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> Posted by Kettianne Cadet, Program Coordinator, CFI
It’s been a few weeks now since our return from Cape Town and the kick-off seminar of the inaugural Africa Board Fellowship, a six-month program launched this year to foster peer-to-peer learning and exchange on governance practices among board members and CEOs at financial institutions serving low-income clients in sub-Saharan Africa. The fellowship begins and ends with multi-day in-person seminars and between seminars fellows are connected through a virtual collaboration space that includes discussion forums and dialogues.
In early June, CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance (IIF) team and the fellowship’s seasoned faculty, advisors, subject experts, and inaugural class of fellows all came together in South Africa for the in-person kick-off seminar. This first seminar was very well received by both fellows and staff and here are some of the reasons I believe it went well.
Participant Diversity: The first cohort of fellows connects 30 board members and CEOs from 13 institutions throughout 11 countries, all with diverse backgrounds and experience. Each participating institution is required to send their CEO along with one or two board members. Having this mix of participants throughout the seminar led to numerous engaged, candid, and rich discussions about roles, board dynamics, and responsibilities. Had we only brought together one fellow from each institution, these conversations would have been far more one dimensional.
Structured Accountability: Having both CEOs and board members present supports accountability within each institution – to participate in each session and to take action afterwards. If only one member from each institution attended, would they be able to transfer their takeaways to their organization or actually implement any of the lessons learned? Additionally, given that the fellows either came from a different geographical location, offered differing products, or perhaps targeted a different niche market, it seemed that everyone got enormous value from their exchanges with one another.
> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI
There is nothing like a corruption scandal to highlight the importance of good governance. FIFA, the governing body of world football, is currently in the midst of such a scandal which has indicted 14 people, so far, for an alleged scheme involving more than $150 million in kickbacks and bribes, forcing the resignation of long-time FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. FIFA has a unique governing structure. Its supreme legislative body is a congress of 209 members, each with one vote, and there are more than 27 committees and judicial bodies. However, regardless of the structure itself, FIFA’s recent corruption scandal and change of leadership still very much highlight important governance principles applicable for other organizations, including financial inclusion institutions, to take into account.
The old adage that “power corrupts” is especially true when leaders who lack integrity are left essentially unchecked over an extended period. As a recent Forbes article on FIFA observes, “Over the years, leaders who lack integrity gradually take control of the various levers of power, they surround themselves with acolytes, and they reduce the strength of the mechanisms designed to hold them in check.”
> Posted by Bruce MacDonald, Senior Vice President, Communications, Accion
My first love was Susan Morasky, but my second – and far more enduring – has been Africa. For that I credit Mrs. Walden, my third-grade teacher, who encouraged us to think big.
Sadly, even the loves of your life can let you down. In Nairobi last week to promote the Africa Board Fellowship, our new program on governance for sub-Saharan MFIs, all went well. Until, that is, I tried to go home. A 20-minute taxi ride to the airport became an hour, then two, then four.
I missed the KLM flight to Amsterdam, and of course the connecting flight home. As I sat in the cab, fuming in First-World frustration, I peppered the driver with questions. “What’s the cause of this?” Rain. “Can’t you go another way?” This is the only way. “Where are all the policemen directing traffic?” Incoherent response. And, finally, snippily, “How on earth do you people put up with this?” Obviously embarrassed, he finally stopped answering my questions.
Everything’s relative, especially in Africa – something I should have remembered, given the banking and finance conference I’d just come from, and the presentation by Amish Gupta, head of investment banking at Standard Investment Bank in Nairobi.
> Posted by Alison Slack, Associate, CFI
As CEO of the South Sudan Microfinance Development Facility, Elijah Chol is tasked with helping develop the financial inclusion sector in his fledgling country. Elijah is a member of the inaugural class of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program, who begin their six-month fellowship in June in Cape Town, South Africa. We recently sat down with Elijah to learn more about his work in microfinance, and the governance challenges he faces.
South Sudan is a country striving to emerge from decades of crises on many fronts. “Post-conflict countries like ours have unique problems,” says Elijah. “One of the most pressing issues for us is that of education, especially in the villages and rural areas.” Because the education situation is so desperate, it is difficult to find board members with the skills necessary to effectively guide institutions.
> Posted by Center Staff
In two weeks the first class of the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program will kick-off the fellowship in Cape Town, South Africa. The convening seminar marks the start of the inaugural fellowship, a six-month program aimed at strengthening the governance expertise of microfinance leaders in sub-Saharan Africa. The first class is composed of 31 board members and CEOs, coming from 13 institutions throughout 12 countries in Africa. Given the diversity of backgrounds and experience these fellows bring, in addition to our seasoned faculty, advisors, and subject expert staff, we are confident that the opportunities for peer learning and exchange will be plentiful in Cape Town, and throughout the fellowship. The profiles of our inaugural class of fellows are now available on the ABF website. Please join us in welcoming these fellows to the program!
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
Since 1992, when Accion created BancoSol in Bolivia, the first private commercial bank dedicated to microfinance, Accion’s aim has been to create a financially inclusive world, primarily through building financial institutions that serve the base of the pyramid. Accion has contributed to the birth, growth, or strengthening of 66 microfinance institutions in 34 countries, which together serve millions of clients with a broad array of financial services.
