Wamda.com: Understanding microfinance in MENA

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>>by Archana Menon | April 3, 2016

“The Arab world has the lowest level of financial inclusion.”

This was the statement made by Dr. Abdulrahman Al Hamidi, director general and chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) at the opening of the 18th Microcredit Summit in Abu Dhabi in March.

He cited World Bank data stating that 16 to 17 million small businesses in the Arab region have no access to financing and official financial services.

The theme of the summit, “Frontier Innovations in Financial Inclusion,” attracted 1,000 delegates from 60 countries. Jointly organized by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, the Arab Gulf Programme for Development (AGFUND), and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, the event was held March 14-17.

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#tbt: Digital Transactions for Products the Poor Can Afford

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

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

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

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

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

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We second that toast, Beth

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>>Authored by Larry Reed, Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign

Last week, Beth Rhyne posted a well-deserved tribute to Alex Counts, who recently retired as CEO of Grameen Foundation. I’d like to add to her thoughtful articulation of Alex’s contributions to microfinance and the lives of people living in poverty.

I once sat with Alex at a dinner in Dhaka that brought together many different strands of the Grameen family. Our table included several of the board members of Grameen Bank, women clients of the bank. They laughed at Alex as he talked with them in Bangla, and then let us know exactly what they thought about how the government was treating Prof. Yunus. As I watched their delighted conversation, I was struck with how it traversed so many traditional barriers of gender, age, caste, education, experience and income. It was just Alex and his friends, who were not only clients of Grameen but were also mothers, daughters, board members and business owners. He wanted to learn as much as he could from them.

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Campaign to host workshop with World Bank Annual Meeting in Peru

Attending the World Bank meeting in Peru? Join our workshop, “6 Financial Inclusion Pathways to End Extreme Poverty – What Role Can You Play?”

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Are you attending the 2015 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Lima, Peru? Join us at the Civil Society Policy Forum* for a workshop to explore how microfinance and financial inclusion can contribute to the fight against extreme poverty.

The Microcredit Summit Campaign will host a workshop at the Forum at the World Bank Annual Meeting in Lima from October 6-9. The Forum promotes substantive dialogue and an exchange of views between Bank/Fund staff, civil society organizations (CSO), government officials, academics, and other stakeholders.

6 Financial Inclusion Pathways to End Extreme Poverty

What Role Can You Play?

As the 2014 Global Findex has shown, important progress toward universal financial access is evident. However, there has been much less progress for groups commonly considered to be among the most excluded or hardest-to-reach. Ensuring that these groups are not left out of the march toward universal financial access in the coming four years, intentionality in our approach will be essential as will be a clear framework for actors to coordinate their efforts.

The Campaign is highlighting six pathways that have shown positive outcomes for reaching and including the hardest-to-reach groups especially when delivered in an integrated manner. This lens can offer helpful ways to view opportunities where investment can accelerate progress in including the most excluded, hardest-to-reach populations by 2020.

Session Objective

We will show how the Universal Financial Access by 2020 (UFA2020) campaign links with ending extreme poverty by 2030. In breakout groups, participants will brainstorm how organizations like theirs (CSOs, in Bank-speak) can contribute to financial inclusion pathways to end extreme poverty.

Speakers

  • Larry Reed, Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign
  • Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and leads the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign
  • Martin Spahr, Senior Operations Officer at the International Finance Corporation
  • Carolina Trivelli, Economist, CGAP

Date

October 8, 4-5:30 PM

Contact Jesse Marsden for more information.

* Note that registration for the Forum is closed. You can see the full Forum agenda here.


The 2015 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be held on October 9 – 11 in Lima, Peru. The Civil Society Policy Forum, a program of events including policy sessions for civil society organizations (CSOs), will be held from October 6 – 9, 2015.

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Some Annual Meeting sessions will be livestreamed. Find out how to watch.

The registration platform for CSO representatives interested in attending the Civil Society Policy Forum is now closed. We will be processing registration requests that were received within the last few days and will be notifying applicants on the status of their request. This process can take a couple of weeks and so we ask for your patience. As previously published, no new registration request will be entertained.

