CGAP’s take on household resilience in Burkina Faso

Marie and Child

“A resilient household is able to find solutions to the various crises it encounters by making good choices in their income-generating activities. A non-resilient home fails to solve crises encountered.” — Marie, a 35-year old first wife of a polygamous family who lives in the Passoré province of Burkina Faso

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


>>Authored by Barakah Ibisomi, Microcredit Summit Campaign Program Intern

Landlocked Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world with 44.6 percent of its population living on $1.25 or less per day. A recent CGAP publication draws on “resilience diaries” of 46 women in rural households in the northeastern zones of the country to determine how different financial services contribute to and affect household resilience.

Twenty-five women are members of village banks with the Reseau des Caisses Populaires du Burkina Faso (RCPB) while 21 are members of savings groups with the Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques (ODE). The seven-month project was conducted by Freedom from Hunger.

The diaries were used to understand the following:

  1. The strategies poor households employ to manage economic, environmental and health shocks that disrupt their financial lives.
  2. The roles formal, non formal and informal financial products play in improving household resiliency and building assets.

Freedom from Hunger Resilience Framework

Burkinabé households are highly influenced by their country’s seasonal and agricultural calendar as it determines how they make a living — specifically, how land is put to use, the degree to which households depend on livestock, and other non-agricultural sources of income. The time just before harvest in September is financially difficult, with income and savings at a low point and borrowing and expenses at a high point. There is a need for additional or specialized financial services to help households better manage the season.

The most common coping strategies used to respond to shocks are first using savings at home, then reducing food consumption, selling grain, selling small livestock, purchasing on credit and lastly, borrowing from a savings group. Borrowing from financial institutions, family and friends is less preferred. As resources become available to them, the women re-prioritize the way they manage any particular shock. For example, after harvest, more sell grain and fewer reduce food consumption, make purchases on credit or borrow from friends and family.

Very few households in Burkina Faso have access to formal financial services so the women’s use of formal financial products is very limited and their demand for it is widely unmet. When asked whether they had all the financial products and services they need, only 17 percent felt they had. There is a strong demand for additional financial products and services, with an emphasis on microcredit, savings products and agricultural-related grants. However, when they do have access, they use formal services to cover costs incurred from shocks. The most common formal products or services used are RCPB loans and remittance services.

The more commonly used non formal services are savings groups which are used to save money for purchasing livestock, paying health expenses, school fees and for food and income generating activity (IGA) expenses. For informal services, the women borrow from friends and family, make purchases on credit from local merchants and, as mentioned earlier, receive remittances often by hand-to-hand transporters. The women reported using non formal and informal financial services significantly more than formal financial services.

All these services help improve cash flow but it is difficult to determine the extent to which they are helpful in building resiliency.

Other key findings from the studied households:

  1. The most common shocks encountered by those studied were illness and injury, loss of livestock, death of family members and poor harvest, all These shocks affected both income-generation as well as food supplies. Other semi-regular shocks included droughts and famine, political crisis, and health threats.
  2. Women play a significant role in the household economy, but are limited byResilience Quote gender norms, time, and resources to pursue more profitable IGAs. The most common IGAs for the participants were the growth and sale of cash crops and petty commerce.
  3. Food insecurity dominates all of the households’ lives.

The concept of resilience is in itself a work-in-progress because of its novelty and multi dimensionality. The RM-TWG defines resilience as “the capacity that ensures adverse stressors and shocks do not have long-lasting adverse development consequences.”

Based on this definition of resilience, it is difficult to consider many of these households resilient because when shocks occur, they use negative coping mechanisms that increase food insecurity, such as reducing daily food consumption and selling grain stocks and livestock meant to be. These strategies solve an immediate problem but can have long-term, long-lasting adverse development consequences.


Get Inspired. Set a Goal. Make a Commitment.

Join the movement to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty:


Related reading

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.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


>>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.


Get Inspired. Set a Goal. Make a Commitment.

Join the movement to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty:


Related reading

Getting the ultra-poor on the “economy train”

BRAC group meeting

BRAC group meeting

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


>>Authored by Yanira Garcia and Sabina Rogers of the Microcredit Summit Campaign

More than one-fifth of the world’s population lives on less than US$1.25 per day (the “extreme poor”), and most of those people live in rural areas. Due mostly to geographic constraints, it is difficult and costly to reach this population with financial and social services. Having poor infrastructure and few tools, they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

This is a problem just begging for a solution. How about six financial inclusion strategies — our “six pathways” — that show promise in ending extreme poverty? Specifically, how about BRAC’s Graduation Approach? In 2002, BRAC set out to help the ultra-poor living on less than 80 cents a day to move up one level of poverty and to develop an approach that could tackle the geography obstacle. (Read Shameran Abed’s blog post to learn how BRAC developed Graduation Approach.)

Exciting results from impact assessments

In June, Science magazine published the results of six randomized controlled trial (RCT) impact assessments of BRAC’s Graduation Approach. The RCTs were conducted in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan, and Peru among 7000 households and provided the following complementary approaches:

  • Productive assets
  • Training and regular coaching and household visits
  • Access to savings and health services
  • Consumption support

At a half-day event in June at the World Bank, “Creating Sustainable Livelihoods for the Poorest,” the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and J-PAL disclosed results from these six RCTs.

The RCTs showed that the Graduation Approach is a cost-effective, clear pathway out of poverty. Specifically, attendees learned that it can help drive a sustainable transition to self-employment and ultimately have large lasting impacts on the standard of living of the ultra-poor. “There will be growth in the economy,” stated Esther Duflo, “and the ultra-poor are not on the [economy] ‘train’ and would never get on the train [without help]…The Graduation Approach would push them onto the train.” (Dr. Duflo is co-director of J-Pal and professor of economics at MIT.)

