activities in improving financial access. We will continue to support the development of financial infrastructures that are tailored to individual environments. We will draw on the wealth of experience generated by our savings program to support savings and retail banks by way of advisory services aimed at overcoming technical or capacity shortcomings and promoting cultural or behavioral change. And finally, more than ever these days, we will support banks in adapting to the digitized world in which we all now exist to stimulate innovation so as to reach out to new customers, in particular those who currently have little or no access to financial services.

Footnote

[1] Mainly Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam. Initiatives have also been pursued during 2015 in Ghana and Sri Lanka.


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Colombia, a “Pathways” poster child

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>>Authored by Paul Gostomski, Microcredit Summit Campaign Program Intern

The 100 Million Project, an initiative of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, aims galvanize and support work that helps advance industry toward the goal of helping 100 million families lift themselves out extreme poverty. To do so, the Microcredit Summit Campaign advocates adoption of “Six Pathways,” which are financial inclusion strategies that can reach the extreme poor and facilitate their movement out of extreme poverty.

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of 34 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion, recently published a paper that does an excellent job highlighting two pathways that are currently being implemented in Colombia: conditional cash transfers and an initiative to link mobile banking services with agent networks.

Conditional Cash Transfers

The Más Familias en Acción program began in 2001 and aims to supplement the income of families who live below the poverty line and have children under 18. Mothers receive the cash transfer conditioned on their child’s regular attendance at school. This condition also qualifies the family for a health subsidy if their child receives regular health check-ups. In 2012, Más Familias en Acción was reaching 2.7 million families throughout the country. Between 2001 and 2012, malnutrition among children in Colombia aged two and under in rural areas decreased by 10 percent. Also in this time, school attendance for children between 12 and 17 increased by 12 percent.

The Campaign advocates for the use of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) within our six-pathways framework due to evidence such as is seen from programs like Más Familias en Acción. An array of positive externalities are also associated with CCTs, including income smoothing. Stabilizing income through CCTs help families better plan for the future as the immediate risks of today are somewhat mitigated.

Conditioned cash transfers are also incentivizing beneficiaries to make investments in themselves, often through participation in programs to increase health or education for the family. During last year’s Innovations in Social Protection program led by the Campaign, participants in PROGRESA (then called Oportunidades) indicated that while they appreciated and valued the security the transfer brought, they found that the greatest positive change was understanding the significance of the education and health investments they were making in their families.

Another positive externality of conditional cash transfer, and one we find significant, is its effect on women in poor communities. Almost all conditional cash transfers are administered to the mother of the household and this in turn increases women’s bargaining power, something that’s all too often neglected in poor communities.

 Mobile Money with Agent Networks

The second of the two pathways currently being implemented in Colombia is mobile money linked with agent networks in low-income communities through the mobile banking service DaviPlata. DaviPlata, launched as a private mobile service in 2011, was able to garner 500,000 customers in its first year of operation. Taking notice of this success, the government of Colombia contracted DaviPlata in 2012 to deliver the conditional cash transfers of Más Familias en Acción to its 937,000 beneficiaries.

After being contracted, the paper noted, DaviPlata as an organization began a new focus on how to serve the poorest in the country. DaviPlata, working solely through mobile phones, makes financial inclusion easier by making transferring, receiving, and withdrawing money less costly to the recipient of the conditional cash transfer. The recipient now spends less time traveling to the bank or post office and takes less risk as he or she has less cash on their person.

The World Bank reports that of the poorest two quintiles of those living in developing countries, only 30 percent have access to a savings account, whether formal or informal. The Campaign is looking at mobile money within its six-pathways framework because of how digital financial tools are decreasing the cost of transacting and, when linked with savings, increasing the ease with which the poor can access accounts, begin to develop savings, and more easily transfer money when needed.

Although many of the poor do not have savings accounts, many do have mobile devices. Mobile money linked with agent networks like DaviPlata helps link those living in more rural and remote areas to the mobile platforms where traditional financial institutions are less easy to find.

However, DaviPlata has room for improvement as a payments facility. The CGAP paper reports that DaviPlata faces an illiterate customer base and also issues with customers that do not understand the technology. DaviPlata must also deal with dormant accounts, where customers signed up for the service but their accounts have not been used in more than 30 days. Overcoming these challenges will be critical to moving forward.

Colombia’s Next Step

Colombia’s Más Familias en Acción, is a global leader in the use of CCTs to support increased health standards and school attendance among the poor. Now, work needs to be focused on decreasing the inefficiencies around the mobile banking service DaviPlata. In the CGAP paper on Colombia, it was made clear that Colombia’s greatest development challenge was in regard to DaviPlata and increasing its financial stability. This includes taking fuller advantage of the product while making the processes and channels more efficient. With a more effective method on distributing funds, the intended effects of Más Familias en Acción can then be multiplied.


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Ghana: What lies ahead

Representatives from REST Ethiopia lead a group discussion with a graduation program participant during the Innovations in Social Protection and Livelihoods Development program in 2014.