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.

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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!


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The Business of Doing Good: A Chat with Anton Simanowitz

BizofDoingGoodCover

The Business of Doing Good by Anton Simanowitz and Katherine Knotts

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Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, recently sat down with Susy Cheston, senior advisor to FI2020, and Anton Simanowitz, co-author of the new book The Business of Doing Good, to discuss how organizations can do good work and turn a profit, particularly in the microfinance sector.

In exploring this question, Simanowitz draws on key insights from the new book, in which he and co-author Katherine Knotts studied the success of AMK, a social enterprise which has touched the lives of millions of people living in poverty in rural Cambodia. This study revealed six powerful strategies to improve business to do good:

  1. Don’t just offer products; respond to client needs
  2. Ask good questions and have good conversations
  3. Do what it says on the tin
  4. Motivate staff to do difficult work in an excellent way
  5. Own the dirt road
  6. Adapt to the changing landscape

Find out more about the thinking behind these insights.

In the latter half of the book, the authors explore the disconnect between theory and practice and the resulting implications for client value. AMK’s success is largely attributed to its recognition of the distinction between client wants and client needs, which are rooted in the meaningful conversations the organization has with its clients. The authors observe, through their exploration of AMK, that vision is ensured only when it follows intent, instead being constrained by conventional wisdom.

Simanowitz was here in D.C. yesterday to discuss his book with Larry Reed and Susy Cheston on-site at the Center for Financial Inclusion. He spoke about the importance of conversation in the social sector, both with customers and within the organization itself. From his exploration of AMK, Simanowitz noted that client-centricity extends far beyond identifying the needs of the clients and becomes a feedback loop built on what he called conversational interplay.

An organization that successfully addresses the reality gap between theory and practice, he argues, embraces reality. It understands that following its social vision is everyone’s responsibility and so is built into the business model. Anton noted that we all have something to learn from this exploration of AMK, an organization that “has the client in their DNA” and “reinforces the truism that focus on the customer is good for business.”

Listen to the conversation


If you prefer, you can stream the podcast from SoundCloud, or you can download the audio file.

Voice your opinion in our comments section. How can organizations best do good and do well?

Following the conversation, we asked Larry and Anton to write up a few closing thoughts.

Larry said, “What struck me from our conversation today was how much the lessons we learn from AMK apply to any social enterprise that seeks to expand the positive results achieved by its clients while also earning enough income to sustain itself and grow. Social enterprises need to align all their people and systems around their mission, and they do this with good data, engaging and open conversations, lots of iterations and improvements, incentives that reward behavior that promotes the mission, and a governance structure that reviews performance according to mission at every meeting. The result is an enterprise whose corporate culture can consistently generate creative responses to changing client needs.”

Anton said, “Countless organizations of every shape, size, and orientation — not just in the realm of microfinance — are in the business of doing good and working with poor and vulnerable communities around the world to deliver potentially life-changing services to address a range of pressing social needs. Some are doing excellent work, and this book examines what it is that they do that makes the difference. But at the same time, a common theme has emerged in our work over the past 20 years: we see organisations missing opportunities to do things better and organisations getting things wrong, again and again. When surveying the landscape of missed opportunities, there is temptation to become blindsided by the success stories, but we must deliver on the ethical imperative to make good on our good intentions. This book explores the inevitable shortcomings of every success story and how we can learn from those who are ‘doing good’ well.”

The authors of The Business of Doing Good argue that social enterprises and organizations must understand the importance of response, be it to environment, best practices, or client needs and capacities. The Business of Doing Good challenges microfinance practitioners, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, businessmen, and students of all kinds to reevaluate their respective journeys to deliver on their good intentions throughout their work and beyond.


Anton Simanowitz (@antowitz) has worked for the past 20 years to support social enterprises to be more effective in delivering impact, and for those who support and invest in them to make better investment, capacity building and policy decisions. For support on building organizations to deliver impact, contact him here. To receive current updates about The Business of Doing Good, follow the book on Twitter.