Through the years, Accion has gradually evolved its own unique microfinance institution partnership model. I recently spoke with Michael Schlein, Accion’s president and CEO, Esteban Altschul, chief operating officer, and John Fischer, chief investment officer. I asked them how and why Accion’s model for working with microfinance partners has taken its current form, and what has been learned along the way.
Michael Schlein said that the starting premise for Accion’s model was, “the recognition that charity – though very important – is insufficient to the task of building a financially inclusive world. You have to tap the capital markets.” As a non-profit organization originating in the international development arena, this premise set Accion onto a path that was “disruptive” in the 1990s, though it is widely adapted today in the impact investing movement.
The model assembles private investors around the common purpose to build a healthy and profitable financial institution that can grow and provide services over time. To succeed for investors, it must produce adequate financial returns and an exit path so the returns can be realized. To succeed for Accion’s mission it must result in quality financial services for people who would otherwise be excluded. Accion also looks for a demonstration effect. When business success inspires others to enter the market and thus creates an industry, that’s how Accion’s broader vision advances.
What has now crystalized is a model of partnership in which a web of incentives meets the needs of each organization involved, aligns all the players behind the mission, and elicits strong performance from each partner – including Accion itself.
Here’s how it operates.
> Posted by Amitabh Brar and Paul DiLeo, Investment Manager and President, Grassroots Capital Management
Performance data on private equity funds is not easy to collect, and privately-held microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) are no exception. Much less is known about the investment process within these MIVs, and how the three main elements of their governance — board, investment committee, and fund manager — interact to create value within these funds. A new Calmeadow study written by Grassroots Capital Management shines light on the elusive subject of governance inside a pioneer equity fund, AfriCap. The study, sponsored by a group of AfriCap investors, evaluates strategy setting and resetting, investment decisions, and portfolio management from the standpoint of the prime movers governing the fund: the board and its committees.
After three years of planning, AfriCap was launched in 2001 with $13 million to invest in support of commercial microfinance in Africa. The sponsors were inspired by the accomplishments of Latin America’s Profund, then in its sixth year, and indeed many of AfriCap’s investors had collaborated earlier on Profund. Fund investments were complemented with a $3 million technical assistance (TA) grant facility to strengthen investees’ capacity. AfriCap saw some spectacular early successes. Some of its investees are today well-recognized financial institutions, including Equity Bank (Kenya) and Socremo (Mozambique), among others. These early results led to increased investor interest and in 2007 new investors joined, tripling AfriCap’s capital to $42 million. The TA pool was boosted to $11 million. In addition, the decision was taken to transform the closed-end fund into a permanent investment company, and the manager into an African-owned and run management company with the ability to manage multiple funds
Yet, notwithstanding AfriCap’s early successes, the fund failed to recover investment costs in 12 out of 21 investments, and there were several write-offs. The fund ended up delivering only modest financial returns to its investors, and the results were especially disappointing for new investors who joined at the time of recapitalization. In 2013 the board approved a plan to liquidate the fund and return unused capital to the investors, reversing an earlier decision to run AfriCap as a permanent company.
> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI
Inclusive financial services in Africa are blooming. Between the turn of the millennium and 2011, the number of African MFIs reporting to the MIX increased from 58 to 397. From 2000 to 2014, the gross loan portfolio expanded over tenfold to $6 billion. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of borrowers served by MFIs in Africa increased from 1.6 million to 8.5 million. These numbers represent the development of an economic development tool for economies with very small financial sectors. It is impressive progress for an undeveloped industry beset by sparse human capital, problematic governance, and minimal external commercial interest.
AfriCap, which was the first private equity fund to invest exclusively in African microfinance institutions, and other microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) funded by social investors have been a key growth factor through capitalizing MFIs and offering technical assistance and training. This interest is relatively new. The African MIV portfolio grew at an average annual rate of 36 percent between 2006 and 2013. This compares with an average growth of 38 percent for investments in the Latin America & Caribbean region since 2006, and 8 percent in both the Middle East & North Africa and South East Asia regions. The strong connection between MIV financing and microfinance sector growth was also noted in a World Bank paper, Benchmarking the Financial Performance, Growth, and Outreach of Greenfield Microfinance Institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper, released in 2014, explains the relevance of greenfield MFIs to effecting financial inclusion in undeveloped financial markets. These institutions are financed in large part by equity and debt from development finance institutions, as well as a now-significant cohort of MIVs.
> Posted by Sumaiya Sajjad, Program Manager, Financial Inclusion, The MasterCard Foundation
In Luxembourg recently, I took part in the European Microfinance Week, whose theme this year was “Developing Markets Better”. The event brought together an excellent group of people from various organizations around the world involved in financial inclusion. On the evening before the formal opening of the conference, Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion hosted a special cocktail reception where I helped to launch the Accion Africa Board Fellowship program – proudly supported by The MasterCard Foundation.
This program aligns strongly with our Foundation’s goal of promoting financial inclusion in order to help catalyze prosperity and reduce inequality in developing countries. As part of that work, we recognize the critical importance of building capacity at all levels of the financial services industry – especially in that segment of the industry serving the poor. We’ve found that strong, committed, and capable leadership can have the most catalyzing effect on entire organizations, improving the quality of their work, and benefiting the clients they serve.