#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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Celebrate improving maternal and child health in the Philippines

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Over the past 20 years, the Philippines has enjoyed an increase in life expectancy, improved access to education and economic opportunity, and a decrease in communicable diseases. However, maternal health has lagged behind, and as 2015 draws to a close, the world will be reflecting on the Millennium Development Goals like #5, “Improve maternal health.” Three development organizations took action in 2014 to tackle this challenge and are now celebrating what has been achieved, new partnerships that have been formed, and plans for moving forward.

Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign partnered with CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) to implement a project called “Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies: Kalinga kay Inay.” The project is supported by an educational grant from Johnson & Johnson and will conclude at the end of 2015.

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New report calls for scale-up of financial services “pathways” to help end extreme poverty

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The Microcredit Summit Campaign released our 17th annual survey of the global microfinance industry Wednesday at the Inclusive Finance India Summit held in New Delhi, India. Larry Reed featured the publication, Mapping Pathways out of Poverty: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2015, in his presentation on Wednesday to attendees of India’s premier financial inclusion conference.

What does the 2015 report say about the data?
According to our annual survey, the global microfinance community reached 211 million borrowers as of December 31, 2013, and 114 million of them were living in extreme poverty (households living on less than $1.90 per day, PPP).

What this means is that, while the microfinance community provided loans to the most clients since we began tracking this number in 1997, the number of poorest clients fell for the third straight year. This is concerning.

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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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Where’s the Map? Another sneak peek!

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John Snow mapped out London's cholera epidemic in the 1850s. This helped my make connections between seemingly unrelated unrelated
“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
— Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

How does BRAC, the world’s largest non-governmental organization (NGO), develop pathways out of poverty for the poorest people in a village? They begin with a map. As you see in the photo on the cover of this report, they bring the village together and start drawing maps in the dirt, identifying each household, market, business, and place of worship. They then ask the help of the community to identify the poorest households, marking each one on the map. Their work begins with those households.

This painstaking, household-by-household approach of identifying the excluded and locating them within their community and context represents the next step that we need to take to achieve a new set of ambitious global development goals.

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Sneak peek of the 2015 State of the Campaign Report

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The map on the right illustrates the prevalence of below $1.90 per day poverty in rural areas. Source: Adapted from World Bank Data (online), 2015, "Rural Population (% of total population)," http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS; and ibid., "Poverty gap at $1.90 a day (PPP 2011) (%)," http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GAPS.
The World Bank and the United Nations have both set their sights on ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. The Bank has also set a concomitant target of universal financial access by 2020 as a major contributor to ending extreme poverty. Our assessment, after reviewing the contributions that microfinance institutions and other financial providers have made toward these two goals, is this: if financial services are meant to play an important part in bringing an end to extreme poverty, we will not come close to reaching it.

Microfinance has demonstrated the viability of providing financial services to people in poverty and technological advances have drastically reduced the cost of providing financial services. But, we still do not see widespread adoption of financial services among the largest groups of those that still need to be reached: those living in extreme poverty.

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#tbt: Affordable Transactions for the Poor

#Tbt_10

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.

#tbt: Clients Continue Movement above the US$1 a day Threshold

The study found that, on net, 1.8 million microcredit client households, including 9.43 million household members, crossed the $1.25 a day poverty threshold between 1990 and 2008.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2011. We commissioned a study to estimate the net number of microcredit client households in Bangladesh that crossed the US$1.25 a day threshold between 1990 and 2008. You can download a copy of the study from our Resource Library as well.


Authored by Sajjad Zohir, the director of the Economic Research Group; he is based in Bangladesh.

The Microcredit Summit Campaign is committed to using microfinance to powerfully contribute to the end of poverty. Its decade-long focus on client poverty measurement and progress out of poverty underscores this commitment. To this end, the Campaign continues to track progress towards its second goal to ensure that, from a starting point in 1990, 100 million of the world’s poorest families move from below US$1 a day adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) to above US$1 a day adjusted for PPP by 2015.

