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> Posted by Debashis Sarker, Senior Manager, BRAC Microfinance Program, Bangladesh


Microfinance institutions in Bangladesh have more than 30 years of glorious experience of serving poor people with the twofold objectives of women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation. The proven microfinance lending model has been replicated in many developing countries, and more people in Bangladesh have become financially included over time. But what about financial inclusion of a most vulnerable group, persons with disabilities (PWD)?

People with disabilities simply did not get access to the leading lending sources in Bangladesh because of discrimination and accessibility barriers. Regular discrimination, taking the forms of negative attitudes, social exclusion, lack of economic opportunities, and unpaid or underpaid work, has long been an integral part of the lives of PWD. Extremely poor disabled people in rural Bangladesh mostly work in the informal sector with minimum wage rates, reflecting severe discrimination in the workplace. Family members often see them as burden. They may be turned down when trying to rent houses in urban areas. People with disabilities, especially women, are disadvantaged when it comes to education, employment, and even marriage. They may be left out of decision-making and participation in social occasions. In fact, many Bangladeshi people see disability as a curse and cause of shame to the family, and at the national level, Bangladesh has not yet passed an anti-discrimination law.

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With under 40 days to go, the 17th Microcredit Summit is rapidly approaching. CFI’s Josh Goldstein will be speaking during a plenary session focused on new innovations for microfinance and other financial inclusion interventions to more effectively reach the excluded. With the theme “Generation Next: Innovations in Microfinance,” this should be a great opportunity to explore what is on the horizon to achieve full financial inclusion. In this post, Josh discusses industry context surrounding the Summit, and what he hopes he and those in attendance will be able to take away from the event.

I am a sometime skeptic about the proliferation of microfinance conferences, but the upcoming Microcredit Summit in Merida, Mexico seems particularly important and timely. Personally, I am very excited about it. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I will be a speaker, and of course piqued vanity can certainly lead to bias, but I don’t suspect this is the case here.)

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI


Last week my colleague Sonja Kelly and Bancomer’s Ruben Marquez highlighted the importance of the cultural contexts of words that are used in financial services (e.g. the impact of using the word for saving instead of keeping in Mexico). This got me thinking about the consequences of the words we use as names for social groups, and where these names originate.

There is a consensus among disabled people in the English-speaking world today that person with disability is the preferred term when describing a member of their community and how they would like the non-disabled to refer to them. A couple of decades ago disabled person was preferred – for example, 1983-1992 was the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

This is not a pedantic fuss over nothing, as it might at first blush seem. It goes right to the heart of establishing a positive identity for a downtrodden minority. The proper term is currently being worked out in Hindi – and perhaps in many other languages around the world – where persons with disabilities are just now insisting on their rights to full participation in civil society.

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> Posted by Siddhartha Chowdri, Program Manager, Disability Inclusion, India, CFI

How does the microfinance community view persons with disabilities (PWD)? This economically disenfranchised population makes up less than one percent of microfinance clients around the world, leaving the vast majority of PWD excluded. Many PWD would benefit from financial services. Yet even the most intense Google, Bing, or Yahoo search will yield almost no in-depth research into how persons with disabilities are perceived among the leaders and staff of microfinance institutions (MFIs). For my focus country of India, no research at all is related to this topic. We hope that a new CFI paper authored by Vipin Gupta of Credit Suisse, Making Microfinance Accessible to Persons with Disabilities: Awareness and Attitudes Among Indian Microfinance Institutions, will be the starting point for more research and action in this area.

Annapurna Staff Members and v-shesh Researcher with Focus Group Discussion Participants, Odisha

Over the last two years CFI has been working with three leading Indian MFIs – Equitas, ESAF, and Annapurna – to refine and develop tools that institutions across the world can use to make themselves more accessible to PWD. CFI also partnered with v-shesh, an India-based social enterprise with expertise in disability inclusion. At the start of this work, CFI and v-shesh decided to conduct research on the existing environments at these MFIs. The purpose of this research was two-fold:

  1. Learn which areas related to disability inclusion should be emphasized during the planned trainings and accessibility audits.
  2. Establish a baseline understanding of the existing views of disability inclusion at the MFIs for subsequent monitoring of changes.

Last November, the v-shesh team surveyed hundreds of MFI staff at all levels as well as MFI clients – both with disabilities and without. They also conducted intensive focus group discussions to gather additional qualitative information to prepare for the trainings.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

There is unfortunately no reliable substitute for family support when it comes to helping a person succeed with their schooling, with their disability, or with their microfinance loan.

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times recently asked educators in Shanghai what made Chinese schools successful, compared to schools in the United States. The unequivocal answer was that while improved teacher training that the U.S. emphasizes was of course important, far and away the key to student achievement was intensive parental involvement; Chinese schools spend time and resources insuring that parents are trained in how to help their children learn.