Eligible households were identified through a participatory wealth ranking process as well as through household visits. On average, participant households had higher incomes, increased savings, greater food security, and improved health and happiness. These effects were consistent across multiple contexts and implementing partners.

Additional outcomes from the study include the following:

  • Daily consumption was not negatively affected over time in the selected sites after the program had ended. The authors suggest increased consumption is a result of increasing self-employment activity.
  • Household members were able to afford two meals per day more often.
  • Households continued to increase their productive assets (most in the form of livestock) as well as their savings after the program had ended, with the exception of Honduras. (Participating households in Honduras suffered an unexpected illness that killed all of the chickens, causing the study to be incomplete.)
  • In Bangladesh, where women were targeted, land ownership increased by 38 percent.

The Graduation Approach had the largest impact on ultra-poor households in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and India. Researchers suggest that income diversification may have been a leading factor. In addition, cost-benefit calculations confirm that long-run benefits for the ultra-poor outweigh the graduation program’s overall cost.

Policy lessons for scale-up and replication

The RCTs also provide us with important policy lessons for scale-up:

  • For the Graduation Approach to have a lasting impact on ending extreme poverty, the support and action of governments and policymakers is essential.
  • It is possible to make sustainable improvements in the economic status of the poor with a relatively short-term intervention.
  • The positive results to date indicate that this approach can have a profound impact on improving the lives of the world’s ultra-poor.

Scale-up of the Graduation Approach is underway and will reach thousands of households in the coming years. Mariana Escobar, deputy director general for the Department for Social Prosperity in Colombia, spoke about Colombia’s pilot that started two years ago.

In Colombia, the Graduation Approach has helped repair the lives of the victims of the internal conflict and victims of sexual violence. Ms. Escobar explained that these results demonstrate to policymakers and governments that the extreme poor can make good economic decisions when they are given the right tools.

Edgar Leiva (Secretary of Technical Planning, Directory of Public Policies for Paraguay), Hugo Zertuche Guerrero (Director General of Geostatistical Information of PROSPERA in Mexico), Camilla Holmeno (Senior Economist with the World Bank in Ethiopia), and Fiona Howell (Senior Social Assistance Policy Advisor with the National Team For the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction in Indonesia) shared their respective country’s perspective on the Graduation Approach. On a scale of low to high, policymakers were asked to answer the questions below.

Q: How high was the impact evidence to decide to start a program in your respective country?

A: All of the policymakers answered “high.”

Q: How influential was visiting the site and seeing it in person to starting a program?

A: All of the policymakers answered “high.” Edgar Leiva (Paraguay) explained that his government started a pilot program two days after visiting Colombia’s pilot program.

Q: What was each country’s biggest challenge in implementing the program?

A:

  • Camilla Holmeno (Ethiopia): both cost and complexity.
  • Edgar Leiva (Paraguay): maintaining the positive attitude of workers in the program, which helps create a sort of magic and is so important to the success of the program.
  • Hugo Zertuche (Mexico): budget constraints due to recent decrease in oil prices as well as cross-program competition (and a perception that Zertuche’s program was poaching resources from other programs).
  • Fiona Howell (Indonesia): existing structures and system and coordination among the Ministries.

Q: What is the number one research question you would like to know the answer to?

A:

  • Camilla Holmeno (Ethiopia): test different types of packages with varying levels of transfer across Ethiopia.
  • Edgar Leiva (Paraguay): how closely tied the Graduation Approach is to the psychology of people.
  • Fiona Howell (Indonesia): how we can integrate the urbanized poor into the economic system.

Additional questions for future research were posed in the closing section of the event:

  • Which components of the Graduation Approach drive results? Through this study, CGAP and Ford Foundation learned that household visits allotted for 30 percent of the cost of the program. Are household visits necessary?
  • How do the impacts of the Graduation Approach evolve over a longer time span?

Watch the event recording

Related reading

Event Recap: Partnerships to End Poverty Workshop

RESULTS grassroots activists discuss the policy implications of the six pathways that were presented by the Microcredit Summit Campaign. It’s now their turn as RESULTS volunteers to decide what to do with that information. Learn how you can join RESULTS.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


On Sunday, July 19th, the Microcredit Summit Campaign hosted a standing-room-only workshop with attendees to the 2015 RESULTS International Conference. Those who came heard from leading voices on the future of financial inclusion, focusing on the crucial role of partnerships and advocacy in reaching the poorest.

Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, began the session by introducing the Campaign’s role in pushing for an understanding that achieving full financial inclusion means including those living in extreme poverty.

From the start, the Microcredit Summit Campaign has advocated scaling up microfinance and other financial inclusion interventions. They can provide those living in extreme poverty with the diverse array of financial and non-financial services that will support their journey out of poverty.

Reed spoke about the need for continued innovation in client-centered development of financial tools, creative ideas for reaching the hard-to-reach at affordable prices, and the promise that smart microfinance can help create positive and durable changes in the lives of those being served.

Six Pathways

Read more about the six pathways.

The Campaign is advocating for closer consideration of six financial inclusion strategies — our “six pathways” — that show promise in reaching people living in extreme poverty with needed products and services. These are the six pathways:

  1. Integrated health and microfinance
  2. Savings groups
  3. Graduation programs
  4. Financial technology
  5. Agricultural value chains
  6. Conditional cash transfers

In the discussion that followed, moderated by Sonja Kelly (fellow at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion), the panelists responded to questions about the importance of partnerships in achieving the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role, present and future, of microfinance and financial inclusion in supporting these efforts.