Evidence from Bangladesh

Findings from a nationwide study in Bangladesh commissioned by the Campaign shows promising results. The study, undertaken by the Bangladesh-based Economic Research Group, was administered between February and August 2009. Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 4,000 Bangladeshi microcredit clients and estimated the net number of households in Bangladesh that crossed the US$1.25 a day threshold between 1990 and 2008.[1]

The study found that, on net, 1.8 million microcredit client households, including 9.43 million household members, crossed the $1.25 a day poverty threshold between 1990 and 2008. A second key issue raised in the report, seen in Figure 1 below, was that in some years a large percentage of clients left poverty, whereas, in years coinciding with the 1998 floods and the food crisis of 2008, many households, including some who where non-poor when they joined the microcredit program, slide below the $1.25 threshold.

Figure 1: Percentage of Client Households, on Net, Crossing the US$1.25 Threshold in Bangladesh

Figure 1: Percentage of Client Households, on Net, Crossing the US$1.25 Threshold in Bangladesh
Data showed that among those taking their first microcredit loan between 1990 and 2008, the following poorest client households crossed the US$1.25 threshold:

1990-1993 8.94%
1994-1997 19.83%
1998-2002 0.33%
2003-2008 1.84%

It is important to note that the findings in this report were significantly influenced by the period in which the data was collected. In 1998 Bangladesh suffered from what are often described as the most severe floods ever to hit the country. In 2008, a food crisis coupled with political instability in Bangladesh and the global economic crisis led to a general slack in economic activities. All these factors may have led to the depletion of assets that are commonly chosen as proxies to measure poverty status among the very poor in Bangladesh. This in turn may have led to under-estimation of the number of microcredit client households that may have otherwise crossed the threshold.


Footnote

[1] This study made no attempt to establish causality between microcredit and poverty alleviation. Instead, it simply estimates the change in status of microcredit client households between 1990 and 2008, when compared with their status during the time of the first loan received by any member of the household.


Related reading

#tbt: The Faces Behind the Statistics

#ThrowbackThursday

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2005. Microfinance client Janèt Dèval attended literacy courses offered by Fonkoze and shares how her business has been improved. Indeed, it has cemented her determination to continue improving herself and her loyalty to her microfinance institution.


Microfinance stands as one of the most promising and cost-effective tools in the fight against global poverty.

Jonathan Morduch, Chair
United Nations Expert Group on Poverty Statistics

Janèt Dèval, a client of Fonkoze, a microcredit institution in Haiti, is one of the 66.6 million poorest clients reached. Janèt has been a credit client for more than two years and comes regularly to all meetings. She has also been a part of every literacy program available and is about to start the newest module on developing business skills. Not only could she not read or write when she started, but she has had an extra challenge: Janèt has only a fraction of her hearing due to an injury when she was 20 years old.

My husband didn’t want me to send my five children to school because his parents didn’t send him to school. From the beginning, he said he would not pay and he has never given even one goud, but I always knew it was important. For a long time I have gone to Port-au-Prince to buy goods to sell in Hinche, and I put all my money into paying for school for my children.

When I found out that Fonkoze gave literacy classes for market women, I was so happy. I never went to school even one day. I didn’t know anything about school. I started right away with basic literacy and I have tried to never miss a class.

I couldn’t write my name and I didn’t understand anything, but I kept going even when my husband got angry. My kids pushed me and encouraged me and they helped me practice my letters. The monitor, Christa, told me to keep writing every day even when I didn’t understand.

I can write my name now, and I write it everywhere. Imagine, I used to go to Port-au-Prince to buy and I couldn’t read the bags and I felt lost. I couldn’t keep track of what I bought. The drivers sometimes would take my boxes off the truck and give them to someone else, but I didn’t know until I got all the way home. Now, I can’t lose anything. Now I write my name on every box and I know what I buy.

I finished Alfa Baz and Alfa Pos and then I went to the Health Program, too. I still don’t know many things, so I want to keep going. I take my notebook to my school and I write in it because one day I hope to read and understand everything. I bought two books in the market and my kids help me read them.