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>>Authored by Paul Gostomski, Microcredit Summit Campaign Program Intern

The Microcredit Summit Campaign recently spoke with Mawutor Ablo, director of Social Protection at Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and also a participant in the Campaign’s Field Learning Program last year, Innovations in Social Protection and Livelihoods Development.

The program invited representatives from Ghana, Malawi, and Mozambique on a trip to observe leading social protection programs in Ethiopia and Mexico. In our discussion with Mr. Mawutor, we spoke about the changes made to Ghana’s social protection programs since we last met and what changes may be made in the future to increase the reach of the programs and strengthen outcomes for Ghana’s poorest.

The Ghana National Household Registry

In May 2014, the World Bank continued its support to Ghana through a credit of US$50 million to Ghana’s Finance Ministry with payments dispersed annually from 2015 to 2017.

The funds are directed to the Ghana Social Opportunities Project, which aims to extend Ghana’s Labor-Intensive Public Works (LIPW) program from 49 to 60 of Ghana’s 216 districts. LIPW also aims to expand the reach of grants from 100,000 to 150,000 poor households through the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP) program.

In addition, the social protection systems will be strengthened through improved targeting and the establishment of the Ghana National Household Registry (GNHR).

Ato Berhanu Woldemichael in a meeting

Mr. Ato Berhanu Woldemichael, as acting State Minister with the Food Security Directorate, oversees much of the government’s role in LEAP and LIPW.

Before the implementation of the household registry system, both LIPW and LEAP screened candidate households in selected districts independently. This has not caused an overlap yet, but with the extension of the Ghana Social Opportunities Project and its intended scaling up of both programs, overlap is inevitable, leading to possible disbursement conflicts between the two programs.

The GNHR will create a database that optimizes methods used in finding and selecting program candidates through a universal survey useful for multiple social protection programs in selecting participating households. Simply put, the GNHR and its universal survey will represent a more efficient and comprehensive method for selecting households for inclusion in the national social protection programs.

Mr. Mawutor expects the registry to improve the ability to target and reach the poorest in Ghana. He compared the registry to that of the successful Cadastro Unico, the national registry of Brazil established in 2001. Three years after Cadastro Unico was created, a study showed that the poorest quartile of the population received 80 percent of all social protection programs’ benefits.

By way of comparison, the cash transfer programs in place prior to the unified registry together distributed only 64 percent of the total benefits to the poorest quartile. This improvement in targeting is something Mr. Mawutor hopes to see take place in GNHR by reducing what he termed inclusion error — the participation of households living above the targeted poverty level — in programs like LEAP and LIPW.

The Move to Mobile Money

Leaders in charge of implementing Ghana’s social protection programs are interested in finding the most efficient way to distribute the cash transfers that are at the center of these initiatives. Currently, the most common method of disbursement is through smart cards. Here, recipients of a cash transfer can go to the post office or another government entity with their smart card to have their payment added to their smart card.

Ghana would like to move from this strategy because of the high transaction costs associated with it. Also, this method does not allow recipients to transfer the money they receive to, for example, a family member in need. Instead, Ghana would like mobile money to be the primary form of receiving cash transfers.

Ghana has already partnered with MTN, a mobile network operator from South Africa, and has thus far reached a point where about 10 percent of its payments are disbursed through mobile systems.

Hoping to expand this number, Mr. Mawutor told us that Ghana would be increasing its total number of providers to four companies this year. With the expansion, Mr. Mawutor hopes to make mobile banking more accessible to poorer areas by increasing the overall number of local branches across the country.

The addition of three new operators would also produce significant returns from the added competition to the market, producing incentives for each company to provide the best service.

Mr. Mawutor Ablo during the Innovations in Social Protection, along with the Hon. Dela Sowa, Deputy Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. Together they have great responsibility for the social protection programing in Ghana.

Growth by Efficiency

Social protection programs in Ghana have made many changes in the past few years and they all seem to focus on efficiency. Both the establishment of the Ghana National Household Registry and the move to mobile money aim to cut the costs associated with these programs. The registry intends to better target those among the poorest in Ghana for participation in the social protection program and reduce the costs to serve them by removing redundancies between the various initiatives.

The move to mobile money aims to make funds more accessible to beneficiaries, increasing the potential for positive outcomes resulting from the programs. With these changes, it is clear Ghana is dedicated to maximizing results.

We look forward to continuing to follow new developments from Ghana over time and continuing to be a close supporter of the work of Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection.


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Voices from the Field: Beth Porter

Financial inclusion to end extreme poverty

“By reducing vulnerability to economic shocks and boosting job creation, financial inclusion can be a key driver of poverty reduction and economic growth and at the same time contribute to promoting greater equality,” explains Beth Porter, policy adviser for financial inclusion at UNCDF.

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In preparation for our 18th Microcredit Summit, the Campaign conducted a Listening Tour from December 2014 through February 2015. The Listening Tour was our time to listen — and your time to speak — on the issues that the microfinance and financial inclusion sector face and served two purposes. First, it was our hope to find out how our audience (you) felt about the World Bank’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2030, and equally important, we wished to consult you in identifying the topics that were most pressing and urgent.