DSK Rao, regional director for Asia-Pacific at the Campaign, focused on the immense potential for integration of health education and services into the delivery model of microfinance. He explained that “microfinance institutions shouldn’t run hospitals, but should spread essential health information and services to their clients when needed.”

Rao explained that the presence of MFIs, with their deep penetration into hard-to-reach communities, offer important opportunities to also deliver valuable health services (both financial and non-financial) to families often excluded from more mainstream service channels.

Larry Reed discussion possible advocacy options RESULTS’ citizen activists could take to policy makers in the coming days and months.

Reed also expanded on the power of government partnerships — specifically through conditional cash transfer and graduation programs — to reach those living further down the poverty ladder than those included in other social protection program designs.

Another guest speaker in the workshop, Olumide Elegbe from FHI 360, has extensive experience designing long-term partnerships between the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. He explained that “successful development is cross-sectoral and integrated,” much like poverty itself.

The mission of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, the parent organization of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, is to end the worst aspects of hunger and poverty. The annual International Conference aims to empower their grassroots activists from around the world to become strong and knowledgeable advocates for issues related to the RESULTS mission.

Therefore, after the panel discussion, workshop participants broke into small groups to take the discussion into brainstorming advocacy actions that can promote the kinds of financial inclusion interventions that will help end extreme poverty. These small group discussions focused on tangible points of action both for the longer term future as well as in anticipation of their meetings with representatives on Capitol Hill and at the World Bank on Tuesday, July 21st.

Voice your opinion in our comments section. How can you advocate for financial inclusion?

Learn more

Become a citizen advocate!

The Microcredit Summit Campaign’s role at RESULTS is to lift up microfinance solutions designed for the world’s extreme poor, creating economic opportunities to help lift themselves out of poverty.

The Campaign hosted a standing-room-only workshop with attendees to the 2015 RESULTS International Conference who came to hear from leading voices on the future of financial inclusion and the crucial role of partnerships and advocacy in reaching the poorest. Read RESULTS’ annual report today!


Related reading

#tbt: Lobbying the World Bank, Part II

ddd

“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.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


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

We are all lobbyists

RESULTS is hosting its 35th annual International Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington DC from July 18th to July 21st, featuring many leading poverty experts, activists. and policy makers.

Join us at the 2015 RESULTS International Conference in Washington, D.C., this July 18-21. Leading poverty experts, activists, policymakers, and YOU will convene for a unique conference that mixes an educational experience and advocacy opportunities around increased access to education, health, and economic opportunity. Together, we can change the world!

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


This article was originally posted by RESULTS on June 23, 2015. Re-posted with permission.

>>Authored by Susan Fleurant, 2015 RESULTS U.S. Poverty Campaigns Intern

I arrived in Washington, D.C. this summer for an internship at RESULTS with only the certainty of ceaseless heat and humidity and not fully knowing what else to expect. Then on June 9, I went to Capitol Hill and lobbied for the first time with Bread for the World, an anti-hunger organization. Lobbying is a word that carries with it a heavily negative connotation, a word that evokes images of wealthy businessmen persuading legislators one way or another. As a student pursuing a career in policy, I always said that I would never be a lobbyist, because I subscribed to this professional and negative definition of the word. While much of politics in the United States these days does involve the interests of wealthy corporations and professional lobbyists, the reality is that we can all be lobbyists.

It is easy to forget that Congress works for us, the voters. Our votes put people into office, and our votes can remove people from office. Yes, that oversimplifies the process, and while I acknowledge the role of campaign finance and special interests in both the campaign and legislative processes, citizens are not doing enough to change what has become the not-so-pleasant status quo of American politics. The truth is, the United States has abysmal voter turnout, yet a high percentage of the population complains about those in office and policy decisions that are made.

So what are we doing about it? Complaining to our neighbors and coworkers about the state of the nation will not move us in a new direction. We need to channel our concerns and our visions for the future of the country into positive civic engagement. We need to teach our children the importance of voting and the significance of civic engagement in maintaining a healthy democracy. As citizens of a representative democracy we have the opportunity to speak with our representatives whether through writing a letter, making a phone call, or scheduling an in-person meeting, and we must exercise these rights. Too few people take advantage of these opportunities, leaving lobbying to the groups that give the act its negative connotation. This lack of engagement is likely the result of a cynical view towards American politics in general paired with a lack of knowledge about the avenues available for engagement and correspondence. This is where educators and parents play a key role in providing the information from a young age about the variety of ways to engage in our democracy in order to demystify the process.

As I sat in a senator’s office on Capitol Hill speaking with a legislative advisor about why child nutrition programs are important, providing factual evidence paralleled with a personal story, I realized that I was a lobbyist, and it was perhaps one of the most democratic acts in which I could take part. I felt both empowered and perturbed. Empowered because I realized that I could lobby and make my voice heard on Capitol Hill, and perturbed because I did not understand why it took me this long to realize that. I feel lucky to have had this opportunity now before I carried on with a skewed idea of lobbying.

I think that government is too often presented as a separate entity to which average citizens do not have access, and this sentiment undermines democracy by leaving people uneducated about their ability to participate in the political system. Voting is often the extent of political participation for many people, and others do not even make it that far. It is time for us to reexamine our democracy and encourage active engagement through a variety of means. Lobbying is not just wealthy corporations and special interest groups; lobbying is citizens writing letters, making phone calls, and stopping by for visits. Get out there and lobby, trust me, it is empowering. You can make a difference. Share your concerns, describe your visions for the future, tell your personal stories, and make your voice heard. In the end, we are all lobbyists.

