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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features posts highlighting findings from new research on the global mobile money industry and on remittances in Africa and Asia, as well as a post on how innovation can encourage savings at the base of the pyramid.

A new post on GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked Blog shares preliminary findings from the MMU 2013 Global Mobile Money Adoption Survey. The Adoption Survey, which offers insights on the development of mobile money services and how they’re enabling the expansion of financial inclusion, will be published at the 2014 GSMA Mobile World Congress, February 24-27 in Barcelona. These preliminary findings included a few industry milestones. A few weeks ago the global industry surpassed 200 mobile money service deployments to total 208 services spread across 83 developing countries. Mobile money services are become a mainstay among mobile network operators, rather than a differentiator. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, mobile money is available in 36 out of the 47 countries in the region.

In Africa and Asia, domestic remittances may far surpass international remittances in both frequency and magnitude, two recent joint-reports from the Gates Foundation and Gallup found. That’s the subject of a new post on the Financial Access Initiative Blog, which details the reports’ key results and provides a brief overview of domestic remittances, internal migration, and how they relate. The reports revealed that across the 11 surveyed countries, 14 percent of people had sent money to family or friends within the country within the previous 30 days, and that 32 percent of these respondents had been on the receiving end of such a money transfer. In contrast, one to two percent of people reported sending an international remittance, and about three percent reported receiving an international remittance, in the previous 30 days.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features a post that offers a fresh framework for examining savings groups, a post that synthesizes recent research on payments in South Asia, and a post on the relative effectiveness of aid approaches.

Steering the conversation on savings groups towards foundational concerns, or at least towards more interesting matters than the oft-trodden territory of model and methodology specifics (e.g. passbooks versus ledgers), Paul Rippey in a new Savings Revolution blog post offers six questions for potential consideration. Here’s a portion of one of the questions: “How big is the gap within the program between what is said and written, and what is done? Said another way, the casual disrespect and bending of procedures makes management incredibly difficult and inefficient.”

In South Asia, domestic remittances are conducted much more than international remittances, and they’re carried out mostly in cash through informal channels. These are two of the big findings from a recent Gates Foundation survey, highlighted by Jake Kendall in a new Next Billion blog post. The post provides a brief overview of the importance of digital payment options for the poor and shares the big findings from the Gates survey, which interviewed individuals in South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) and Indonesia on their experience with payments. Another key finding from the survey, demonstrating a big potential market for digital payments, was that the majority of those interviewed – who represent the majority of a population of 1.9 billion adults – reported having sent, brought, or received a domestic or international remittance in the past 12 months.

What’s better?: an organization giving money to the poor with no strings attached, or an organization giving the poor productive assets which require higher expenditures that hinder the organization’s scope? That’s one of the big questions presented in a new post, “Cash or Cows?“, on the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) blog. It’s a question getting a lot of attention recently thanks to the increasingly talked-about organization GiveDirectly that gives money directly to the poor in Kenya, with no associated conditions, via M-PESA mobile money transfers. To put this approach to the test, GiveDirectly agreed to allow IPA to conduct a public evaluation (which is currently underway) of the effectiveness of their work. In addition to exploring this question, the post takes an additional half-step of comparing the net impact of conditional and unconditional cash transfers, drawing on IPA research.

Image credit: Ianf

> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features three posts that each bring attention to a type of financial service: cash transfers both unconditional and conditional, mobile money, and gold savings and loans in India.

  • In “The Life and Death of Cash”, a new post on the Financial Access Initiative Blog, Timothy Ogden discusses recent developments in the area of cash transfer programs. After offering an introductory overview on common perceptions of physical cash in the development and financial inclusion contexts, Ogden contends that the advent in recent years of conditional cash transfer programs as well as program evaluations have increased support for cash transfers on the whole. The post cites two recently published cash transfer studies, and includes a Q&A with Chris Blattman, who is an author on both.
  • “I believe in the inevitability of mobile money, but I don’t believe we’re getting there very fast,” Ignacio Mas states in a recent CGAP Blog post. In this post on mobile money and why its successes are disappointingly slow and isolated, Ignacio tables the limitedly optimistic popular mobile money dialogue to examine barriers to industry growth, on both the demand and supply sides. Among the points made, Ignacio posits that mobile money programs don’t fit within telcos’ long-established decision models, that the services run counter to banks’ traditional attitudes and approaches to client touch-points, and that users largely do not see their mobiles as a store of value or as an expense management tool, but just as one payment instrument. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of Top Picks features three posts that each highlight an initiative with the potential to further inform financial inclusion efforts. These initiatives include an entrepreneurial assistance program for women in post-war Uganda, a project that explored the effectiveness of microfinance providers offering health services, and an interactive workshop on impact evaluation.

  • What’s the best way to help the poor in the aftermath of war? A new post on the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) blog highlights the recent release of findings from a program that provided entrepreneurial assistance – business training, start-up money, ongoing support and monitoring – to women in northern Uganda. The assistance led to increases in business activity and decreases in poverty, but did not have an effect on non-economic areas, such as physical and mental health. The program was conducted by IPA, Italian NGO AVSI Uganda, and Chris Blattman of Columbia University.
  • In his latest post on The Evidence Project, Chris Dunford shares the results of Freedom from Hunger’s Microfinance and Health Protection (MAHP) initiative, which sought to test the feasibility and impact of offering microfinance clients health education, as well as access to health services and products. Five large-scale microfinance providers participated in the initiative, developing health protection packages for their clients. The results from the initiative support a case for the effectiveness of integrating microfinance and health services.
  • Re-Evaluating Impact Evaluation, a new Next Billion post from Hui Wen Chan of the Citi Foundation, revisits a recent impact evaluation workshop and shares some of the key discussion points from the event. Arguably the most salient of these being think beyond the financial, consider both the economic and non-economic impacts of your products or services. Another key point shared in the post is the integrity of data depends both on the questions asked and the manner in which they are asked. The workshop was provided by the William Davidson Institute (WDI) and hosted by the Citi Foundation in New York City.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Financial inclusion efforts often emerge in places you wouldn’t expect. For this edition of Top Picks, we spotlight a few of these unsuspecting areas – financial services to support farmer migration, early stage impact investing – and share research on one of  the inclusion community’s hottest topics: mobile money.