We collected your feedback through an online survey and organized conversations with 27 leaders in the microfinance and financial inclusion sector. We heard from them on how financial inclusion can contribute to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role of microfinance in the post-2015 agenda. The results of this consultation will be reflected in the 2015 State of the Campaign Report, the 18th Microcredit Summit, and Campaign Commitments.

Below is a short excerpt from our conversation with Beth Porter, policy adviser for financial inclusion at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in New York.

Q: What is the role of microfinance and financial inclusion in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)/ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) era?

Beth Porter

Over the course of 2015, the Open Working Group, comprised of 30 member states, discussed the shape of the post-2015 agenda. The post-2015 agenda set out to build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000-2015) and incorporate some of the broader global stewardship goals that came out of the Monterrey Consensus. To do so, they proposed a set of 17 goals and 169 targets (the MDGs had 8 goals with 10 targets each) to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 — a document which was adopted as a “zero draft.”

In 2015, member states began to consider the overarching vision for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), examine more closely the goals and targets, set forth the means of implementation, and identify indicators. While such a large number of goals and targets are certainly unwieldy, many member states want to ensure that the SDGs are truly comprehensive and feel that further whittling them down would leave out important parts of the development agenda. So the targets are being examined to ensure that they are consistent with other global agreements and commitments and that are measurable, but the targets themselves have not, to date, been opened up for major changes or reduction in number.

Financial inclusion figures prominently amongst the targets. Financial Inclusion is achieved when individuals and enterprises have access to a wide range of financial services provided responsibly and at reasonable cost by diverse and sustainable institutions in a well-regulated environment. By reducing vulnerability to economic shocks and boosting job creation, financial inclusion can be a key driver of poverty reduction and economic growth and at the same time contribute to promoting greater equality — and, indeed, it is a target in all three of these goal areas (poverty eradication, economic growth and job creation, and reducing inequality). Financial inclusion also figures as targets under goals on food security, women’s economic empowerment, health, etc. This is consistent with financial inclusion being a means to achieving broader development goals. As a result, we hope that it will continue to be embedded in the targets under the eight goals where it is mentioned.

Q: What do you think will be needed to achieve the goal of global financial inclusion by 2020 and how can this contribute to the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030?

In regard to the link between the goals of financial inclusion by 2020 and eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, let me say that while I believe that we can go far towards providing financial access by 2020, any declaration of reaching that goal will be based largely on transactional accounts. The fastest growing part of financial inclusion is in the area of payments: people using a phone to send or receive money to/from family or friends, to receive social transfer payments from governments or development organizations, or to pay bills more conveniently. Digital channels are opening up the possibilities for a large array of products and services.

But, where there will likely still be gaps by 2020 is going beyond access to usage. Providing a payment option or opening a bank account is a starting point but not enough; people must use those payment options or accounts in order to benefit from them and to be fully included financially. To drive usage, these payment services must be designed based on client needs and preferences. Furthermore, payments are just one aspect of the kinds of products and services that people want and need. They may be the entry point, but it will be critical that other products and services such as savings, credit, and insurance are layered on the payment services.

That takes us to the link between financial inclusion and eradicating extreme poverty. I am amongst the many who believe that financial inclusion is a critical factor in addressing poverty. We all know that the causes of poverty are complex, however, and the solutions are not simple either. Financial inclusion is necessary, but not sufficient, to eradicate poverty.

One of the things that we at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) are particularly focused on, given our mandate to work first and foremost in least developed countries (LDCs), is to look at ways that greater financial inclusion can help contribute not only to better developmental outcomes for people, but also contribute to more vibrant economies and greater availability of domestic resources.

We recognize a clear link between national financial inclusion strategies—and the ensuing implementation plans—and higher levels of financial inclusion. We believe that this in turn leads to both poverty alleviation and economic growth. As a result, we are stepping up our efforts to support the development, implementation, and monitoring of such plans through the Making Access Possible (MAP) initiative.

We have seen tremendous leverage from small amounts of “smart” overseas development assistance (ODA) and philanthropic funding used to help financial service providers (FSPs) to develop the business models that will help them meet the real needs of women and men. Such investments can help encourage private sector players move into riskier markets and demonstrate the potential of these markets to be profitable, and thereby “crowd in” domestic and South-South capital to scale up and replicate these models.

When people have convenient access to formal accounts, individuals and households of even limited means as well as micro- and small enterprises (MSMEs) will place their savings in institutions where their money is safe and accessible, as we have seen through the MicroLead initiative, amongst others. Such savings, when taken cumulatively, can then be directed into financial services that promote local markets, small-holder agriculture, MSME development, education for girls, and so on.

Q: In relation to our host region, what are the challenges and opportunities facing Africa & the Middle East in regards to microfinance and financial inclusion?

The Ebola crisis has forced a recognition that a public health crisis has many other dimensions, and one of those is related to the payments infrastructure—and, more broadly, how financial services can be relevant in the response, recovery, and rehabilitation stages in natural disasters and post-conflict situations. Given the number of countries in the region that are affected by these humanitarian crises, it is critical that governments, development organizations, and providers know when and how to use financial services to get through and beyond the crisis to secure, healthy, and productive lives. We are working on a policy guidance note on this topic, based in part on our experience supporting the Ebola response, and there are many others who are doing terrific work in this space.

