Alia Farhat: Microfinance serving Syrian refugees in Lebanon

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Alia Farhat of Al Majmoua (Lebanon) discusses her organization, the role of microfinance to help end poverty — in particular with the Syrian refugee crisis — and the lessons learned at the 18th Microcredit Summit with Miranda Beshara, editor of the Arabic Microfinance Gateway.

Al Majmoua was founded in 1994 and is the leading microfinance organization in Lebanon, managing a portfolio of US $52 million. She believes that microfinance is part of the value chain to end poverty and that MFIs need to provide more than just finance to end poverty. Al Majmoua offers microinsurance and savings products as well as to entrepreneurship and financial literacy training.

Farhat describes how Al Majmoua, which means “the group,” has evolved from its group lending origins to its current work with refugees. Lebanon, a population of only 4.5 million, has seen an influx of 1.3 million Syrian refugees over the last three years. “We needed to do something” to help, she explains, so they started with non-financial services to women and youth such as vocational and entrepreneurship training.

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Bdour Alhyari: Enabling the poor to participate in development

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18th Microcredit Summit Video Corner Interview Series

Bdour Alhyari, business development manager for Microfund for Women in Jordan, interviewed by Miranda Beshara, editor of the Arabic Microfinance Gateway.


Bdour Alhyari of Microfund for Women (Jordan) talks with Miranda Beshara, editor of the Arabic Microfinance Gateway, at the 18th Microcredit Summit. Microfund for Women launched a Campaign Commitment in 2015. Commitments are specific, measurable, and time-bound actions organizations take to support the Campaign goal to help 100 Million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. “It is in our mission to enable and empower women at so many levels,” says Alhyari. “We thought we need to be part of this Campaign and commit to act, encourage others to commit to act.” (Learn more here.)

Microfinance plays “a great role” to help end poverty, says Alyhari, because it enables the financially excluded to gain access to the financial system. “Eighty percent [of the world’s population] are not allowed to access finance. Microfinance provides them with financial resources to enable them to participate in the development of societies, of communities. They [beneficiaries and clients] take the money. They create businesses, they continue their learning, their education, to enable them to be part of the development cycle. Gradually this will help to better livelihoods.”

Finally, Alhyari reflects on her time at the 18th Microcredit Summit. “The Summit has brought so many different expertise from different parts of the world,” she says. “We have shown our experience in microinsurance [and], providing the caregiver program, and we heard about other examples in microinsurance, green energy, and so many other topics, [such as] youth. It was a good platform to have this exchange to look at the expertise of each other and learn from it.”

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Colombia, a “Pathways” poster child

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

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

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

Conditional Cash Transfers

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

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

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

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

 Mobile Money with Agent Networks

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia’s Next Step

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


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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

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>>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.


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Getting the ultra-poor on the “economy train”

BRAC group meeting

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>>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

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#tbt: Lobbying the World Bank, Part II

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

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


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

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

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

Continuing from Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevant reading

#tbt: Lobbying the World Bank, Part I

#Tbt_6

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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

Relevant resources

Re-post of “Next Generation Innovation in Microfinance? The Graduation Approach”

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Aude de Montesquiou, a microfinance specialist at CGAP, published a nice summary of the June 9th e-workshop called “Adopting the Graduation Model to Serve the Ultra-Poor.” If you want to learn more about the graduation model, BRAC offers “Immersion and Training Visits” and the next two are this August (week of the 18th and 25th). Please contact Sadna Samaranayake to register.

The e-workshop clearly unpacked how the Graduation Approach works and how microfinance institutions have and can adopt the model. Sadna Samaranayake from BRAC USA took participants through a detailed look at the various components of the program emphasizing the value of community participation in the client selection/ targeting process, the asset transfer component and how clients are trained on generating an income from their newly acquired assets. She spoke about the integrated focus on savings, health care support, and the important role played by village level poverty reduction committees mobilized to help clients with various issues and household shocks after the duration of the 24 month program. BRAC USA believes that, for sustainable MFIs looking to extend their pro-poor missions, the Graduation approach is a great use of donor or discounted funding to help them reach a previously inaccessible poorer client segment—much in line with the “double business case” work conducted by Grameen Foundation.

Read the full post.

News Round-up for Friday, July 26

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Free solar panels for 2 m of the poorest families in Peru & our report on integrated health and microfinance in the Andes tops the charts Español Français Continue reading

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This week’s round-up includes the wrap-up of Chris Dunford’s Evidence Project blog. A must read!
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News Round-up for Friday, June 28

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Last Week’s News

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Read our round up of last week’s microfinance news: A Financially Capable Consumer Could Be Your Best Customer, The Future of Provider Ecosystems for Financial Inclusion, How to Build Successful BOP Business Models, and more! Continue reading

Last Week’s News

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A round up of last week’s microfinance news: tests for credit bubbles, a challenge to the “old way” of thinking about microfinance, promising BoP business models in Latin America, and another paper about mbanking. Continue reading