Want to have your own experience lobbying on Capitol Hill? Join RESULTS and attend the International Conference.

#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.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


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

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


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

The Puzzle of Poverty: Embera Puru Edition

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


>>Authored by Kristin Smith, Program Intern for the 100 Million Project

jjjjJust a few weeks before joining the Microcredit Summit Campaign team, I traveled with Global Brigades to teach financial literacy workshops and provide microenterprise consulting to small business owners in an indigenous community in Panama.

The program, founded in 2003, sends university students from the United States and select European countries on a series of brigades to Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ghana to “strengthen the health and economic development of communities” by meeting a certain aspect of their “holistic model.” Learn more.

Their holistic model attempts to assess and address the most dire needs of developing communities in an intentionally sequenced process to help them achieve a state of sustainable self-sufficiency.

Panama holistic model

Click on image to see in expanded view

Under the holistic model developed specifically for Panama, the process begins with Global Brigades employees researching the region and evaluating the community through a process of “integrated community development” to understand its most pressing needs.

Initially, the program sends medical and dental brigades — passionate volunteers working to mobilize positive social change — to the communities to provide mobile medical and dental clinics. Community banks are then established by a group of community members with guidance from Global Brigades staff to encourage saving for health needs and emergencies. Once established, the community banks begin distributing loans to community members for environmental projects and new business developments.

My brigade, composed of my colleagues from the University of California-Berkeley and others from Arizona State University, was excited to complete the Global Brigades puzzle (that is, the holistic model). Our role was to teach financial literacy and perform business consultations in the community of Embera Puru.

Embera Puru is an indigenous community of some 250 individuals in the Darien Province. Located in Eastern Panama near the Colombian border. Embera Puru is an Embera community, one of the largest indigenous groups in Panama and Colombia. The community members’ main source of income is agriculture, producing crops such as plantains, yucca, rice, and otoe (a local root vegetable), and creating artisan handicrafts.

With guidance from Global Brigades, the community established a caja rural (community bank) to encourage savings and loan making within the community. Embera Peru’s caja now has 21 members with 21 active savings accounts, but there are still many among the 266 inhabitants without this means to save.

Comparable to a savings group, a caja rural is a group of men and women who pool their funds to create a solid financial base, providing savings and loan services for themselves and for the entire community. Despite the initial contributions of Global Brigades, the caja is entirely owned and operated by members of the community.

Because the indigenous communities of Panama are predominantly closed economies, community groups eschew money from the outside and make weekly savings deposits into the community bank to begin their work. Group members manage the fund themselves, make decisions about who can receive loans and under what terms, and hold each other accountable for loan repayment.

As part of our business consultation work, we met with representatives from the community’s “Environmental Committee,” a group of farmers producing beyond self-sufficiency for distribution within the community, to ask simple questions to best understand the level of business assistance they needed.

The president of this group, a man by the name of Marcelino, also happens to be the treasurer of the caja rural, as well as a community teacher. Through conversation with Marcelino, we learned that his bookkeeping records won their bank a prize for “Caja with the best bookkeeping management” at a board of directors microfinance workshop in Panama City.

Analyzing the business’s books and records, we found a very thorough system and were stumped on how else to proceed with our consultation. (Aside from our recommendation that they include an inventory management system in preparation for increased production.) Not long into our conversation with these experienced committee leaders about potential business obstacles, we found ourselves confronted with an irritated committee leader and community elder who expressed his frustration with the focus of our questions and our work.

He argued that the group’s record-keeping strategies were highly insignificant in comparison to the group’s utter lack of inventory. It turns out that there was a community water shortage resulting from a collapsed well and a series of unfinished agricultural projects throughout the farm.

“Money,” he said. “We need your help on the farm, we need more crops, and we need money.” My observation was that the present infrastructure severely lacked sufficient capital to support a self-interacting and self-sustaining community.

As I sit now at my desk here in Washington, D.C., far removed from this man and his community, I face the internal debate of whether our work and efforts in microfinance are indeed meeting the direst needs of these people. My short time in Panama reinforced my understanding that development is a puzzle that we do not always equip ourselves to solve. Regardless of the practicality of the services we were working to provide, if other pieces of the complex puzzle are not fully in place, the outcomes in general are undermined.

Increased financial access serves as the window of opportunity for many entrepreneurs throughout the developing world, but without the proper environment and sufficient infrastructure, access to money is rather trivial.

Prioritizing the views, aspirations, and goals of clients or other program beneficiaries is critical as well. As economist William Easterly often argues, no matter how well-intentioned our efforts, without proper feedback from those receiving the assistance, how are we to measure the effectiveness and progress of our efforts? Under my interpretation, Global Brigades was not responsive to the needs and aspirations of its clients.

While the Embera Puru puzzle remains unsolved because the other pieces were never correctly and fully placed, I am glad to know that the industry and many of its institutions are making great strides towards increased attention to feedback from clients and beneficiaries as well as accountability of institutions to deliver on their objectives. Despite the puzzle’s sheer complexity, we have all the pieces and the ability to work with the poor to solve it.

I encourage Global Brigades to join the Microcredit Summit Campaign in making a specific, measurable, and time-bound Commitment on their efforts to end extreme poverty.

Related reading

Ultra Poor Graduation

PRA

Photo credit: BRAC

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


>> Authored by Shameran Abed, Director, BRAC Microfinance Programme

Shameran Abed, BRAC’s Director of Microfinance, joined the Microfinance CEO Working Group in January. He and BRAC are welcome to additions to this collaboration. He joins the Working Group’s efforts to support the positive development of the microfinance industry and brings tremendous insigShameran Abedht into the discussion around pathways out of poverty.