An area in which Africa is leading the way globally is in mobile money. Indeed, mobile money was the major contributor to the increase of financial inclusion in Africa, according to Global FinDex. More people in Africa have phones than bank accounts. And, increasingly, mobile network operators are taking advantage of that—often in partnership with financial institutions—to offer people not only payment services, but also other products using the mobile platform. There is still much work to be done, however, to realize the promise of digital finance (i.e., mobile money and other services including the use of electronic vouchers, debit and credit cards, etc. in conjunction with ATMs, POS [point-of-sale], and other devices), but it has great potential in connecting low income and rural customers with the services that they need, not only financial services, but health, education, energy, water and many more.

We believe — and particularly at the Better Than Cash Alliance and the Mobile Money for the Poor initiative — that taking an “ecosystem approach” to digital finance will be essential to realizing that promise. Such an approach involves policymakers and regulators, the various providers of digital financial services, as well as retailers and others in the acceptance networks, and it requires the support of development partners and must take as its starting point the wants and needs and capabilities of the consumer. We are encouraged to see such approaches start to take root in a number of countries in the region.

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About the United Nations Capital Development Fund

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is the UN’s capital investment agency for the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs). UNCDF uses its capital mandate to help LDCs pursue inclusive growth. UNCDF uses “smart” Official Development Assistance (ODA) to unlock and leverage public and private domestic resources; it promotes financial inclusion, including through digital finance, as a key enabler of poverty reduction and inclusive growth; and it demonstrates how localizing finance outside the capital cities can accelerate growth in local economies, promote sustainable and climate resilient infrastructure development, and empower local communities. Using capital grants, loans, and credit enhancements, UNCDF tests financial models in inclusive finance and local development finance; de-risks” the local investment space; and proves concept, paving the way for larger and more risk-averse investors to come in and scale up.

About Beth Porter

Beth Porter has over 20 years of experience in microfinance and organizational development in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As a policy adviser at the UNCDF, Beth provides policy guidance and support to the global team on financial inclusion. She previously launched and directed the YFS-Link initiative at Making Cents International to build the capabilities of financial services providers and youth-serving organizations in youth-inclusive financial services.

At Freedom from Hunger, Beth led program strategy and managed delivery of integrated microfinance services to 1.2 million women and their families in 16 countries. She has provided technical assistance and training in strategic and business planning, product design, and organizational effectiveness and operational efficiency, and is experienced in program appraisal, design and evaluation. In addition, Beth is on the boards of the SEEP Network, the Bolivian MFI CRECER, the SMART Campaign in Microfinance, Child and Youth Finance International, and was a founder of Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM)-International and past Chair of WAM-Northern California.

Visit the UNCDF website: http://www.uncdf.org/

Six learning opportunities for the “Six Pathways”

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>>Authored by William Maddocks, director of the Sustainable Microfinance and Development Program (SMDP) at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy

New scrutiny has focused on what microfinance can’t do, and the evidence is growing that microfinance, de-linked from a social change paradigm, is simply another way to provide basic financial services to people historically excluded by the market. The new theme for the Microcredit Summit Campaign for 2015 of “financial inclusion to end extreme poverty” and the Six Pathways show promise in getting us there and can succeed in challenging extreme poverty if social change and equity are embedded as core values by those who fund, design, and implement these strategies.

These six pathways promoted by the Microcredit Summit Campaign touch on many of areas of the Carsey School of Public Policy’s current work. Using each pathway as a prompt, we will take a brief look at these themes and how you can get involved and learn more.

The Six Pathways

1) Mobile money linked with agent networks in low-income communities and other technological innovations

The SMDP New Hampshire Certificate 2015 in June will feature a session facilitated by Joyce Lehman, formerly with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on branchless banking and the Digital Revolution. If the infographic from Kenya tells us anything (below), it’s that digital financial services are growing exponentially beyond just transfers and remittances to group savings & loans, agricultural inputs insurance, water services, off-grid lighting, and more. Come to New Hampshire, USA, this summer to learn about this exciting frontier of financial inclusion from the unique perspective of a former donor who worked on the ground floor of paving the digital finance highway.

Infographic: Kenya's journey to digital financial inclusion

Kenya’s journey to digital financial inclusion (by Simone di Castri and Lara Gidvani – July 2013)
Source: GSMA

2) Ultra-poor graduation programs

Jan Maes, who has worked in designing graduation programs with Trickle Up and other organizations, will present findings during the SMDP New Hampshire Certificate on the effectiveness and challenges of using these strategies to move the ultra-poor into self-sufficiency.

3) Microfinance savings and/or borrowing groups linked with health education, health financing, and health product delivery

Kathleen Stack, vice president of programs for Freedom from Hunger, will make a virtual presentation at the SMDP NH on Microfinance and Health Protection (MAHP) initiatives that they are implementing with our friends, CARD MRI in the Philippines and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and in other locations. Read more about the project, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, and how these three organizations, with the support of Johnson & Johnson, are helping address maternal and child health needs.

