April 21st Webinar: Is it too late for microfinance to be pro poor?

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You’re invited to an exciting webinar organized by Uplift on April 21st (10 AM EDT / GMT-4): “Is it too late for microfinance to be pro poor? The case for linking microfinance with graduation.”

The Graduation Approach was first developed by BRAC to help address the needs of those who were too poor for microfinance services.

In recent years, shifts in the regulatory environment and disruptive digital inclusion technologies have put pressure on microfinance institutions to go up market and move away from their original pro-poor mission.

Please register by April 19th. The password to register is “MCSEWORKSHOP”.

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The 2015 State of the Campaign Report in a nutshell

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An African farmer is linked into the financial system via her mobile phone.
In his presentation today at the Inclusive Finance India Summit New Delhi, Larry Reed featured Mapping Pathways out of Poverty: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2015. The report is now available online. We will also publish the full report in French, Spanish, and Arabic in early 2016. You can also read previous reports online, just select the year of interest from the drop-down menu “Previous Reports.”

At our 2013 Microcredit Summit in the Philippines, we focused on the partnerships required to deliver financial services to those living in poverty. At our 2014 Summit in Mexico, we focused on innovations in microfinance with a demonstrated capacity to reach those in extreme poverty. This year, we use the report to explore, in more detail, our six financial “pathways.” Each pathways has a chapter, and each chapter does the following:

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Ultra Poor Graduation

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Photo credit: BRAC

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>> 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: Interview with Sir Fazle Abed of BRAC

Photo courtesy of BRAC

Photo courtesy of BRAC

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Pathway

Ultra-poor graduation programs


We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2011. It documents an interview conducted with Sir Fazle Abed, founder and chair of BRAC in Bangladesh.


Interview with Sir Fazle Abed of BRAC

What excites you about microfinance today?

Microfinance is the most exciting thing that has happened to poor people over the last 30 years. We have worked with the poor in a way that honors their dignity, and we have shown that poverty alleviation is not a give-away thing.

What concerns you about microfinance today?

BRAC Chair Fazle Abed to Attend Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit

Sir Fazle Abed, founder and chair of BRAC in Bangladesh

There is a lot of greed coming into microfinance. A lot of people wish to make a lot of money out of it, and that worries me a little bit. I also [understand] the other side of it – when return on investment is high, more money will flow into the sector … I just don’t think that people should make money out of poverty.

I think we still have a long way to go in reaching people, particularly poor people in remote areas, rural areas, and so on. That remains a great challenge.

You came into microfinance as a poverty alleviation tool …

[Yes], we came to microfinance by looking first at integrated rural development, looking at people for their health, education, employment [and] savings. We actually started a savings program before we started giving credit.

I have always felt that poor people have very short time horizons to think about – daily bread, daily needs. They can’t think more than 24 hours at a time. I thought the thing to do was to start savings because that would give a person a longer time frame to think about, not just one day.

What about the randomized control trials (RCTs) that have been done to measure the impact of microfinance? Largely they have shown very limited impact, sort of mixed results, and yet in BRAC you have millions of people coming back for loans year after year. How do you reconcile your experience with the results of these studies?

I understand that RCTs may be scientifically quite good to have, but microfinance works best when you have done it for a number of years. With the first microcredit taken by a woman, she has immediate consumption needs, so she buys those things which she needs most [but] doesn’t show a great deal of improvement in either nutrition or health or welfare. But we found in a longitudinal impact study [from] 1999 to 2005 that you can see significant results in somebody’s income and welfare if somebody has taken three loans and the quantum of the loans is more than US$400.

Does microfinance help a poor person lift herself out of poverty, or is it microfinance combined with other things that does that?

Microfinance has to be combined with other things like health and education. When going into a new area, [get] microfinance … working right and then you can provide education and health care and other things.The unique thing about microfinance is that it creates…capital that can be leveraged to supply other development services. We have eight million women meeting together every week in 300,000 Village Organizations. They know how to invest money, pay it back and save for the future. They know how to work together. Because of their work with us, they now know how to interact with formal institutions. So that forms the base for addressing the other constraints that they [face], and it also provides the scale you need to develop [viable] programs.

That sounds complicated. Shouldn’t a microfinance organization focus on what it does best, financial services, and let others focus on the other needs?

I think that is too limited a way to think about what we do best. The basic spirit of microfinance is to search for possibilities based on knowledge, understanding and perspectives that start at the ground level. We understand our clients and their needs. We know how to select clients, enforce contracts, manage money, develop systems and deploy people and resources on a very large scale. There is no reason why we cannot use those same skills to address the other constraints our clients face.

In BRAC, we saw that many women were stuck in low-return activities. We saw that many were involved in poultry but were not making much money because of diseases, so we trained a person in each Village Organization to do vaccinations, treat basic diseases, and train in proper feed and hygiene. These people get paid for the services they provide to the women who raise chickens. Between the growers, advisers and sellers, they have created almost two million poultry jobs.

We did something similar with basic health care. We trained a person from each Village Organization … to provide basic health information and advice. They each cover 300 households and sell nonprescription medication, bring pregnant mothers in for check-ups and help mothers bring their children in for immunization. We have 80,000 volunteers covering 64 districts and a population of 92 million.