This month, the results from six randomised controlled trials (RCTs), published in Science magazine highlighted a model of development that is an adaptable and exportable solution able to raise households from the worst forms of destitution and put them on to a pathway of self-reliance. The graduation approach — financial services integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services — is gaining steady recognition for its astonishing ability to transform the lives of the poorest.

These findings can be contrasted with the results of six RCTs published in January by the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, which cited limited evidence of “microcredit” transforming the lives of the poor.

In many ways, that was not surprising. There is only so much that microcredit alone can do to address a phenomenon as complex as poverty, especially within the rather short, 18-month timeframe of a research project. This partly explains the diversification most financial service providers have made into savings, microinsurance, financial education, and other models of financial inclusion that integrate different development services.

While the transformative effects of microcredit alone — or even microfinance — remain up for debate, it is now clear that access to savings and credit provided together with other wrap-around services not only provides a viable pathway out of poverty for the poor, they do so for the very poorest!

Following 30 years of work in building livelihoods for the poor, largely through microfinance and agricultural extension, BRAC learnt the hard way that we were not making effective poverty reduction gains for those most in need. We were consistently failing to reach the millions of households at the very bottom.

Classified as the “ultra poor,” this sub-segment of the extreme poor, who live on less than USD 0.80 per day, fail to meet their daily energy requirements, are chronically ill, and live on the fringes of society. In these circumstances where basic needs are unmet, microfinance alone can do little to provide a pathway out of poverty.

In 2002, BRAC developed a model designed to create livelihoods for the ultra-poor in a way that also addressed the other dimensions of abject poverty creating barriers to their development. Capitalising on our previous social safety net programme experience, BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor programme (the basis of the graduation approach) combined asset transfer with livelihood development and social support.

GradBlogGraphic

For two years, clients receive an integrated package of cash stipends, an asset (such as a cow or chickens) with training, and basic healthcare. Early into the programme, clients cultivate strong savings behaviour, and learn the basics of financial management. The programme also includes a large social component: regular household visits from our staff and integration in the community.

Notably, the model in Bangladesh does integrate microcredit for some clients; 70 percent of the graduates in Bangladesh actually received their assets as “soft loans,” which they repay over the course of two years.

The results have been remarkable. Since 2002, 95 percent of the 1.4 million clients who have come through this programme have graduated from ultra-poverty. The programme is costly in one sense, because it’s grant-based and financially unsustainable, but the social returns are high and extend well beyond the end of the intervention period.  An RCT has shown that even years after members graduate, most continue to experience growth in their household income and well being.

The achievements of ultra-poor graduation are even greater because this is not a success story limited to Bangladesh. An initiative led by CGAP and the Ford Foundation sought to test the replicability of the BRAC model by piloting it in several contexts internationally.

The RCT results published in Science, which covered pilots in India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras and Peru, show definitively that they were successful. In all six of the countries studied, all treatment households witnessed significant improvements across a range of indicators that continued beyond the end of their programmes. Today, the graduation approach is continuing to break ground with a range of other actors that include microfinance providers, multilateral agencies, NGOs (e.g. Fundacion Capital, UNHCR, Concern Worldwide) as well as governments looking to improve costly social safety net programmes that protect the poor from destitution, but fail to put them on a ladder out of poverty.

As a sector that has come under fire for failing to make conspicuous reductions in poverty, the success of ultra-poor graduation carries notable implications for the role that financial services can play in putting millions onto pathways out of extreme poverty.

One is a lesson to microfinance providers that, actually, the extreme poor can be extremely credit worthy – once the initial investment is made. Indeed, some of BRAC’s most reliable and disciplined microfinance clients are graduates from our ultra-poor programme. Microfinance institutions may not be the ones to make that investment, but they can help ensure that “graduates” of such programmes have a bridge that transitions them from ultra-poverty into mainstream microfinance.

Secondly, this model shows that financial services, when integrated within a broader set of wrap-around services, is unquestionably transformational, even for those in the most desperate forms of poverty.

Critics will likely ask, which are the most crucial elements? Is it financial access that is making wrap-around services transformational, or is it the wrap-around services that make financial access transformational?

The answer is most likely some combination of the two, but so long as this interaction is producing these results, I am satisfied in knowing that access to financial services remains a vital ingredient in the solution to extreme poverty.


Shameran Abed is the director of the BRAC microfinance programme, which serves more than five million clients in seven countries in Asia and Africa, and has total assets exceeding USD 1 billion.

Starting its work in the early 1970s, BRAC was one of the earliest known organisations to use the modern microfinance model of lending small amounts to groups of women. Working alongside several other development programmes, the success of the microfinance programme supported BRAC in its growth to be the largest development organisation in the world in terms of staff numbers.

Mr Abed also serves on the boards of BRAC Bank’s mobile financial services subsidiary, bKash, and Guardian Life Insurance. Additionally, he sits on the Microfinance Network Steering Committee and the World Economic Forum Financial Inclusion Steering Committee. Prior to joining BRAC, Mr Abed was a journalist and wrote primarily on political issues.

Mr Abed is a lawyer by training, having been made a barrister by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London, UK. He completed his undergraduate studies at Hamilton College in the United States, majoring in economics and minoring in political science.


BRAC launched a Campaign Commitment in 2014! We invite you also to…

Get Inspired. Set a Goal. Make a Commitment.

Join the movement to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty:

#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.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


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

#tbt: Top 10 Reasons That Fewer Loans Are Going to the Poorest

ddd

1. Myopic focus — For many years, the indicators used to measure microfinance performance have focused on numbers of clients and the sustainability or profitability of the institutions that reach them. These indicators tell us little about whether we are achieving the real aim of microfinance — helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Without tools to measure our ultimate ends, we satisfy ourselves by measuring our means instead.

