Training the next generation of leaders in microfinance

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"Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders" plenary
We feature an interview with Glynis Rankin, CEO of Creative Metier in the UK, in Mapping Pathways out of Poverty: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2015. Rankin and her team work to ensure that the financial inclusion industry possesses the leadership and capacity to ensure long-term success. In this interview, Rankin describes a study of industry leaders to understand their perspectives on leadership qualities that Creative Metier undertook in preparation for the 17th Microcredit Summit in Mexico last year. (Registration for the 18th Microcredit Summit is now open!)

Cultivating the next generation of leadership is an important consideration for the microfinance and financial inclusion sector. We have an important role to play in achieving universal financial access by 2020 and ending extreme poverty by 2030.

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Getting the ultra-poor on the “economy train”

BRAC group meeting

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

Related reading

Six learning opportunities for the “Six Pathways”

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

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

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

The Six Pathways

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

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

Infographic: Kenya's journey to digital financial inclusion

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

2) Ultra-poor graduation programs

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of the Carsey School of Public Policy

Photo courtesy of the Carsey School of Public Policy

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

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

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

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

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

The lock box of a savings group in Africa

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

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

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

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

Relevant resources