I work hard in the market so that I can repay my loans, keep going to school and so that my kids have that chance, too. If my parents would have sent me to school, I would have thrown a party for them to say thank you.[1]

The Microcredit Summit was launched to multiply stories like this 100 million times, but a number of barriers continue to impede the Campaign’s success.

Read the 2005 Report.


Footnote

[1] From the Fonkoze website www.fonkoze.org.

#tbt: Lobbying the World Bank, Part II

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“We measure what we value and we value what we measure. It is clear that donor agencies value strong financial performance because they require their clients to measure their financial performance precisely. Except for USAID, other donors still do not demonstrate a similar value on measuring the poverty level of entering clients.”
Read the entire 2004 State of the Campaign Report.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2004. The RESULTS International Conference is this weekend (July 18-21), and grassroots activists from the U.S. and around the world will be in D.C. to lobby the USAID Administrator and World Bank Directors. In reviewing advocacy fights in the early 2000s, we remember our campaign to push the World Bank to mandate the use of poverty measurement tools by their partners.


In this introduction to the State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, rather than presenting a neat, uncontested picture of the field of microcredit seen solely from the Campaign’s perspective, we think it useful to listen to the challenges and opposition to what the Campaign and these parliamentarians have championed, coming as it does from some of the most influential institutions in development. In the pages that follow, we invite you to listen in on debates that contrast the views of the World Bank and CGAP with those of industry leaders like BRAC founder Fazle Abed, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign. What follows are excerpts from the World Bank and CGAP’s responses to the 700 parliamentarians, along with reactions from the Microcredit Summit Campaign.

In his response to 188 British Parliamentarians, World Bank President James Wolfensohn wrote, “I very much agree with your observation that microfinance has a demonstrated, powerful impact in improving the livelihood of the poor, and a crucial role in reducing poverty. Access to financial services for the poor is a critical condition for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.”…This show of support is important, but the words must be followed by more effective action.

Wolfensohn asked officials from the World Bank and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), to jointly address the detailed issues raised in the parliamentarians’ letter…

Continuing from Part I

WB/CGAP: We of course agree that conventional microfinance does not automatically push itself deeper to reach poorer clients. In fact, many MFls do move away from poorer clients to those who are better-off, under the assumption that better-off clients pose lower risks and the larger loans they would be taking would increase institutional profitability and sustainability. We believe, therefore, that there needs to be a sustained effort at trying to reach poorer people. This needs to come from understanding client needs and developing products and services that are useful to them. It needs to come from developing better targeting tools and identifying, encouraging and funding innovations that enable sustainable financial services to the very poor. It needs to come from greater transparency so that information is made available on whether institutions are actually reaching very poor clients. What is required is a set of incentives that promote such activities and ongoing demonstration [that] financial services to the very poor is a feasible and sustainable business.

Download the full 2011 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

Download the full 2011 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

MCS: What greater incentive is there for promoting outreach to those below $1 a day than for an MFI to know that the World Bank and other donors want them to use a cost-effective poverty measurement tool? Wouldn’t this give us “greater transparency so that information is made available on whether institutions are actually reaching very poor clients?”

Advocacy efforts to ensure that donor efforts in microfinance reached the very poor began in 1986. There has never been a greater move to ensure that the very poor are reached than has occurred since the U.S. legislation became law in 2003. This change took 17 years and a Congressional mandate. With the Millennium Development Goals due in just 11 years, another decade of soft incentives is insufficient. Freedom from Hunger’s Chris Dunford argues that we measure what we value and that we value what we measure. It is clear that donor agencies value strong financial performance because they require their clients to measure their financial performance precisely. Except for USAID, other donors still do not demonstrate a similar value on measuring the poverty level of entering clients.

WB/CGAP: Many of the poorest people with no sources of income require grants, employment and other services, rather than microcredit. Donor support for developing models that “graduate” them from welfare-type safety net programs to where they have sufficient incomes to productively use financial services, is far more important than credit per se. Credit is, after all, debt, and under certain circumstances it can make the extremely poor more vulnerable, not less vulnerable.