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in Vulnerability: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2013. For two years in a row, we have reported a decrease in the total number of extreme poor (those living on less than $1.25 a day) that had received a loan. Our “Top 10 Reasons” chapter in the 2013 Report are still very relevant.


What has caused a reduction in microfinance clients worldwide? And why have all of those reductions been from the poorest clients? Here are our top 10 reasons.

10. Andhra Pradesh crisis in India — Our reports show that India accounts for almost all of the reduction in clients worldwide. Most of these reductions come from Andhra Pradesh, where fast growth led to overlending, cases of harsh collection practices, and heavy regulation from the state government. Many MFIs and banks stopped lending to microfinance clients and self-help groups as a result.

9. Maturing markets — Some of the fastest growing markets in the world, including Bangladesh and parts of Latin America, have reached a point where a large proportion of the people most easily reached have become clients, and MFIs’ growth is slowing as they seek ways to lower costs and reach more remote and more difficult markets.

8. Global economic crisis — Microentrepreneurs and the financial institutions that serve them could not remain insulated from the worldwide economic crisis. Less economic activity in the developed world meant less tax revenue and greater focus on domestic spending by Western governments. It also led to a drop in donations to international charities. Remittance flows dwindled, which negatively affected economic activities in towns and villages dependent on income from family members in other countries.

7. Investor wariness — Banks and other investors in India and other countries curtailed their investments in microfinance, while international microfinance investment vehicles continued to invest almost three-quarters of their funds in Eastern Europe and Latin America, regions with less outreach to the poorest.[1]

Villager in Nangolkot, Noakhali, Bangladesh
Photo credit: Shamimur Rahman and Giorgia Bonaga

6. Donor fatigue — Many bilateral donors have reacted to growing commercialization and negative press by reducing their support for microfinance. This means less funding is coming in for groups that may need subsidies to build sustainable programs to reach poorer and more remote clients.

5. Herd mentality — MFIs find it easier to operate in locations where other MFIs have already developed the market. Investors find it easier to invest in MFIs where other investors have already done the due diligence. The result is a piling-on effect that eventually leads to bad debts and a retreat from the microfinance market.

4. Patchy information — Global reporting on microfinance activity (including our own in this report) shows data by country. This disguises the fact that, within a country, some locations may have more than enough microfinance services available while others have very little. Without accurate and timely maps that localize activity, it can be hard to see which markets are overheating until it is too late.

3. Better measurement — In the past few years, many MFIs have more widely adapted poverty measurement tools, such as the Progress out of Poverty Index®, Poverty Assessment Tool, and the Food Security Survey. The MFIs that employ these tools often find that the number of the poorest that they are serving is less than they originally estimated. This means that some of the reduction in numbers of the poorest being served reported to us is due to more accurate reporting on the number of poorest clients.

2. Misaligned incentives — he market provides few rewards to those MFIs that reach poorer and more remote clients because reaching these clients usually entails higher costs and smaller margins. Without ways of recognizing those that reach the poorest, MFIs will have few incentives to extend to this market and will find it difficult to attract funding to do so.

1. Myopic focus — For many years, the indicators used to measure microfinance performance have focused on numbers of clients and the sustainability or profitability of the institutions that reach them. These indicators tell us little about whether we are achieving the real aim of microfinance — helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Without tools to measure our ultimate ends, we satisfy ourselves by measuring our means instead.

Farmers (credit - Andrés Quinche)_comp

Photo credit: Andrés Quinche


[1] Symbiotics, 2012, “2012 Symbiotics MIV Survey: Market Data & Peer Group Analysis,” (Geneva, Switzerland: Symbiotics), http://bit.ly/MIV_survey.

Accessible and affordable microinsurance with Afua Donkor

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in Resilience: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2014. Afua Boahemaa Donkor, executive director of Star Microinsurance in Ghana, explains how they have developed microinsurance products that are simple and affordable for the poor.


>>Authored by Ana Hecton, former intern, and Sabina Rogers, Communications and Relationships Manager

SOCR 2014_front-cover_EN_270x348

You can read a transcript of her interview here.
Read the full report here.

The 2014 State of the Campaign Report features various actors in the microfinance sector that are taking steps to help their clients lift themselves out of poverty. In this interview Afua Boahemaa Donkor, executive director of Star Microinsurance in Ghana, talks to DSK Rao from the Microcredit Summit Campaign about how microinsurance works and how it can benefit the poorest. Ms. Donkor also discusses the challenges in providing coverage for the poorest.

Star Microinsurance in Ghana started in 2008 as a specialized microinsurance subsidiary of the Star Insurance Group. Star Microinsurance works to design microinsurance products, looks for distribution channels, and provides the back office administration of the products.

“Microinsurance is supposed to be suave. When I say that, it means that it has to be simple, accessible, understandable, fundable, and efficient.”

— Afua Boahemaa Donkor

Star Microinsurance aims to make their insurance accessible to all people, those living in the city and those living in remote areas. The microinsurance products that are offered by Star Microinsurance are “made very simple, the premiums are set to be very cheap, affordable, so that the informal person, in the rural sector, can afford to have insurance products.”

Star Microinsurance collaborates with rural banks, MFIs, and post offices where the product is located. The rural banks and post offices are spread all throughout Ghana, therefore being highly accessible to all people no matter their location.

