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

The extent of the reciprocal relationship of trust between an employer and employee may be hard to measure, but it may be more indispensable to good governance than a variety of risk management tools. In fact, there are organizations that forego some traditional risk management mechanisms, instead emphasizing the power of trust. One example, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing in DealBook, is Berkshire Hathaway, the American multinational conglomerate that’s currently the fifth-largest company in the United States.

The normative route to good governance encompasses a host of practices including risk management functions, internal auditing, and board committees. A MIX project examining the practices of over 150 MFIs across 57 countries found a positive correlation among institutional governance indicators, suggesting that good governance practices don’t exist in isolation. Putting such watch-dog measures into place, however costly, is increasingly standard practice at institutions both public and private around the world. Without these, who knows what some employees might be tempted to do. It is the price of doing business. Or at least that is the common school of thought.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

I was recently invited to join the board of my son’s school. The gist of this invitation email was that there would be a fairly significant time commitment in the form of regular board meetings and committee work, and that in addition to this time investment, “As with all non-profit boards, it is expected that every member of the board will support fundraising, and give a donation themselves.”

I spend much of my time at work on governance topics and am therefore fairly well-versed in the trials and tribulations faced by boards. However, when I personally received an invitation, I felt, in my humble opinion, that this is an absurd request.

What kind of proposition is it to be asked to sacrifice your highly coveted personal time and in return to also be expected to commit your hard-earned money. Could you ever imagine a job where you were asked to pay your employer for the privilege of committing your time and energy to working with them?

That said, there are millions of non-profits in the world and most of them have some sort of governance structure so obviously people do commit their time, energy, and money to non-profit board service. This disconnect got me thinking about why anyone would ever join a non-profit board. What are the incentives? Here are some of the reasons I came up with for why I would consider accepting an invitation to be a board member at a non-profit:

  1. I felt very passionately about the cause.
  2. A close friend or relative asked me.
  3. I had a vested interest in the work of the organization.
  4. I was flattered to be asked to provide my wisdom/guidance.
  5. There was some prestige, resume building, or additional perks.
  6. It would be a good opportunity for networking or may lead to a future job.
  7. To meet some like-minded people.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

The 450 million smallholder farmers around the world, who comprise the majority of those living in absolute poverty, have an enormous unmet financing need. Such financing requirements include small loans for inputs like seeds and fertilizer. A few weeks ago, seven leading social lenders, who collectively disbursed $360 million in 2013 toward agriculture financing, joined forces to spur sustainable growth and instill responsible practices in this vital lending area: they formed the Council on Smallholder Agricultural Finance.

Launched at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, the Council is made up of Alterfin, Oikocredit, Rabobank’s Rabo Rural Fund, responsAbility Investments AG, Root Capital, the Shared Interest Society, and Triodos Investment Management. The Council will meet regularly, share experiences and insights, and develop best practices and industry standards across three areas: market growth; responsible lending principles; social and environmental impact.

The Council particularly targets loans to “missing middle” agricultural businesses in low- and middle-income countries. The “missing middle” refers to businesses that require financing in the $25,000 to $2 million range, which are amounts often deemed too large for microfinance and too low for commercial banks. These businesses include producer organizations, companies that source from smallholder farmers, and companies that provide productive assets to smallholder farmers, often on credit. These companies can serve hundreds to thousands of farmers, offering an array of services including market access support, training, financial services, and accessible assets. Though millions of smallholder farmers are connected to these missing middle businesses, the vast majority are not.

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> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

The following is the second of two posts in which Bob Bragar discusses some of the unique governance challenges faced by microfinance institutions, as explored through a governance workshop that Bob chaired at European Microfinance Week in November 2013. In this post, workshop panelists Matthias Adler, Principal Economist, KfW and N. Srinivasan, an independent director at Equitas Bank in India, discuss the importance of their positions for effective microfinance governance. To access the first post, click here.