We’ve added other things, too. Economic development for adolescents, training in legal rights, programs for commercial sex workers, primary schools that have trained four million students, and programs aimed at those too poor to make good use of our financial services.

How can someone be too poor for microfinance?

Our Research Division looked at those who dropped out of our program and found that most of them were among the poorest. This group tended to borrow far smaller amounts, do so less frequently and have more problems with repayments. We worked with donors to develop a program that targeted the ultra-poor.

It starts with a ration card for food, plus training in business skills and money management. Over time, we provide them with a small loan and then seek to graduate them to our microfinance program. So far, about three quarters of them have graduated. CGAP did a study on this program and found that the average subsidy per woman was US$135. As more and more of these women graduate into the microfinance program, we hope to recoup these subsidies.

What is BRAC doing with small and medium businesses?

You need to create jobs for poor people [in addition to making] them social entrepreneurs. [For this reason], I asked a group of donors [for] money to start a small and medium enterprise lending program, and this has been very successful in creating new jobs for people. We set up a bank in Bangladesh and it is creating jobs on a fairly large scale, $1.2 billion now for small enterprises.

Are you able to use technology in a way that lowers your costs and helps you get out to more rural areas?

This is my hope. In the next three to five years in Bangladesh, almost everybody, including our poorest clients, will have access to a cell phone. BRAC has already got a license from the Central Bank to set up a mobile cash management system. In other words, all these 30 million Bangladeshi microfinance borrowers will have access to mobile payments, and then we will be able to cut down the costs of delivering financial services to the poorest people in the remotest areas.

Do you think this will create a push to more individual lending, or will the group programs continue?

The group programs will still continue, but face-to-face time with people will diminish a bit and we will have to find another way of meeting them. Right now, 8.2 million people in Bangladesh meet BRAC staff every week. That is too costly. I would rather meet these 8.2 million people once a month and cut down [their] travel. We can collect their money and stay connected to them through cell phones. They will be able to transact business among themselves through their cell phones. I think tremendous efficiency comes out of this, on their side as well as our side.

It sounds like you are looking forward to what comes next.

I just hope I live long enough to see this happen. It is wonderful to see all the changes that are happening and in the right direction. Some people have said that as you grow older you get more and more pessimistic, but I get more optimistic the older I get.

BRAC declares Campaign Commitment to graduate 250,000 households from ultra-poverty

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Summary: The Microcredit Summit Campaign welcomes BRAC as the newest Campaign Commitment member, joining a global coalition to help 100 million families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Read the full Press Release.
BRAC group meeting

Image courtesy of BRAC

BRAC is a development organization founded in Bangladesh in 1972 and has since become one of the largest NGOs in the world in terms of employees and number of clients served, spreading successful poverty alleviating solutions born in the developing world to other countries. In 2002, BRAC launched the Ultra-Poor Graduation Program, which aimed at lifting the ultra poor out of their situation of poverty so that they can access mainstream development services such as microfinance. The program targets extremely deprived women and their households, and maintains BRAC’s holistic approach to development by providing targeted asset grants, skill training and healthcare support. Since 2002, 1.4 million households have already graduated from BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program. With this tremendous success, BRAC plans to continue the spread of this model to reach even more households around the globe.

When asked about the origins of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program, Program Manager Sadna Samaranayake responded,“The extreme poor, living on less than $1.25 a day, are far from homogenous. Among them are households trapped in the direst forms of destitution, who are chronically hungry, lack assets, income, or support from their communities. It was to address the needs of these populations, the ultra-poor at the margins and beyond the reach of microfinance and other development programs, that BRAC pioneered what is now known as the Graduation approach. Even the poorest can “graduate” from ultra-poverty with a set of carefully tailored interventions designed to help achieve increased incomes, food security and better resilience overall. A complement to MFI, NGO and government strategies to reach the ultra-poor, BRAC is committed to advancing knowledge and implementation of the Graduation approach.”

Some key excerpts of BRAC’s Campaign Commitment:

  • In Bangladesh alone, BRAC commits to graduating 250,000 households out of ultra-poverty by the end of 2016.
  • BRAC commits to publishing an in-depth implementation guide in September 2014 to help governments, microfinance institutions and NGOs execute their own ultra-poor graduation programs. Additionally, BRAC commits to providing technical assistance and consultation where requested to governments, NGOs and MFIs looking to implement the graduation approach.
  • BRAC commits to hosting a national conference on the graduation approach in a country where BRAC operates in 2014.
  • BRAC commits to hosting annual Immersion and Training Visits in Bangladesh for interested parties including policy makers, microfinance institutions, multilateral funders, and donors to witness the graduation program in action. During these visits, participants will get an in-depth look at the program, from field staff training ultra-poor women on how to realize a return on their new assets, to the healthcare, savings and social integration elements of the approach.

The next round of these Immersion Training Visits are on the weeks of August 18th and August 25th. Contact Sadna Samaranayake at sadna@bracusa.org to register.

Read the BRAC Commitment Letter.


Join BRAC and State your Campaign Commitment

Join us in the global coalition to help 100 million families lift themselves out of poverty – state your Campaign Commitment at mycommitment@microcreditsummit.org

Need additional guidance in formulating your own Campaign Commitment? Refer to our Commitment Development Toolkit.

Be social with us on Facebook and Twitter (@MicroCredSummit) using the hashtags #Commit100M and #100MGoal

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

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