Photo courtesy of the Carsey School of Public Policy

Photo courtesy of the Carsey School of Public Policy

4) Agricultural value chains that reach to small-scale producers

Understanding markets is more than just knowing about products. The field of inclusive market development is moving from the linear value chain approach, to applying a systems approach that looks for, and adapts to, feedback from the system. Carsey has just launched SMDP Online and one of our first courses, “Understanding and Adapting to Complex Markets” will help practitioners understand complex adaptive systems and apply these concepts to their current work. SMDP Online course facilitator Mary Morgan, with more than 20 years of experience in development, promises a challenging and very practical learning experience for market development professionals.

5) Savings groups (aka village savings and loans associations)

One of the most promising strategies for reaching people that commercial microfinance has failed to reach are savings groups (SGs). Today more than 10 million people use SGs for saving, lending, building financial security, and social capital. Carsey has been a leader in savings groups training and learning events for several years and continues to expand opportunities to learn about this growing area of financial inclusion.

The SMDP Online will offer a blended course, “Savings Groups: Building Scale and Impact through Adaptation and Experimentation,” facilitated by Nanci Lee. This course will meet online for several months and then face-to-face in Lusaka, Zambia, during the SMDP Zambia, which occurs right before the next global gathering of SG practitioners, donors, researchers, and others at the SG 2015 conference also in Lusaka from November 10 to 12.

The lock box of a savings group in Africa

The lock box of a savings group in Africa
Photo courtesy of the Carsey School of Public Policy

6) Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) linked with mobile delivery and asset building

Reaching as many as 129 million people worldwide, CCTs work at a scale that few other anti-poverty programs can reach. Governments working with visionary partners like Fundación Capital can roll out programs that provide support, change social norms, and make a measurable impact on improving the lives of poor families. In the Dominican Republic, Fundación Capital has partnered with the Government’s ProSoli program and Banco ADOPEM and Banco Pyme BHD to connect savings groups with a CCT voucher program and bank linkages.

You can learn about this exciting pilot program by watching Jong Hyon Shin, Fundación Capital’s country project coordinator for the Dominican Republic, and her former professor (and Carsey Fellow) Jeffrey Ashe. (Watch the SEEP Network’s Taking Savings Groups on the Road Webinar Series.)

Relevant resources

The 2015 Listening Tour: Mapping pathways for ending extreme poverty

Photo credit: by Geoff (originally posted to Flickr as Pilgrim’s path) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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“Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.”
— Muhammad Ali

After the success of Generation Next: Innovation in Microfinance, our 17th Microcredit Summit (Mexico in 2014), the Microcredit Summit Campaign conducted a Listening Tour to identify how this next generation could contribute to ending extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 a day) by 2030. The theme that emerges from this consultation will be reflected across the Campaign: in the 2015 State of the Campaign Report, the 18th Microcredit Summit, and Campaign Commitments.

With the post-2015 development agenda under negotiation, the financial inclusion and microfinance sectors have an opportunity to assess our role in shaping the international development framework and reflect on the impact we can have on the lives of millions of the world´s extreme poor. Our Listening Tour was the first step in surveying our coalition of partners to see what our role in this endeavor should be.

The Listening Tour was our time to listen — and your time to speak — on the issues that the microfinance and financial inclusion sector face and served two purposes. First, it was our hope to find out how our audience (you) felt about the World Bank’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2030, and equally important, we wished to consult you in identifying the topics that were most pressing and urgent.

We collected your feedback through an online survey where we received 151 responses from participants from around the world representing practitioners, advocates and support organizations, funders, investors, policymakers, and regulators. We also conducted phone interviews with 27 leaders in the microfinance and financial inclusion sectors. Below are some key findings from our Listening Tour calls and survey.

A client of Fundacíon Capital wiht her daughter Photo credit: Fundacíon Capital

A client of Fundacíon Capital wiht her daughter

Photo credit: Fundacíon Capital

1. Ending extreme poverty.

Our members believe that our main objective should be to end extreme poverty, but they acknowledge that microfinance and financial inclusion actors need to be mobilized around this objective. We need to take a leadership role in re-focusing the microfinance sector on a pro-poor mission and helping the microfinance community build confidence in a system that protects and benefits those who we serve. In order to accomplish this, we need to galvanize new visionaries and champions for the movement.

2. Universal financial access, financial inclusion, and ending extreme poverty.

The strategy for achieving both universal financial access by 2020 and the 2030 goal must be clear, and clear linkages should be created between these two goals. In addition, we need to clarify the definition of financial inclusion, especially in how it relates to ending extreme poverty. We cannot get to full financial inclusion unless inclusive financial systems are created that serve the extreme poor.

3. Defining roles.

It’s unclear what role each stakeholder plays in achieving these goals. Our challenge is to create a unified voice in support of this agenda among a diverse group of microfinance stakeholders, who sometimes have divergent priorities. How do we design a strategy and create a sense of responsibility to provide the appropriate products and services that help people move out of poverty?

4. Pushing innovation while maintaining client protection.

Innovation is key, and technology will need play an important role in reaching full financial inclusion. The microfinance community tends to copy successful ideas but hesitates when it comes to new methodologies. While we need to do away with this risk-averse culture when it comes to innovation, we need to make sure there is adequate regulation and client protection practices in place where our clients could be vulnerable.