MCS: “Donor support for developing models that ‘graduate’ them from welfare-type safety net programs to where they have sufficient incomes to productively use financial services” is important, but which donors are leading in this area and how extensive is that leadership? The impression is given that very poor families should not access microfinance but instead choose the services they need as if these services are readily available. This is a false choice for the very poor when 29,000 of the children of the poorest die each day from mostly preventable malnutrition and disease, when 104 million of their primary-school aged children are not in school, and when the services they desperately need are not likely to be available today or in the near future.

World Bank and CGAP officials say that “Credit is, after all, debt, and under certain circumstances it can make the extremely poor more vulnerable, not less vulnerable,” but it is the debt that they have taken on from unscrupulous moneylenders that mires hundreds of millions in a life of grinding poverty. As Karen L. McGuinness of Princeton University wrote in a letter for The New York Times, “The reality in most poor countries is that the poorest are already saddled with incredible debt at usurious rates from local moneylenders. This is the fundamental predicament that microfinance institutions have effectively addressed for nearly three decades now.”

WB/CGAP: We fully agree that there is a need for cost effective poverty measurement tools. Much greater transparency is required on whom financial institutions are reaching. CGAP has been very active in developing tools to encourage a deepening of microfinance outreach. It has developed a “Client Poverty Assessment Tool” and a “Poverty Audit of Microfinance Institutions’ Pro- Poor Services” for donors to determine whether their funded institutions do indeed try hard and succeed in working with the very poor. Recently, CGAP has also been working with financial institutions to assist them to develop their own simple and cost-effective poverty assessment tools.

MCS: While the work of CGAP is appreciated, it has not created the breakthrough in thinking and action that the new U.S. law has forged. Developing new tools can still be a far cry from ensuring their use. Even though CGAP’s Poverty Measurement Tool has been available for at least four years, not more than a handful of CGAP’s 29 members have ever used it. The slow pace of voluntary implementation is insufficient for ensuring the change necessary for cutting absolute poverty in half by 2015.

WB/CGAP: We are aware of the microfinance legislation passed in 2002 by the U.S. Congress. In fact, at the urging of its bilateral and multilateral donor members, CGAP launched a discussion on its website on whether the approach promoted by such legislation could be more broadly applicable to other donor agencies. A very active discussion followed and the result was that many senior members of the microfinance community were opposed to the extension of such mandates in other donor agencies. (The discussion submissions can be found on the internet under US Poverty Mandate Discussion at www.microfinancegateway.org.)

MCS: It is true that many senior members of the microfinance community were opposed. In fact, the first four statements posted were from CGAP Executive Committee members, all of whom were opposed to adoption of the new mandate by other aid agencies. On the other hand, the mandate had the support of Fazle Abed, Chairman of BRAC, Shafiqal Haque Choudhury, Managing Director of ASA, Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director of Grameen Bank, Chris Dunford, President of Freedom from Hunger, Anton Simanowitz, Director of ImpAct, Didier Thys, CEO of The MIX, Alex Counts, President of Grameen Foundation U.S.A., and other key players. These are the opinions from leaders of some of the largest and most successful poverty-focused microfinance institutions in the world.

Relevant reading

#tbt: Lobbying the World Bank, Part I

#Tbt_6

Elizabeth Littlefield, CEO of CGAP in 2004, said at the 2004 Microcredit Summit in Bangladesh, “There is no evidence of a necessary trade-off between poverty and sustainability.”
Read her full quote on page 12 of the 2004 State of the Campaign Report.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2004. The RESULTS International Conference is only three weeks away (July 18-21), and grassroots activists from the U.S. and around the world will be in D.C. to lobby the USAID Administrator and World Bank Directors. Therefore, we’re reviewing advocacy successes and struggles in the early 2000s. This week, we look at a breakthrough we achieved in getting the World Bank to recognize microfinance as an important strategic element in reducing poverty and announcing that they were committed to increasing their funding for microfinance.