  • Subsistence farmers in regions with long off-seasons face an essential question: Do you stay put and stretch incomes to withstand unproductive periods, or do you migrate during off-seasons to find temporary labor? A new post on the Financial Access Initiative (FAI) Blog highlights recent research from the Centre for Economic Policy Research on the potential for financial services to help farmers overcome the risks associated with migrating and attain supplemented incomes. The researchers found that offering a conditional cash or credit incentive for farmers to migrate nearly doubled their likelihood of migration, and that a large portion of these migraters continued doing so after the incentive was removed. Many of the surveyed reported forming relationships with their temporary employers and returning to work for them in subsequent off-seasons.
  • The perception that there is a lack of investable opportunities is hampering the growth of the impact investing industry, according to Paul Breloff in a new Next Billion post. Managing Director of Accion Venture Lab, Breloff brings attention to recent reports from JP Morgan and Village Capital revealing this sentiment, and shares the investing approach of Venture Lab, which has yielded a strong pipeline of investable companies. Venture Lab’s three-prong strategy is invest earlier, tolerate more uncertainty, and concentrate on big-picture priorities over returns. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

With so much activity in the financial inclusion sphere these days, Top Picks had plenty of great blogs to consider sharing this week. Three posts stood out to us though, covering the areas of adolescent empowerment, new biometric identification technology research, and electronic government-to-person (G2P) payments.

  • Adolescent women in Uganda are improving their economic situation and are living healthier lives, thanks to BRAC Uganda’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents ELA Program. A new post on the Kiva blog shares the results from an independent impact study revealing that the ELA program is attaining significant success. The program results in a 35 percent increase in likelihood that an adolescent girl would be engaged in an income-generating activity, a 13 percent increase in condom use among sexually active participants, and an 83 percent decrease in participants’ reports of having sex unwillingly. Over 40,000 women have been reached by the program. Kiva offers loans to program participants. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Top Picks is back from a long hiatus with posts on incorporating behavioral economics into financial service design, the potential for academic research in financial inclusion efforts, and the importance of quality data.

  • A new post on Next Billion from Jake Kendall of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers insight into how behavioral economics can be used to improve money management. The post shares work from Ignacio Mas and Colin Meyer on building optimum mobile user-interfaces, includes a study on the effectiveness of basic finance heuristics over formal accounting training, and explores the potential of algorithms that interpret clients’ unique behaviors to better guide them towards financial goals. Read the rest of this entry »

>Posted by Center Staff

There is great concern in the microfinance world and beyond regarding government efforts to take over Grameen Bank. Todd Bernhardt, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Grameen Foundation, has written a thorough and thoughtful summary of the latest developments as part of the Grameen Foundation blog. The post begins:

As you might have read in the news this week, the Bangladeshi government seems to be moving into the end game in its longtime effort to take over Grameen Bank, a move that has been widely criticized within Bangladesh and around the world.  To briefly summarize, the cabinet – presided over by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina – voted on Thursday to amend the Grameen Bank Ordinance of 1983, effectively removing the Board of Directors’ right to choose the Bank’s Managing Director, and vesting that power instead in the Board’s government-appointed (and aligned) chairman…

To continue reading the rest of  the article on the Grameen Foundation blog, please click here.

Image credit: banglanews24.com

Have you read?

U.S. Women Senators Unite in Support of the Women of Grameen Bank

Microfinance in Bangladesh: It’s Not What You Thought

>Posted by Sergio Guzman

Today, we link to Accion Ambassador Juan Rubio’s post describing a social rating by Planet Rating at El Comercio in Paraguay.

Juan starts out with an interesting question–is measuring social performance similar to measuring love?  How can it be quantified? Indeed, social performance can be an abstract concept and at times it seems a bit difficult to measure. However, there are Social Performance Standards have been specially designed in order to give us a better idea how MFIs are working not only towards the idea of improving clients life, but also making sure that their products are not making them any worse off.

Now, with some markets showing signs of saturation, managing social performance goals might be secondary for some bottom line focused institutions who might want to focus on their core business. Notwithstanding, this has proven to be a differentiating factor for many microfinance institutions like El Comercio who see this as a strategic objective. Or as we call it, Smart Microfinance.

Read the rest of Juan’s excellent post here and further stories from the field through the Accion Ambassadors blog.

Image credit:pastorgraphics.com

Have you read?

The Universal Standards have been finalized!…What’s next?

Data with a Purpose: A Call for Creativity and Cooperation

Posted by Center Staff

Last week, New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof spotlighted Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and their power to give clients hope. He cites the story of one woman, Biti Rose, who gets a loan of $2 and starts selling doughnuts for 2 cents each. She makes a few dollars in profit each day and eventually begins to improve her life. Kristof admits that her story is not everyone’s. He does offer a nuanced picture of Biti’s story, however, using Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics, positing that microfinance works because it offers the hope that people need to get themselves out of self-destructive pathologies.

The post begins: 

If you want to understand some of the best new ideas to chip away at global poverty, an excellent place to start is the Nasoni family hut here in the southern African nation of Malawi. Read the rest of this entry »

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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