The challenges that face microinsurance

When talking about microinsurance and selling it to those living in poverty, Ms. Donkor says that it is hard for people to grasp the concept that they are paying for a possibility that may or may not occur. For those living in extreme poverty, possibilities of the future or what could happen is not a high priority. The demand is for what they need right here, right now. Thus, trying to sell microinsurance to people whose concern is focused solely on getting through that day is very difficult. In fact, “insurance in general is a very difficult thing to sell whether to an educated person or an uneducated person because it is an intangible good we are selling.”

What we know of the impact of microinsurance

ei76 infographic en

A systematic review of the impact of microinsurance (2013) produced by the ILO’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility. Source: http://www.impactinsurance.org/emerging-insights/ei76

Voices from the Field: Syed Hashemi

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 Syed Hashemi, senior adviser for the CGAP Vulnerable Segments Initiative and professor at BRAC University in Bangladesh.

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?

Syed M Hashemi_BRAC_187x249There have been major efforts to achieve financial inclusion through developing better and more flexible products to meet client demand, using technology to lower costs and financial education to improve client money management. Far less has been happening on linking access to finance to extreme poverty eradication. In fact, few MFIs actually reach out to those in extreme poverty. Part of this is due to the singular focus on credit which is not what the poorest often need immediately. And, possibly more importantly it is the failure of the microfinance sector to work with other development sectors.

What microfinance needs to do is better understand the lives of the poorest (as distinct from “the poor”), the risks they face and the needs they have. So, savings and insurance, specially designed for this group, as well as financial education, is what is required. But, too often the poorest spend all their time with the day to day struggles for food security. And too insecure to even plan for the future. This is where the primary need is for safety nets to guarantee them basic consumption levels.

Now if microfinance was to work closely with safety nets and build on top of the food security that safety nets provide, it could assist in creating a ladder for the poorest to eventually use financial services, build sustainable livelihoods and graduate out of extreme poverty. This is the graduation model that BRAC pioneered and CGAP and Ford Foundation adapted and promoted globally.

However, it is not enough to have some models that work or some products that increase outreach. What is required is massively scaling these up so that we can indeed achieve the global goals we set out. This is where governments and policy makers are key. MFIs can only achieve so much on their own. It will ultimately be governments who have the bandwidth to make this happen, of course with MFIs and NGOs as critical strategic partners.

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

Many of the sustainable development goals will focus on building resilience of different demographic groups — children, the youth, the elderly, the disabled — as well as the extreme poor. Microfinance has a huge role in the effective design and delivery of child support grants, universal pension schemes, health insurance as a key element of universal health coverage, financing schooling and training, credit for micro and small enterprises, better transfer payment and emergency loan mechanisms, deposit services and of course partnering with graduation programs.

The Summit is an ideal platform to convene people to show case ideas and campaign for financial inclusion and the end of extreme poverty through more effective use of financial services.

Q: What are the most recent innovations and proven best practices in the field helping those living in extreme poverty? What are key themes to consider or important debate topics we need to address in the microfinance & financial inclusion sector in the coming year?

Let me highlight the key concerns moving ahead:

  1. Financial education and consumer protection.
  2. Children, the youth, the elderly, and the disabled.
  3. The environment, climate change, and the shrinking ecological reserves.

And the way forward in addressing these issues (and addressing pervasive market and government failures) is far greater collaboration with governments. We know governments can be slow and unresponsive, but ultimately, they have the budget and the constitutional obligation to increase the welfare of its citizens. We need to hold them accountable to that.
19_plenary_Going-the-extra-mile_SyedHashemi_594x345_photo credit - Vikash Kumar Photography

About BRAC University

BRAC University (BRACU) was established in 2001 building on BRAC’s experience of seeking solution to challenges posed by extreme poverty by instilling in its students a commitment to working towards national development and progress. The mission of BRAC University is to foster the national development process through the creation of a centre of excellence in higher education that is responsive to society’s needs, and able to develop creative leaders and actively contributes to learning and creation of knowledge.

Syed M. Hashemi is Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University. Prior to that, he spent five years as founder-director of the BRAC Development Institute—a resource center for promoting research and building knowledge for addressing poverty, inequity and social injustice. Hashemi also spent nine years with CGAP at the World Bank in Washington DC, focusing on identifying pro-poor innovations and disseminating best practice lessons related to poverty outreach and impact. Hashemi was amongst the pioneers who started the Social Performance Task Force to promote a double bottom line in microfinance. He also headed a multi-country program to develop new pathways for the poorest to graduate out of food insecurity through building sustainable livelihoods. Hashemi continues to be involved with the graduation work at CGAP. Earlier, Hashemi directed the Program for Research on Poverty Alleviation at Grameen Trust and taught Development Studies at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Riverside.

Click here to visit the BRAC University website.

#tbt: Microfinance Revolution at the Very Bottom

#Tbt_6

Keynote speakers of the 2004 Microcredit Summit in Bangladesh. Begum Khaleda Zia, then Prime Minister of Bangladesh, was the “chief guest.”

Lea en español *** Lisez en français


We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2007. We hope this will encourage you to reflect on both how long we have been fighting to convince the policy makers (and other doubters) that microfinance can reach the extreme poor as well as be inspired by our early revolutionaries.


Microfinance Revolution at the Very Bottom: A Radical Departure

The following is an excerpt from an interview Campaign Director Sam Daley-Harris conducted with Jamii Bora founder Ingrid Munro in October 2007.

April is the Month of MicrofinanceLearn more

April is the Month of Microfinance
Learn more

Microcredit Summit Campaign: RESULTS volunteers in the United States and in other countries have been working for four years to get half of World Bank microfinance funds to those living on less than a dollar a day. The arguments that come from the World Bank and others is that you cannot reach the very poor with microfinance, they need safety nets first. The president of the World Bank said this in an October 2007 meeting with 29 members of the U.S. Congress. Do you agree with this position?