In this introduction to the State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, rather than presenting a neat, uncontested picture of the field of microcredit seen solely from the Campaign’s perspective, we think it useful to listen to the challenges and opposition to what the Campaign and these parliamentarians have championed, coming as it does from some of the most influential institutions in development. In the pages that follow, we invite you to listen in on debates that contrast the views of the World Bank and CGAP with those of industry leaders like BRAC founder Fazle Abed, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign. What follows are excerpts from the World Bank and CGAP’s responses to the 700 parliamentarians, along with reactions from the Microcredit Summit Campaign.

Download the full 2011 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

Download the full 2011 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

In his response to 188 British Parliamentarians, World Bank President James Wolfensohn wrote, “I very much agree with your observation that microfinance has a demonstrated, powerful impact in improving the livelihood of the poor, and a crucial role in reducing poverty. Access to financial services for the poor is a critical condition for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.”

This is a tremendous vote of confidence from Mr. Wolfensohn, but if, as Wolfensohn says, “access to financial services for the poor is a critical condition for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” then reaching those below $1 a day is also critical. Mr. Wolfensohn acknowledges the poverty goal, which seeks to cut absolute poverty in half by 2015, as the lead MDG. Absolute poverty is measured by those living below $1 a day, adjusted for purchasing power parity. This show of support is important, but the words must be followed by more effective action.

Wolfensohn asked officials from the World Bank and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), to jointly address the detailed issues raised in the parliamentarians’ letter.

World Bank and CGAP officials begin their own response to the parliamentarians on a hopeful note when they write that microfinance forms “…an important strategic element in any broad based effort to reduce poverty,” and assert that the World Bank and CGAP “are committed to massively scaling up this access to financial services.”

While it is good for the Bank to declare microfinance as an important strategic element in reducing poverty, there is still a disconnect between this assertion and the fact that microfinance constitutes less than one percent of annual Bank spending. Assigning such a low priority to microfinance is neither strategic nor a sign it is viewed as important. There is also a disconnect between the Bank’s enviable commitment “to massively scaling up…access to financial services,” and the fact that the Bank offers nothing measurable in response to the parliamentarians’ request to double spending. It would seem that a massive scale-up would at least equal a doubling from less than one percent to less than two percent.

World Bank and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (WB/CGAP) officials continue by saying, “While the World Bank Group already provides more microfinance funding than any other agency, we remain committed to doing much more. The fundamental constraint to an exponential increase in the numbers of poor people receiving financial access is, however, a real absence of retail institutional capacity. Building this capacity is an integral part of the financial systems of our client countries and is, therefore, a critical task for the World Bank Group and other agencies.”

MCS: The World Bank should provide more microfinance funds than any other agency given that its overall portfolio dwarfs that of all other bilateral and multilateral donor institutions. However, the World Bank does not provide more funding than any agency. USAID surpasses the Bank’s total spending in microfinance. In addition, more than one percent of USAID’s funds and more than three percent of UNDP funds[5] go to microfinance.

Retail institutional capacity does exist. Some of the global and domestic partners of a number of institutions and networks are either already reaching very poor clients or gearing up to do so as a result of the new U.S. law. These include institutions and networks such as ASA, BRAC, PKSF[6] and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, NABARD and SIDBI in India, Pro Mujer, Freedom from Hunger, Opportunity International, FINCA, CARE, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Katalysis, Grameen Foundation U.S.A., ACCION and World Relief in the U.S., Développement international Desjardins in Canada, members of The Africa Microfinance Network (AFMIN), Sanabel members in the Middle East and North Africa, and members of REDCAMIF and Foro Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Finanzas Rurales in Latin America.

PKSF alone estimates that for the six years beginning July 2004 and ending in June 2010, $562 million could be absorbed by its 192 Bangladeshi partner organizations and those to come. This is in just one country.