Organizations that made a Campaign Commitment are recognized on stage at the 17th Microcredit Summit in Mexico.

Organizations that made a Campaign Commitment are recognized on stage at the 17th Microcredit Summit in Mexico.

5. Financial inclusion to end extreme poverty: six pathways.

Finally, we saw an emphasis on six topics that we have framed as our “pathways out of poverty;” these are financial inclusion strategies that reach people living in extreme poverty and facilitates their movement out of poverty:

  • Mobile money linked with agent networks in low-income communities (for example)
  • Agricultural value chains that reach to small scale producers (for example)
  • Savings groups (aka village savings and loans associations) (for example)
  • Conditional cash transfers linked with mobile delivery and asset building (for example)
  • Ultra-poor graduation programs (for example)
  • Microfinance savings and/or borrowing groups linked with health education, health financing, and health product delivery (for example)
Dignitaries who attended the 1997 Microcredit Summit.

Dignitaries who attended the 1997 Microcredit Summit. From L-R: Tsutomu Hata, Former Prime Minister, Japan; H.E. Pascoal M. Mocumbi, Prime Minister, Mozambique; H.E. Alberto Fujimori, President, Peru; H.M. Queen Sofia, Spain; H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister, Bangladesh; Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady, United States; Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh; Elizabeth de Calderón Sol, First lady, El Salvador; Ana Paula dos Santos, First Lady, Angola; H.E. Dr. Siti Hasmah, First Lady, Malaysia; H.M. Queen Fabiola, Belgium.

Let’s take a quick ride down memory lane. In February 1997, we convened the first Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C., bringing together more than 2,900 delegates from 137 countries. This event resulted in the Declaration and Plan of Action in which Summit delegates promised to work towards making the Campaign a “global effort to restore control to people over their own lives and destinies” [1]. Since 1997, the Microcredit Summit Campaign has been leading, supporting, and guiding the microfinance field to address failures in reaching the extreme poor.

Jump forward to 2015. We still have a lot of work to do, but the will of our community to map out a better future together is evident. This is a time for change and transformation in the global development sector, and we must be bold in setting our goals.

We have taken it upon ourselves to make sure that the microfinance and financial inclusion movement is included as a tool in ending extreme poverty by 2030. Financial inclusion needs to serve the bigger purpose of helping people in poverty mitigate vulnerability, build resilience, and take advantage of opportunity. But, to reach the ambitious goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, we need to draw a map of how to get there. We need to show how digital payments, savings groups, conditional cash transfers, agricultural value chains, and graduation programs intersect with other sectors like health, education, housing, and nutrition to build pathways out of poverty. We must map out pathways for how these different interventions, stakeholders, and initiatives can work together to achieve our shared goal.

We share responsibility for promoting microfinance and financial inclusion practices that put clients at the center and show progress toward poverty eradication. At the World Bank’s 2015 Spring Meetings, the Campaign made a commitment to support the World Bank Group’s goal to reach universal financial access by 2020 (UFA2020). Through our commitment, we have joined a global coalition of partners that includes Visa, Mandiri, the State Bank of India, the World Council of Credit Unions, WSBI, the Microfinance CEO Working Group (a group of 10 international microfinance networks), Telenor, Ooredoo, Equity Bank, and Bandhan.

We know that the hardest part of reaching UFA2020 will be to ensure that financial services reach those living in extreme poverty, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign will work with its reporting institutions to help them expand their outreach by at least 53 million of the world’s poorest families, bringing the overall total of the world’s poorest families reached by microfinance to 175 million by 2020.

UFA2020 will be a stepping stone to achieving the post-2015 development agenda, and the Campaign will document what is being done well and disseminate those lessons far and wide through the State of the Campaign Report and our Microcredit Summits. The 18th Microcredit Summit will be an opportunity to learn about these six pathways and engage in a thoughtful discussion around the role each of us plays.

We invite you to join us and take part in leading this movement; start by organizing a breakout session for the 18th Microcredit Summit and making a Campaign Commitment. Submit your breakout session proposal for the 18th Microcredit Summit, and use our platform to inform our community about what you are doing to contribute to our common mission. You can also join our own coalition of Campaign Commitment makers by announcing specific, measurable, and time-bound actions that you will take to support our goal of helping 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. This is a key step in reaching the end of extreme poverty by 2030, and by focusing on our six pathways, we can design a better future and create a map of opportunity.

Financial inclusion to end extreme poverty

Related resources

Sources

Declaration and Plan of Action. Microcredit Summit Campaign. February 1997, Washington, D.C. http://www.microcreditsummit.org/resource/58/the-microcredit-summit-declaration-plan.html

Microcredit Summit Campaign joins World Bank’s financial inclusion efforts

Global Findex database, World Bank, Washington, DC.
http://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/globalfindex

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The Microcredit Summit Campaign issued a press release today announcing our commitment to Universal Financial Access by 2020. The Campaign joins the World Bank Group and a their coalition of partners — including MasterCard, Visa, Mandiri, the State Bank of India, Equity Bank, and Bandhan — in making a commitments to accelerate universal financial access. Financial access and inclusion are stepping stones to achieving the end of extreme poverty by 2030.