Ingrid Munro: I don’t agree with that at all, because in Jamii Bora we know that you can reach the very poor. Not just reach them, not just feel sorry for them, pat them on the head and say, we are going to help you to come above the poverty line…

Our experience is, first of all, the most desperate are the ones that need microfinance the most, and they can handle it, we have proven that. It’s not something that is a theory, it is a proven fact…The poorer they are, the more they need the microfinance. And, they don’t need charity because charity is a way to keep people down. If we keep saying, “I feel very sorry for you because you can’t manage this yourself,” you start thinking [to yourself], “I should feel sorry for [myself] because I can’t manage [on my own].”

But, if we say to you, “You can make it. You have talents. God has given you talents like He has given everybody talents, and He wants you to use them.” And [if] you see some of your friends who were begging beside you on the same street now walk around in nice dresses, their children are in school, they eat three meals a day, they live in a better house — then you also dare to dream that that is possible for [you too].

Microcredit Summit Campaign: You say that some groups have tried to do what you do in reaching the very poor, but they get their fingers burned. What are some of the principles that can allow microfinance to succeed when you work with beggars, landless laborers, and prostitutes?

Ingrid Munro: …You have to be very close. You see, the beggar is a professional, it is a profession in itself. So, if you come and give a beggar $100, and say, “You go and start a business,” they will run away with that money. You have to prepare everybody for what it is, and we think you have to start by getting them to save, because then they are in that habit of setting aside a bit of money every day. That makes it easy for them to pay back the loan.

You also have to be there and encourage them when the problems come. The city authorities chase you away from where you are doing your business. A police officer might even take your goods, or thieves break in to your little kiosk, or you have a fire that [burns] down everything. You can’t be like a normal bank and say, “Okay, we will still hunt you. You have to bring the money back.” [Instead] you come together and say, “Now how do we solve this situation?” And you help them get on their feet so they are helped to pay back the old loan, but also a new loan. It’s a matter of being there all the time and understanding.

If you are naïve and you just go up to somebody who you haven’t spoken to about a loan, who doesn’t know [your] group, who doesn’t trust you…and you say, “Here’s $100, go start a business,” then you will lose that money. And there are naïve people who do that, and I think those are the ones who are spreading this dangerous message that you can’t reach the very poor, because they’ve done it the wrong way themselves, not because you can’t reach the very poor. I invite anyone who doubts to come visit us…

In that sense I think we are a movement, a people’s own movement, more than we are an institution, a normal financial institution. But we’re still microfinance.

Microcredit Summit Campaign: There are so many different things that Jamii Bora does from housing to the “get sober” program. Please talk about another of your innovative offerings, health insurance. How did it come about, what does it costs, and what are the benefits?

Ingrid Munro: In early 2001 we were one year and a few months old. We realized we had some people who were…falling behind in their repayments. So we decided to make a hundred percent research. We would visit every single one of them with our staff and try to note down what are [their] problems. Why can you not pay?

It was such a shocking result. We found that 93 percent had the same problem, they had a patient in hospital…It means my son, my daughter, my baby, my grandchild, or my spouse, or my sister — somebody very close to [them] had to be admitted in hospital, otherwise they would die. Now, of course, you can’t expect that anyone will let their child die because they have to pay their loan to Jamii Bora. So, it was clear to us, this was something we could not compete with. This was something that we had to solve.

So we went to all the insurance companies and asked, “Could you develop an insurance product for us?” They said, “Oh yes, yes.”

We had 6,000 members in those days, and they thought that was a lot. But the cheapest they could come up with was 6,000 shillings, and 6,000 shillings is about US$80 per year. And, US$80 per year, if you are a single mother with five children, you see, you have to [multiply that] times six. That is a lot of money. That is way above what anyone could dream of.

We then decided we’ll start our own in-house product. Everyone told me, “Now Ingrid, you are killing this beautiful organization. This will pull you down. It will not work.” But we never did any research. We sat in a group of staff with a lot of knowledge about our members. We decided we could charge 1,000 shillings a year, which was US$12 at the time, on condition that the members could pay every week, a small amount (about 30 cents US), and they didn’t have to pay everything up front. And, we decided it would cover an adult member and a maximum of four dependent kids. If they had more than four kids, they would add an extra US$2 per child per year. We would cover in-patient, that is, treatment in hospital. If they came into hospital, we would cover everything.

We started by linking up with one of the big mission hospitals in Nairobi. We said, “We’ll give you a deposit of what we think it could cost per month,” because mission hospitals cannot afford to give you services on credit. So we paid them up front. Then our members would come with a letter from us saying, “This patient has health insurance from us and please treat her. If she has to be admitted, we will pay everything.”

There was not more research than that. The background was, “This is what our members can afford to pay and we have to get it to work.” Over time, this has become a most incredible part of our organization. We also decided weren’t going to ask for any donor funding, because then they would send a lot of consultants and they’d tell us it’s not possible to do what we had decided to do, and they would also say, “So and so should qualify and those clients should not qualify.”

We wanted it to be for everybody. We decided it would cover maternity, it would cover any kind of operations, it would cover any kind of in-patient treatment, and we would not exclude people with HIV and AIDS, because then it was a useless insurance for us. And today, [October 2007] it is soon going to be seven years that we have run this.

We have always covered all our costs. We have never had any donor subsidy, not even US$1, and we have never asked for it either. I am sure we would have got it if we had asked. It has saved so many lives. Right now 120,000 people [are covered by the health insurance], because [every member of Jamii Bora] doesn’t take out health insurance…

Relevant resources