There are scores of institutions around the world that have demonstrated the vision and systems to reach the very poor sustainably. To say there is “a real absence of retail institutional capacity” is to imply that whatever capacity exists has been fully exploited. This is clearly not the case. The greater problem is the low priority donor agencies place on finding institutions with the vision and systems necessary for expansion to the very poor, not the “absence of retail institutional capacity.”

WB/CGAP: We agree with the spirit of your recommendation that at least 50% of World Bank funds should be reaching those living on less than a dollar a day. However, we do not think that earmarking funds would be the best strategic choice for moving the microfinance industry towards sustainably serving much larger numbers of those in absolute poverty. In fact, such directed lending could have an adverse effect on scaling up, through distorting markets. Many MFIs achieve sustainability through increasing outreach to a larger diversified client group. They end up serving much larger absolute numbers of the very poor, even though they may have a smaller percentage of very poor clients in comparison with poverty-focused institutions that are not sustainable. Such MFIs would be penalized through the suggested mandate.

MCS: Institutions that do not exclusively, or even predominantly, target the poorest need not be penalized. The parliamentarians are not asking that all MFIs reach the very poor or that half of an MFI’s clients fall below $1 a day when they entered the program. They are asking that, on balance, half of World Bank spending in microfinance go to people who were very poor when they started with the program. Within the World Bank’s portfolio there might be a group of institutions that primarily serves better-off clients, another group with a more mixed clientele, and a third group largely serving those starting below $1 a day. Yet institutions such as the World Bank have not provided incentives to reach those below $1 a day. If anything, the Bank and others have discouraged depth of outreach. This is why the parliamentarians believe earmarking is required. The World Bank/CGAP response leaves the impression, however unintended, that programs reaching very poor clients may be less sustainable, but this is far from current reality. CGAP CEO, Elizabeth Littlefield, backed that up with remarks made at the Asia/Pacific Microcredit Summit held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in February 2004.

“There is no evidence of a necessary trade-off between poverty and sustainability,” Littlefield said in Dhaka. “…Very recent data from our MicroBanking Bulletin (MBB) and from The Microfinance Information eXchange (The MIX) show us that the best poverty-focused microfinance institutions are breaking right through conventional wisdom. Of the 124 microfinance institutions reporting to the MBB, 66 were fully selfsufficient. Of those, 18 were institutions that work with very poor populations, the poorest. These 18 institutions had higher average sustainability, higher return on assets, and higher return on equity than the overall averages. Sustainable microfinance institutions that serve lower end markets, the poorest, reach, on average, one and a half times as many borrowers as other microfinance [institutions] and they do it with fewer resources. Hence, these institutions do a much better job of stretching their resources to reach more clients. In terms of clients served, they are far more efficient with their human resources, serving each borrower at half the cost, on average, of a sustainable institution serving higher market segments.”

Footnotes

[5] Approximately two percent of USAID funds and three percent of UNDP funds go to microfinance.

[6] Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) is a Banlgadesh-based autonomous microcredit fund.

Relevant resources

#tbt: A New Law and New Hope

#Tbt_5

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2004. The RESULTS International Conference is only three weeks away (July 18-21), and grassroots activists from the U.S. and around the world will be in D.C. to lobby the USAID Administrator and World Bank Directors. Therefore, in the weeks leading up to that great event, we’ll review advocacy successes and struggles in the early 2000s wherein we achieved breakthroughs in poverty measurement in order to target the extreme poor and other concessions from USAID and the World Bank.


The revolution in reaching the very poor is most evident in a new U.S. law and the resistance to it by some leaders in international development. The law, which was enacted in June 2003, calls for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop and certify two or more cost-effective poverty measurement tools that measure $1 a day poverty. The new tools are to replace loan size, which is currently used and has proven to be inadequate for poverty measurement. As Freedom from Hunger President Chris Dunford remarked, “The average loan size for entering clients tells you more about the institution making the loan than it does about the poverty level of the person receiving it.”