The Campaign will work with its reporting institutions to help them expand their outreach by at least 53 million of the world’s poorest families, bringing the overall total of the world’s poorest families reached by microfinance to 175 million by 2020. Read the full press release.

This commitment was announced on April 17th in Washington, D.C., at the World Bank Group’s Spring Meetings.

Related resources

Voices from the Field: William Derban

Pathways: financial inclusion to end extreme poverty | Find out what we heard from the industry in this year’s Listening Tour

We’ll be bringing you articles throughout April that reflect the results of this year’s Listening Tour
Photo credit: by Geoff (originally posted to Flickr as Pilgrim’s path) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


April is the Month of MicrofinanceLearn more

April is the Month of Microfinance
Learn more

In preparation for our 18th Microcredit Summit, the Campaign conducted a Listening Tour from December 2014 through February 2015. The Listening Tour served two purposes. First, it was our hope to find out how our audience (you) felt about the World Bank’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2030, and equally important, we wished to consult you in identifying the topics that were at the top of everyone’s mind.

The Listening Tour is our time to listen — and your time to speak — on the issues that the microfinance and financial inclusion sector face. We collected your feedback through an online survey and organized conversations with 27 leaders in the microfinance and financial inclusion sector. We heard from them on how financial inclusion can contribute to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role of microfinance in the post-2015 agenda. The results of this consultation will be reflected in the 2015 State of the Campaign Report, the 18th Microcredit Summit, and Campaign Commitments.

Below is a short excerpt from our conversation with Dr. William Derban, director of financial inclusion (CSR & PMO) at Fidelity Bank in Ghana.

Q: What do you think will be needed to achieve the goal of global financial inclusion by 2020 and how can this contribute to the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030?

William DerbanGovernments are trying to create a good environment, and while MFIs and SACCOs have stepped in to fill a gap, it seems banks have been left out. We need to include them [banks], looking at this not as corporate social responsibility, but as an opportunity for businesses to expand their client base and a responsibility that they have to the people. The key question is, “How can microfinance and the financial inclusion sector better partner with banks and help improve their by creating linkages?” This should not be about competition, but a way that we can collaborate to provide financial services that they [clients] can graduate into as part of this value-chain of financial services.

Q: In relation to our host region, what are the challenges and opportunities facing Africa & the Middle East in regards to microfinance and financial inclusion?

We need more awareness and campaigning of the issues especially in the countries most affected by poverty. In Africa, there is a lack of awareness among the poor about the benefits of having formal financial services. There is a need for financial education so that they understand what impact this can really have on their lives. People need to understand that this is not about financial services for the sake of it, but that a bank account can help you manage your finances and it can serve as a safe place to save for your child’s educations and this can all help you live a better life. In this way, financial education can create empowerment and change.

Q: What are key themes to consider or important debate topics we need to address in the microfinance & financial inclusion sector in the coming year?

Innovation is key! We cannot get to full financial inclusion without technology, but we need to actually develop new ideas and not just replicate what may have worked in one specific country or environment. When innovating in mobile technology, we cannot just work with telecommunications companies but need to include mobile phone manufacturers, app developers, and retail shops. We must find a way to ensure that the public is educated on new innovations and make sure they learn how to use this new technology.

We also need to find ways to scale down or “bank downwards” where banks work on a model that works for the poor. However, we need to create the appropriate partnership in order to do this. Banks can decide to “scale down” [i.e., target poorer populations], but if they do it by themselves, there are certain services they won’t be able to provide.

Related resources

About Fidelity Bank

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) lies at the heart of the vision and mission of Fidelity Bank, Ghana’s largest private indigenous bank. Since inception, CSR at Fidelity has mostly focused on philanthropic endeavors, but now, as a bank that is consolidating its world class status, it has become imperative to align our CSR with our corporate strategy, allowing us to leverage our collective expertise and resources for maximum impact.

Under the theme “Building Lives through Finance,” Fidelity’s CSR work is being led by the director for financial inclusion and CSR, Dr. William Derban. Dr. Derban’s areas of focus are microfinance, payment services, and running the first agency banking service in the country. He is also responsible for aligning the Bank’s corporate responsibility strategy to its core business strategy. In the past 14 years, he has focused on providing sustainable, market based, financial services to the unbanked within the financial industry in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Dr. Derban earned his doctorate in Microfinance and Development Finance from the Nottingham Business School, UK. He provides lectures on sustainability and financial inclusion and is also a passionate speaker at various conferences on development across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Prior to working for Fidelity Bank, Dr. Derban was the head of community relations with Barclays Africa and Emerging Markets where he managed the community investment strategy across 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Subsequently, he led the strategy of downscaling to informal groups with a £10m project working with savings groups across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with CARE international and Plan. In addition to financial inclusion, he has established successful projects on youth entrepreneurship, preventative health, clean energy solutions, female empowerment, and integrated rural development programs.

Learn more about Fidelity Bank.