Larry Reed is the director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign (@MicroCredSummit). He has worked for more than 25 years in designing, supporting and leading activities and organizations that empower poor people to transform their lives and their communities. For most of that time Reed worked with Opportunity International, including five years as their Africa regional director and eight years as the first CEO of the Opportunity International Network

Susy Cheston is senior advisor for the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) at Accion (@CFI_ACCION) and leads the Financial Inclusion 2020 Campaign. Cheston has a long history of work in economic development, including leading roles at World Vision and Opportunity International, as well as being active in the leadership of the Microenterprise Coalition.


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Looking Back at 2014, the Year of Resilience

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>>By Larry Reed, Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign

Larry visits a CARD group in Tacloban

Larry visits a CARD group in Tacloban whose members are rebuilding with the help of CARD’s quick and appropriate response to the Typhoon Yolanda disaster.

I started 2014 in Tacloban, Philippines, where one of the worst storms of this century, Typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan outside the Philippines), made landfall. I visited Tacloban 75 days after the Typhoon hit to see how the storm affected the lives of microfinance clients, and what role financial services could play in helping them get back on their feet.

In the Central Business District only a few shops had dared to reopen. The dangling power lines and intermittent electricity made regular operations a challenge.

When I traveled to the parts of town where people lived in poverty, I found something much worse. Yolanda struck these low lying areas the hardest, hit them first with her 100 mph winds and then with the storm surge that followed in her wake, uprooting everything that was not permanently attached to the ground and then carrying it out to sea as the waters receded.

Homes and everything in them had been taken away, so people rebuilt with scrap lumber and sheets of plastic. They established homes and businesses again, selling daily necessities from the side of their rebuilt houses.

A mix of charity and financial services played a key role in helping people get back on their feet. Aid organizations employed people to help clean their neighborhoods and the rest of the city, giving them daily cash wages.

Microfinance institutions like CARD and ASKI got back into the city as soon as they could, providing rice and medicines for their clients’ immediate needs, while also paying insurance claims, providing access to savings and issuing emergency rebuilding loans long before any commercial banks restarted operations.

I came away with great admiration for the strength and resilience developed by those that live with constant vulnerability and an appreciation that the role that fast and appropriate financial services, delivered with a human touch, can have in catalyzing that energy to rapidly rebuild destroyed neighborhoods.

In August of this year, I visited another great example of resilience, this one over a decade in the making. Several government ministries in Ethiopia banded together under the leadership of the Prime Minister to design a program that would build resiliency in the land and the people that regularly suffered from drought. International aid organizations united behind this plan that now covers over 5 million people.

With support from the MasterCard Foundation, the Campaign hosted a trip for government ministers and leaders of government anti-poverty programs from Ghana, Mozambique, and Malawi to visit this Productive Safety Net Program (PNSP) in Ethiopia.

Participants of the Innovations in Social Protection project

Participants of the Innovations in Social Protection project on a field visit in Ethiopia.

Under the PNSP, people living in poverty who are not able to work (the elderly, the disabled, and mothers with young children) receive regular cash payments in exchange for maintaining regular health checkups and keeping their children in school.

Those who can work participate in local public works programs decided on by the leadership of each village. These projects can include expanding school facilities and building health clinics; although, most of them involve work that improves the productive capacity of the land.

With technical support from NGOs with highly trained professional on staff, the villagers work together to build dams, retention ponds, irrigation channels and hillside terraces. They receive the payment for their work in accounts set up in local banks or microfinance institutions, which also provide loans to help them expand businesses that profit from the land’s increase productivity.

Those who started the program with the greatest poverty participate in an ultra-poor graduation programs that provides them with an asset transfer, a savings account, business training, mentoring, and access to credit.

We visited at the end of the rainy season, and we could easily see the transformation that the PNSP had brought to the land and its people. We looked down a valley filled with tall green plants, with every hillside terraced and water flowing into dams and ponds that would provide irrigation after the rains stopped. Land that used to struggle to provide one crop now provided two or three crops a year.

Almost a quarter of the people who had started with this public assistance program now no longer needed it. I tried to imagine what it must feel like for the men and women working together on the hillside, digging a retention pond together, to look down the hill and see every part of the valley filled with green plants that would provide food for their animals and income for their livelihoods and to know that, not only were they and their children better off, but their entire community was better off because of the work they had done.