Download the full 2011 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

Download the full 2004 State of the Campaign Report in our Resource Library

After the newly mandated tools are certified, institutions receiving microenterprise funds from USAID will be required to use one of them and report the number of entering clients who start below $1 a day. The law is an effort to bring accountability and transparency to the long-standing Congressional commitment to have at least half of USAID microenterprise funds benefit very poor clients. This new law, particularly if it is adopted by other aid-giving countries and institutions, would have a great impact on the Microcredit Summit’s commitment to reaching the very poor and provide tremendous support to the MDG focused on halving the number of families living below $1 a day by 2015.

While the new law demonstrates the revolution that is taking place in microfinance, efforts to expand the revolution have been met with resistance. This resistance comes from major development institutions that have been asked to adopt policies similar to the new U.S. law — The World Bank, the regional development banks, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

In November 2003 more than 700 parliamentarians from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, India, and Mexico wrote to the heads of the World Bank, the Asian, African, and Inter-American Development Banks, and UNDP. The parliamentarians lauded the institutions’ commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which they said are “crucial to building a safer and more equitable world — and will show our constituents that development programs are truly making a difference.”

The parliamentarians continue with a concern that:

…sustainable microfinance for the very poor has not received sufficient priority in your policies and practice aimed at cutting absolute poverty in half by 2015, the most crucial — and most difficult — of the MDGs. As important as it is to support well-designed health, education, and good governance programs, these interventions alone will not ensure that some 600 million people move out of poverty.

The parliamentarians ask the heads of these powerful institutions for the following:

  • Increased funding for microenterprise: We urge you to make substantial increases in the proportion of your institutions’ lending and grants that go to microenterprise and actually reach clients. For example, the World Bank estimates that an average of $168 million in funding, less than one percent of Bank resources approved annually, is approved each year for microenterprise. We believe resources devoted to microenterprise should at least be doubled (emphasis added).
  • At least 50 percent of funds reaching the poorest: By December 31, 2004, we would like to see your institutions make the commitment to having at least 50 percent of your microfinance funds reach clients who are below US$1 a day when they start with a program.
  • Use of cost-effective poverty measurement tools to ensure meeting the target: By December 31, 2005, the microenterprise institutions should be required to use cost-effective poverty measurement tools that can determine which families start below US$1 a day and use the same or similar tools to show which families have moved above US$1 a day.
  • Annual reporting of results: By December 31, 2006, we would urge your institutions to report, on an annual basis, the amount of funds provided for microenterprise and the percentage of those funds that reach families who begin with a program at below US$1 a day.

In their letter, the parliamentarians discuss the new U.S. law and say, “We believe your institutions should be a vital part of this process and urge you to adopt a similar procedure.”

Relevant resources

#tbt: The 1997 Microcredit Summit, where it all began

#Tbt_14

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.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThrowbackThursday blog post, which was originally published in the 1997 Microcredit Summit Report. As we explore the Six Pathways in financial inclusion to end extreme poverty, we look back at the wise words leaders from around the world had to say about ending poverty. We’ve included just a few in this blog post.


Connie Evans*, President, Women’s Self-Employment Project, Council of Practitioners

Connie Evans

Connie Evans is now the president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity

Collectively, we represent what can be a glorious future with our voices and our vision. It is a vision for a global movement whereby poor families, especially the women in those families, are joined by practitioners, CEOs, Presidents and Parliamentarians, advocates from all disciplines and walks of life, to eradicate poverty. A global movement whereby microcredit, microfinance, and microenterprise are supported and fostered.

As practitioners, we must develop — and continue to develop — programs that directly and profoundly empower people to help themselves. We must develop and manage sophisticated data information systems so that we can strategically share best practices and avoidable mistakes. We must develop human and financial resources to sustain the best programs. We must hold accountable all those responsible for the management and administration of our governments…And, most importantly, we must incorporate our clients into decision-making positions in our institutions, our communities, and our governments…

Be renewed, be assured, have courage, and let’s all be bold. Embrace the goal of the Microcredit Summit. Speak loudly and proudly of our task to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest, especially the women, with all the tools of microenterprise…Give your voice to the vision and make your commitment to the Declaration and Plan of Action.

