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> Posted by Sebastian Groh, Project Manager, MicroEnergy International

The Financial Inclusion 2020 project at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently called upon the international community to commit to a new groundbreaking initiative seeking Sustainable Energy for All (SE4A) by the year 2030. At MicroEnergy International (MEI) we have been working towards this goal since 2002 by supporting microfinance institutions (MFIs) in the process of developing and providing “green microloans,” financial products that help clients finance a renewable or efficient energy system for their home or business. Our work is based on the fundamental belief that the relationship between energy inclusion and financial inclusion is a critical impact point that has positive effects on the poverty levels of low-income clients.

Perhaps the linkage isn’t immediately clear, so a few examples will help us explain.

Financial inclusion leads to energy inclusion. Access to finance can lead to energy inclusion simply in terms of affordability and financial means. People who have access to financial services are able to finance their basic energy needs and either pay for grid-supplied electricity or purchase a distributed energy generation system of their own. These systems have a prohibitive initial investment burden that usually cannot be covered by those at the base of the pyramid (BoP). Innovative green credit design allows clients to pay in monthly installments that correspond to their current expenditures on energy appliances and sources as well as potential savings and income generation opportunities. A scheme of that type has paid off for about two million Solar Home System users today in the country of Bangladesh, according to the World Bank’s IDCOL Solar Home Systems Project.

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>Posted by Jeffrey Riecke

A few weeks ago I wrote a post highlighting microfinance as a tool for achieving environmental sustainability and in it I looked at CFI’s now-completed Energy Links project. During its three years of operations, Energy Links explored, and ultimately demonstrated, how MFIs can help to significantly expand the micro-energy industry. With Energy Links finished, I wondered, what is the microfinance community doing now to support sustainable energy?

Not even a day after writing my Energy Links post a colleague introduced me to MicroEnergy Credits (MEC), an organization that is earning large-scale success in supporting MFI clean energy lending. Since it was founded in 2007, MEC estimates that it has helped provide clean energy to over 100,000 households across several countries.

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>Posted by Jeffrey Riecke

As a newcomer to CFI, I can remember my first impression of the name “Center for Financial Inclusion.” Coming from an environmental background, I didn’t think the work of an organization called the Center for Financial Inclusion would have pervasive environmental impacts. I settled with the notion that CFI simply worked to ensure that quality financial services were widely available. In learning more about CFI and microfinance, it hasn’t taken long to discover that environmental sustainability is an aspect of nearly every prong of CFI’s work.

For me, this relationship with the environment is nicely illustrated in the findings of CFI’s publication Microfinance and Energy Poverty: Findings from the Energy Links Project, which was released in September 2011. The publication summarizes the findings of the Energy Links project, a three-year pilot by CFI, financed by USAID’s Microenterprise Development Office and the Wallace Global Fund. In the words of the publication’s authors:

“Energy Links’ aim was to determine how the established microfinance sector in African countries can alleviate energy poverty by increasing access to small-scale clean energy solutions at the household level.”

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> Posted by Holly Padgett

After my latest blog post concerning microfinance and environmental sustainability, I was excited to read about the recent decision by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a US government development finance institution, to support clean energy initiatives around the world.

OPIC’s support came in the form of a $10 million loan to MicroEnergy Credits (MEC).  With the loan, MEC will assist microfinance institutions in providing microloans to individuals for the purchase of clean energy products (e.g. solar lighting).

In a recent blog post, MEC described some of the positive aspects of these clean energy initiatives:

“Individuals who receive microloans to purchase clean energy not only benefit the planet; they benefit from improved health due to reduced indoor air pollution and increased savings from reduced expenditure on traditional fuels.”

MicroEnergy Credits primarily works to connect MFIs with carbon markets to offset initial costs of clean energy microloans.  However, the organization also has a widespread impact on the microfinance industry as a whole. MEC founder and CEO, April Allderdice, recently worked with CFI on the Energy Links project and ‘Microfinance and Energy Poverty’ publication, a report on alleviating energy poverty. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Holly Padgett

As a former student of Environmental Science and a strong advocate for environmental (as well as economic and social) sustainability, I am constantly striving to align my work and experiences with the precepts of sustainable development, defined by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

While I, and probably many others, would argue that microfinance and financial inclusion are undeniably a part of sustainable development, it is often hard to see the direct connection.  For this reason, it is especially exciting when I run across an event or report that directly exemplifies the link.

For example, in the recent climate negotiations at the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference, in Durban, South Africa, several initiatives were agreed upon that support the triple bottom line (economy, society and environment) in developed and developing countries. One major decision that came out of the summit was the establishment of the Green Climate Fund, which will channel money from developed nations to developing and vulnerable communities to assist with clean energy programs and adaptations to climate change and extreme weather events.   Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Donza

Last night I saw a commercial advertising durable work boots that were lined with recycled plastic bottles. That is awesome, I thought, I love when green initiatives are also incredibly innovative.

Then, looking to get the creative, brainstorming juices flowing, I asked my boyfriend, “What else could we do to be more green?”

“You could take shorter showers,” he replied.