A heretical Mr. Provocative agrees with conservatives that throwing billions into the latest education reform fad will have extremely limited success as long as family support is anemic or absent. (This is not to say that reformers don’t routinely ask parents to take more responsibility but clearly such a nudge is not enough.) “It’s the parents, stupid,” or, “It’s the family, stupid.”

We have to point at the family as the prime mover even when this is hurtful and it causes “guilt and shame.” Nothing wrong with pricking the conscience. This is a “theory of change” that is millennia old and has long had some success for most religions—in a positive way. But public policy cognoscenti shun the language of judgment and conscience. In not asking more of families are we not party to what George W. Bush called “the bigotry of low expectations?”

My “it’s the family, stupid” sentiment has been reinforced by listening to a recent Ted Talk by Stanford graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Rachel Kolb, who was born profoundly deaf.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

Age Invaders” is the cover story of a recent issue of The Economist. Today, 8 percent of the global population is over 65. This figure will increase dramatically in the coming years and, with low and declining birth rates in many developed and developing countries, respectively, it is projected that by 2050 the global population 65 years and older will be 2.5 times that of 0 to 4 year olds. This is an exact reversal of the situation in 1950 and is a proportionality unseen since the hominids began to walk upright.

All human institutions will be affected by the greying demographic, but I would like to narrow my scope to just one area: the implications for providing financial services to those customers who fall prey to age-related cognitive decline.

Dr. Jerome Groopman, in the May 22 edition of The New York Review of Books, reports on an important new study of persons who reached 65 without any signs of dementia. He indicates that for these individuals, the chance of their developing Alzheimer’s disease over their ensuing 10 years is more than 35 percent. Groopman describes, “This sobering statistic translates into a cascade of symptoms by the persons struck down by the disease, beginning with short-term problems, and then gradually long-term memory, in conjunction with difficulties in cognition including confusion, disorientation, and poor emotional control.”

Families everywhere are trying to cope with a loved one who is experiencing some kind of life altering dementia resulting from Alzheimer’s or from another cause – perhaps a multitude of silent micro-infarctions (tiny undetected strokes).

Families like mine.

My mother still manages to live on her own with almost no support. She usually bristles when we suggest help.   She does her own housekeeping, volunteers at a hospital, and takes a mile walk everyday—an enviably spry 87.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

I spent the first two hours of the conference in a speed dating exercise called First Connections, where delegates had five minutes to give each other their elevator pitches before moving chairs to meet the next delegate. I recognize that common perceptions of this sort of activity perceive it as always awkward and often a waste of time. In this case, however, my speed dating was at the annual Skoll World Forum, and its value was indicative of the diverse connections needed to solve the complex challenges of my work on disability inclusion, and of those attending the Forum.

The Skoll World Forum, held in Oxford, England, brings together social entrepreneurs, as well as funders, politicians, media, and others who, in Founder Jeff Skoll’s words, are committed to “solving the world’s most pressing problems.” I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the 11th annual Forum, based on my contribution to a global civil rights struggle to end discrimination against persons with disabilities. My scope of work within this ambitious movement has been developing a set of tools and trainings with my colleagues at the Center for Financial Inclusion to make microfinance institutions and other financial service providers disability inclusive. Along with facilitating the industry’s integration of these tools and trainings, we’re working with in-country stakeholders to develop disability inclusion plans in Ecuador, India, Paraguay, and elsewhere. But achieving disability inclusion in financial services requires more than financial services providers. It also requires the involvement of technology providers, telcos, government officials, educators, community groups, and other actors.

Over 1,000 people from 60 countries gathered to share their ideas and innovations at Skoll. The hope of event organizers is that such a high-level convening of disparate leaders will produce new collaborations and lead to new innovations. And when I say disparate, I mean disparate. I crossed paths with Eli Williamson, Co-Founder of Leave No Veteran Behind, an organization providing educational and employment assistance to veterans facing hardship, as well as Chris Underhill, MBE, Founder of the global mental health organization Basic Needs, and Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, which combats child marriage.

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> Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Consultant, CFI

The Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bankers (G20) is targeting financial inclusion through the G20 Development Working Group (DWG), which is in the process of finalizing an agenda for its 2014 goals. The DWG focuses on developing an agenda for tackling development challenges, with the intent to remove constraints to sustainable growth and poverty alleviation. Recently, through our participation in InterAction’s G20/G8 Advocacy Alliance, CFI teamed up with other non-profits in the financial inclusion community to develop a set of recommendations for G20 leaders. While the Alliance and DWG span a diverse range of issues, our focus was, of course, on financial inclusion.