Fawzi al-Sultan*, President, IFAD, Co-Chair, Council of International Financial Institutions

Access to even small-scale deposit and credit services, together with other productive services, can work something close to miracles. Our experience, in a variety of conditions across the developing world, underlines that the rural poor are really bankable…

We must nonetheless keep in mind not only the benefits but also the limits of microfinance as a tool…it is not enough by itself to ensure sustainable development for the rural poor. the poor equally need access to better technologies, to health and education services, to fair markets and adequate infrastructure…

Throughout our efforts, we must make sure our work addresses the real needs and priorities of the people we want to serve. We also need to be realistic about the capacity of the microfinance providers themselves…Banking with the poor requires good management ability, especially in controlling the costs of operations and in assessing risks…

And, finally, we have to make sure the financial sector as a whole is set up to support our efforts…Interest-rate structure, monetary policy, and requirements for registration and reserves can make or break microfinance providers…

To help [the Summit’s] goal, IFAD is committed to allocating up to 30 percent of its loan portfolio, or about US$ 125 million a year, to promote financial services to the poorest…

We will integrate the microfinance strategy into our overall program planning and work with others, wherever possible to further the Summit Action Plan.

*Connie Evans is now the president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunityand Fawzi al-Sultan is now a senior partner with F&N Consultancy.

Related reading

#tbt: What Happens When You Measure Your Clients’ Poverty Levels

Microfinance clients in the Philippines (December 31, 1997, to December 31, 2012). Check this out in the 2014 Report.

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The 2014 State of the Campaign Report features various actors in the microfinance sector that are taking steps to helping their clients lift themselves out of poverty. In this interview with Julie Peachey (director of social performance management at the Grameen Foundation), learn about how the Progress out of Poverty Index® (PPI®) can help organizations better target the poorest. Peachey provides examples of PPI usage as well as recommendations on how to best make use of the results provided by the tool. Below is a summary of the key points from the interview.


Julie Peachey, Director of Social Performance, Grameen Foundation

Julie Peachey, Director of Social Performance, Grameen Foundation

The Grameen Foundation developed the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) because they noticed that microfinance institutions were failing to meet poverty outreach targets, and, worse, there really wasn’t a good way to determine how poor clients actually were.

The PPI is a ten question survey based on a household’s income and expenditures, and it is available for 50 countries. The PPI allows an organization to measure in absolute terms how poor a client’s household is by calculating the likelihood that they are living below one of several poverty lines. Further, the PPI can be used by any organization that has a social mission to serve and reach the poorest.

The PPI can be used for:

  1. Targeting the very poor (those living on less than $1.25 a day) to make sure that they aren’t being excluded.
  2. Product design to make sure that poorer clients aren’t being excluded from the organization’s services based on the way their products are designed.
  3. Tracking progress over time to see if the client is becoming better off and moving out of poverty.

Generally speaking, Grameen Foundation has found that organizations that start using the PPI find that their clients are not as poor as the organizations thought and, as a result, that they aren’t actually reaching the very poor.

For example, at CARD Bank in the Philippines, the Grameen Foundation used the PPI to survey the poverty level of clients receiving a new product in order to determine what CARD needed to do to make the product viable. When they saw the product was not taking off as expected, they lowered the price and then experienced a great increase in clients opening up a new account. They then looked at the PPI score before and after the prices were lowered.

Before the change, approximately 27% of clients who opened an account were below the $2.50 a day line; after the price was lowered, CARD saw an increase in the number of clients opening an account as well as a 7-8% increase in the number of clients opening accounts that were below the $2.50 a day line. The conclusion is that lowering the price of the product made it more feasible to the poorer population.

Organizations are also able to use the PPI to calculate the percentage of very poor households in a given area they are serving. The Grameen Foundation conducted a series of “poverty outreach reports” that looked at “concentration, penetration, and scale, which allows an organization to really look more deeply into what the overall total percentage of poor people that are [being] served ideally to be able to see the progress over time.”


Relevant resources