Whoa, hold on, that was not exactly the creativity I was hoping for, but a valid point nonetheless. Water is undoubtedly one of the most undervalued and (therefore?) wasted resources on the planet. Imagine how quick my showers would be if the price tag was ticking up like it does at the gas pump. And I applaud the efforts of Watercredit.org in working with microfinance institutions to meet the water and sanitation needs of clients in developing countries by offering WaterCredit loan products and lending models, and more.

Having recently returned from the Foromic in Costa Rica, I felt like there was a real buzz around green microfinance, perhaps influenced by Costa Rica’s goal to be the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. I was excited about a panel that provided more information on Mibanco’s PPP (people, planet, profit) Model in Peru, which emphasizes social, economic, and environmental performance. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

“Microfinance institutions may be able to help distribute and fund the purchase of low-cost sun-powered lamps, according to a report by the Washington-based Center for Financial Inclusion,” write reporters Simon Clark and Lananh Nguyen in a recent Bloomberg article.

“Microfinance and Energy Poverty: Findings from the Energy Links Project”  co-author David Levaï is quoted in the October 10 article, which places the report’s findings in the context of the International Energy Agency’s first-ever estimate of the cost to end energy poverty.

The Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION, USAID and FHI 360 recently released  “Microfinance and Energy Poverty: Findings from the Energy Links Project” to disseminate the results of a three-year field project focused on leveraging microfinance institutions and savings groups in Africa to build a market and distribution channels for affordable solar lighting in rural villages on the continent.

The project, Energy Links, catalyzed and helped build distribution networks to get tens of thousands of low-cost solar-powered LED lanterns to rural populations in Mali, Uganda and Tanzania. In rural and remote areas of Africa, only 20 percent of the population is connected to electricity grids.

For more information, check out “Microfinance and Energy Poverty: Findings from the Energy Links Project” and the project page here.

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CFI Releases Report on Microfinance and Energy Poverty

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Report on Microfinance and Energy Poverty Charts Course for Leveraging Microfinance Infrastructure to Deliver Clean, Cheap Solar Lighting in Rural Africa

Three-year Energy Links pilot project highlights distribution challenges, finds traction through informal savings groups, NGOs and microfinance institutions

Washington, DC (Oct. 4, 2011) — The Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION, USAID and FHI 360 have just released a Field Report on Microfinance and Energy Poverty, reporting the results of a three-year field project focused on leveraging microfinance institutions and savings groups in Africa to build a market and distribution channels for affordable solar lighting in rural villages on the continent.

The project, Energy Links, catalyzed and helped build distribution networks to get tens of thousands of low-cost solar-powered LED lanterns to rural populations in Mali, Uganda and Tanzania. In rural and remote areas of Africa, only 20 percent of the population is connected to electricity grids.

As the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Energy for All (2012) approaches, the building of a sustainable supply chain and marketing channel for solar home lanterns stands as an important marker on the challenging path to building an industry from the ground up. The Energy Links project demonstrated that while building a market for sustainable energy products that improve lives and increase productivity requires patient capital and painstaking work, it can be done. The report provides a business case and how-to for microfinance institutions (MFIs) to forge distribution channels and financing mechanisms for clean home energy solutions. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Tanzania, India, Mexico, and beyond – ACCION International’s Ambassadors are in the thick of it, jotting down notes about the industry as they observe events on the ground. We’re following these volunteers’ reports via their dedicated blog. We’ll be keeping you in the loop with occasional cross-posts.

While there are too many good posts already to showcase them all, Jason Loughnane‘s look at microfinance and access to electricity in Tanzania stands out to us. Perhaps that’ s because his post on Akiba’s new loans sheds light on a program that bears a passing resemblance to Energy Links.

Loughnane’s June 6 post introduces the story as follows:

Only 14 percent of Tanzanians have electricity in their homes. Akiba thinks that is unacceptable, and has designed a way to help.

On Friday I attended the official launch of Akiba’s Umeme (Electricity) Loan, which seeks to help expand the accessibility of power to Tanzania’s poor. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

A snippet of news we came across recently draws an intriguing line between Matt Damon, microfinance, and access to safe drinking water in Africa.

Reeta Roy, the president and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, penned the post for the foundation’s blog many weeks ago. But the story’s still fresh: an organization called Water.org is powering a “market-driven and sustainable approach [that] facilitates the collaboration between microfinance institutions and NGOs in order to provide financial products to communities living in poverty so they can access clean water and sanitation.”

“About 60 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to clean water, and 30 percent to sanitation,” writes Roy. “Annually, this gap results in 800,000 deaths due to diarrheal diseases, 88 million missed days of school, and $20 million in lost time collecting water. Sub-Saharan Africa loses nearly 5 percent of its GDP each year due to the water crisis — the value of which exceeds all foreign assistance in the region.”

The poor in many developing countries, notes Roy, pay 12-15 times more for access to clean water than their higher-income neighbors in the same city.

Despite this clear existence of market demand, there have not been sustainable ways to finance basic water needs until Water.org introduced WaterCredit in South Asia. 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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