Voices from the Field: Essma Ben Hamida

Pathways: financial inclusion to end extreme poverty | Find out what we heard from the industry in this year’s Listening Tour

We’ll be bringing you articles throughout April that reflect the results of this year’s Listening Tour Photo credit: by Geoff (originally posted to Flickr as Pilgrim’s path) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


In preparation for our 18th Microcredit Summit, the Campaign conducted a Listening Tour from December 2014 through February 2015. The Listening Tour served two purposes. First, it was our hope to find out how our audience (you) felt about on the World Bank’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2030, and equally important, we wished to consult you in identifying the topics that were at the top of everyone’s mind.

April is the Month of MicrofinanceLearn more

April is the Month of Microfinance
Learn more

The Listening Tour is our time to listen — and your time to speak — on the issues that the microfinance and financial inclusion sector face. We collected your feedback through an online survey and organized conversations with 27 leaders in the microfinance and financial inclusion sector. We heard from them on how financial inclusion can contribute to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role of microfinance in the post-2015 agenda. The results of this consultation will be reflected in the 2015 State of the Campaign Report, the 18th Microcredit Summit, and Campaign Commitments.

Below is a short excerpt from our conversation with Essma Ben Hamida, executive director of Enda Inter-Arabe in Tunisia.

Q: What do you think will be needed to achieve the goal of global financial inclusion by 2020 and how can this contribute to the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030?

Essma Ben Hamida

Essma Ben Hamida is executive director of Enda Inter-Arabe in Tunisia

I’m not very optimistic, given the current situation. Banks and MFIs are having a crisis of liquidity especially during this last financial crisis. There is a lot of money in the MENA region, but our outreach numbers are low compared to other regions. Also, with just 1% of the population projected to own 50% of global wealth by end-2015[1], it is hard to see how the poorest can hope for financial inclusion. If it were possible, it would make an important contribution since without access to any financial resources, it is impossible even to work your way out of poverty. Those 1%, frankly, could not care less.

Q: In relation to our host region, what are the challenges and opportunities facing Africa & the Middle East in regards to microfinance and financial inclusion?

In Tunisia, we had a fairly successful democratic transition, much better than some of the other countries in the region, though we were still impacted by the situation in Libya. Banks didn’t have money because wealthy people were hiding money somewhere else, but now it seems we are getting back to normal. Enda is working more now after the revolution and our portfolio is again looking healthy. From time to time, we have to close a branch for a day or two, but I believe that the crisis has demonstrated the need for microfinance. [The revolution] has caused a lot more people to start a small business and the need for microfinance has grown strongly.

The MENA region is undergoing a democratic transition, and we need to make sure women and youth are included among the beneficiaries. They helped create that movement and we must listen to their frustrations and needs and find solutions. This can be achieved partly through creating and strengthening micro-enterprises thanks to micro-finance services.

Women empowerment is very important for the Arab region. Besides loan disbursement [to women], Enda does a lot of training, discussions, partnerships with NGOs, support for marketing, and computer literacy training as well as exposing them to different models and ideas. It’s important to talk about how we can empower [women] through financial literacy and overall citizenship education. For youth, we have to invest in their start-ups and assist with non-financial services such as training, coaching, developing business plans, exchange visits, and a lot more.

Q: What are key themes to consider or important debate topics we need to address in the microfinance & financial inclusion sector in the coming year?

Technology can help in many ways. For instance, mobile banking can save time and money for clients and reduce costs for MFIs. Using tablets and relevant apps can hugely improve loan officers’ performance. We see technological advances in financial products and services, and as a region, we want to know how to use them. They seem to be working well in some places in Africa (M-PESA), but what other experiences are working in our region? But governments, especially central banks, must encourage this rather than setting up barriers to technologies that have been working in other countries for several years already.

I also would add crowdfunding as an alternative source of funding for financial inclusion of the millions of micro-entrepreneurs in our region. It is still ignored and even rejected by central bankers in our countries. An exchange between central bankers and Kiva (USA), Babyloan (France), and other crowdfunding groups for microfinance would be very helpful for the industry in our region. Overall, we need to work to bring different models from around the world to learn from all the regions.

About Enda Inter-Arabe

Enda is the first and by far the largest microfinance institution in Tunisia. With a staff of close to 1,200 working out of 80 branches, Enda serves 250,000 active clients with a US$110 million loan portfolio and a global repayment rate which stood at 99% at end-2010 before the revolution in 2011. Today, it has declined to a still-respectable 96%, though quite a few clients are facing difficulties due to current economic problems in the country.

In addition to issuing traditional lines of credit, Enda has developed specialized products including education, housing and agriculture loans, and has recently introduced a special loan to encourage young people to launch into self-employment. Enda also provides business development services, including financial literacy classes, vocational training, marketing, and workplace guidance.

Prior to her career in microfinance, Essma worked as a journalist/reporter in Tunisia, New York, Rome, and Geneva and as a consultant for the United Nations. She has received distinguished awards and decorations. She was selected outstanding social entrepreneur for the MENA region in 2010 by the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum.

Visit Enda Inter-Arabe’s website: http://www.endarabe.org.tn/

FOOTNOTE

[1] Oxfam International press release (1/19/2015), “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016.” Accessed 4/1/2015: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016

Relevant resources