Our recommendations to the G20 were developed in coordination with CARE International UK, the Grameen Foundation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, HelpAge USA, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, among others. They urge governments to implement national strategies for financial capability and client protection, ensuring that these strategies and targets address a full suite of financial services and include underserved groups. You can read the full set of recommendations and contributing organizations here.

Last week we had the opportunity to discuss our recommendations with senior leadership from the Australian G20 presidency. As you may know, the G20 Presidency rotates each year, and this is Australia’s year. Each presidency takes a lead in setting the agenda and priorities, which are then discussed and (ideally) implemented by all G20 members.

The G20 Australian presidency issued a global development agenda, which was supported by the DWG. It highlighted two major outcomes for 2014 related to financial inclusion and remittances. We were happy to see an expressed desire to move beyond a focus on cost reduction for remittances, where there has been a great deal of progress, to maximizing the potential of remittances to increase financial inclusion.

During the meeting, our financial inclusion team brought three key points to the conversation: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Siddhartha Chowdri, Program Manager, Disability Inclusion, India, CFI

While attending the recent Techshare disability inclusion conference in New Delhi I was invited to attend a “High-Level Meeting on Inclusive Financial Service.” This meeting aimed at starting an intensive national dialogue on the use of technology in making banks in India more accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). This unique summit was organized by G3ICTthe Indian Banks’ Association (IBA)Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility division, and the Centre for Internet and Society in Mumbai.

Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Chairman of G3ICT, Mohan Tanksale, Chief Executive of IBA, Sam Taraporevala, Director of XRCVC

Through the course of the afternoon many dignitaries shared their views and strategies on financial inclusion for PWDs. Senior leaders of the IBA (Mr. Mohan Tanksale) and the Reserve Bank of India (Ms. Sadana Verma and Mr. KC Anand) discussed the advances in regulation that have made banking more accessible to the blind and were extremely passionate about making the case to all financial institutions in the country that there is a legitimate business case for using available technologies to become more accessible.

After hearing the perspective of the banks and regulators the discussion turned to the technology providers. Mr. Nagesh Nayak of NCR gave us all a great lesson on how not to be accessible. NCR had the mandate to develop talking ATMs to enable visually impaired persons to access their accounts. He showed us a video that let us understand how the first talking ATMs did not actually improve access. For example, the ATM would ask the blind user to choose an option but then not say the options out loud. Then Mr. P. Ramachandran who flew in from IBM’s research headquarters in Austin, Texas explained how IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility group is using technology to empower employees with various disabilities to make significant contributions to their business. If the likes of NCR and IBM can be so proactive in promoting accessibility and provide tools and case studies, then hopefully the financial service providers of the world will not be too far behind.

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> Posted by Pina D’Intino, Senior Manager, Scotiabank

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign 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.”

This post is the second in a series of two posts from Pina on financial inclusion for persons with disabilities. Pina’s first post can be found here.

A study by the Martin Prosperity Institute in Canada estimates the buying power influenced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) is in excess of $US 26 billion in Canada. The same market is estimated to exceed $1 trillion in the United States by 2021. It is clear that PWDs represent a significant market in North America, but I believe they hold similar if not equal potential around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of the world’s population, over 1 billion people worldwide, live with a disability. This number is largely concentrated in developing economies, and is projected to increase considerably as the global population ages – a trend that has been highlighted in CFI’s demographic research. Engaging PWDs is essential when developing policies, standards, or products, or when selecting technologies for providing access to financial services. Otherwise, we risk excluding a population that can be viable consumers of financial products. Most importantly, culture needs to be shifted to embrace and recognize that PWDs have the ability to positively impact economic prosperity and that, along with the rest of society, must have equal access to education, employment, and financial independence.

How can financial services providers make a difference? It’s not rocket science. From including PWDs in the development of products and services, to the selection of technologies that are accessible to PWDs, financial services providers have a diversity of options for taking action and resources for understanding how to do so.

Engaging PWDs in Product Development

Financial services providers would not develop a product without getting input from their consumers. So why not include PWDs in the research conducted for product development or improvement? In Britain, Lloyds Banking Group convened a cross financial services sector focus group comprised of over 25 customer facing organizations and industry/regulatory bodies to discuss how to better respond to the needs of their customers suffering from dementia. After surveying caretakers and consumers, the consensus of the focus group, which included Business Disability Forum Partners: Allianz; Barclays; RBS; Santander; and Members: Aviva; HSBC; Legal and General; and Zurich, resulted in the creation of a charter on dementia-friendly financial services. This charter is intended to help financial services institutions recognize, understand, and respond to the needs of customers living with dementia and their caretakers and is an example of an institution that identified an obstacle in access by current and potential clients, conducted research within that client segment, and found a way to address it.

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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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