In September, we helped to assemble almost 900 people from 60 different countries in Merida, Mexico, for the 17th Microcredit Summit. As we gathered in the land of the ancient Maya who envisaged a new world coming into being at this time, we imagined a world where all people have access to financial products and services they need to protect against vulnerability and invest in opportunity.

Opening Ceremony - Prof Yunus_453x604

“Poor people didn’t create poverty. It’s the system that created the poverty. And, if we want to end poverty, we have to change the system.”

Muhammad Yunus issued the challenge for the Summit in his opening talk. “Poor people didn’t create poverty. It’s the system that created the poverty,” he told us. “And, if we want to end poverty, we have to change the system.”

During our 5 plenary sessions and 40 workshops, we heard from innovative thinkers and doers who are working to change the system. We discussed ideas and formed partnerships to begin or expand innovative programs that link conditional cash transfers to savings groups; extend agricultural value chains to small scale producers; provide health education, financing, and services in group meetings of microfinance clients; and employ digital technology that delivers payments and other financial services at a fraction of the cost of moving cash.

Together we made Commitments for what we would do to help extend financial services to all and help speed the end of extreme poverty. Then we closed by celebrating the real heroes of this work: the men and women who employ these services in order to earn and save enough to provide for their families and build a better future for their children.

I just completed my last trip of the year to the Inclusive Finance India Summit and saw a different type of resilience on display. Microfinance institutions in India have been devastated by the Andhra Pradesh crisis, where rapid growth in lending led to over-borrowing, client defaults, and a harsh response from the state government that halted collection efforts.

The sector is now growing rapidly again, enough that a few observers are worried that there may be some areas of overheating in the state of Karnataka, where many MFIs have moved.

Almost all the delegates I spoke with expressed excitement about new regulations announced by the Reserve Bank of India, which create a category of Small Finance Bank that can take deposits and make loans. The regulations also create a new category of Payments Bank to allow for institutions that make money from payment transaction, rather than from intermediating savings and credit.

A local community health volunteer trained and supervised by Bandhan, an Indian MFI, meets with members of a local self-help group and their families. (Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson)

A local community health volunteer trained and supervised by Bandhan, an Indian MFI, meets with members of a local self-help group and their families. (Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson)

In a dinner session I had with leaders from MFIs, I heard a lot of discussion about how they might transform their operations under these new regulations to provide a broader ranges of services to their clients. It will be interesting to watch this period of creative destruction that will take place in India as MFIs, mobile phone operators, and banks all adapt to the new regulations. I was glad to hear in our dinner the creativity and passion of many leaders to use these new opportunities to expand the services they provide to those living in poverty.

And now, as the year comes to a close, so does news of another Super Typhoon hitting the Philippines. This time, people knew about the power of storm surges and moved to higher ground before the storm struck, resulting in a much lower loss of life.

But still, thousands of people will go back to where they lived and find their houses and businesses destroyed. The fortunate ones will find an officer of a microfinance institution waiting for them, asking them what they need to get back on their feet.

On behalf of everyone at the Microcredit Summit Campaign, thank you for taking an active role in this global movement to bring appropriate financial services to those who struggle against poverty and vulnerability. It is our great honor and privilege to be working with you as we join with others to help bring an end to extreme poverty in our towns, our countries and our world.

May you be filled this holiday season with joy as you share the love of your family and reflect on the new financial system that we are creating together.

Sincerely,

Larry Reed

Relive the excitement of the 17th Microcredit Summit

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Join us for an E-Workshop on the Graduation Model June 9 at 11 AM (EDT)

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How Can Microfinance Be More Inclusive to Children and Youth? Webinar Recording

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On Wednesday, March 12th in celebration of Global Money Week 2014, we co-hosted with Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) a webinar that explored how microfinance can be more inclusive to children and youth. A small but increasing number of MFIs now offer financial and non-financial services to children and youth. By doing so, they are building the next generation’s capability to save, build assets and, if needed acquire microloans to support their livelihood activities.

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