Institutional microfinance investors have a special role to play in maintaining good governance in an MFI, and this can take unexpected turns.

Matthias Adler from KfW spoke about the special concerns that his institution has. KfW is a major German public sector investor that is required by law to have board representation in the institutions in which it invests. As a result, KfW has developed special practices to strengthen the quality of their widespread board participation.

In particular, KfW has developed rules to create strict “Chinese walls” (information barriers) between their board members and the investment staff at KfW. Why? Because they are very aware of the potential for conflicts of interests between a board member’s duty to look (only and foremost) after the interests of the MFI, and the interests of individual investors. They make sure that a KfW board member will not return to headquarters and report on an MFI board meeting to his colleagues. In KfW’s view, this practice increases transparency and reduces the potential for distrust on the part of the MFI’s management. Management may need to obtain guidance from its board without always speaking directly to the investors. And if management is less forthcoming, the board cannot do its job.

Numbers And Finance

While this concern is not exclusive to MFI investors, in the small world of microfinance, with its limited number of players, the concerns are all the greater.

KfW, as a leading microfinance investor, also wants to ensure that boards of directors have all of the skills they need. So KfW helps boards with needed training.

In the final presentation, N. Srinivasan, an independent board member of Equitas Bank in India, spoke persuasively about the value of truly independent directors who balance the needs of all MFI stakeholders.

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> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

The following is the first of two posts in which Bob Bragar discusses some of the unique governance challenges faced by microfinance institutions. The posts examine governance through the guidance of three experienced board members. This post shares the experience of Tamar Lebanidze as Constanta Foundation, an NGO she founded, underwent the change to become Constanta Bank, a regulated bank. To access the second post, click here.

“I don’t see why we have to reinvent the wheel. Good governance practices for microfinance institutions are just the same as for any other business. Why should we spend so much time talking about ‘MFI governance’ when there is so much information already available about good governance?”

This question was raised during a recent meeting of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Governance Working Group, of which I am a member. The question really surprised me. I had always assumed that governance for microfinance institutions was special. It is not exactly the same as good governance practices in other businesses because microfinance is not the same as other businesses. Even so, it’s a good question. It got me thinking.

Of course, many good governance practices are the same from sector to sector. Running an enterprise well involves challenges that are not specific to the product or service the enterprise produces. Any institution can suffer if the board functions badly, risks are not managed, or management lacks transparency. And there is a lot of good work that is already out there on the role of key stakeholders to maintain good governance in financial services and other industries.

So why do we bother to re-think these issues for microfinance? Because microfinance is a more complex business than most. Going beyond just earning profits, the double or triple bottom line that we ask MFIs to achieve makes success, and therefore governance, very complex. Moreover, microfinance’s particular history of migration from NGOs to semi-regulated financial institutions to formal banks adds challenges to achieving good governance. The stew thickens when we bring multicultural perspectives to MFI boards through the presence of international investors from various countries.

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> Posted by Daniel Rozas, Independent Consultant

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

When you think about responsible investing, what comes to mind? Finding investment prospects that can deliver social returns? Perhaps diligent monitoring, with an eye to effective governance? How about when you sell an investment? How can investors remain committed to balanced social and financial goals when passing the baton to someone else?

This last question is the focus of a joint project by the Center for Financial Inclusion and CGAP. With several microfinance equity funds approaching maturity, the issue of equity sales is becoming more relevant, and as part of the project, the team has been interviewing many equity investors to understand how they perceive the question of what, exactly, is a responsible exit? A paper detailing the findings of these interviews, The Art of the Responsible Exit in Microfinance Equity Sales, will be released in the coming weeks.

In the course of these interviews, many respondents used the analogy of children growing up. As early-stage or founding investors, they reach a certain point where they have fulfilled their “parental” mission and are no longer best-positioned to provide the MFI what it needs, be it capital, expertise, or market access. From the investor’s perspective, the analogy works. But selling an MFI is less an act of entrusting your child’s future to his or her own good sense, along with whatever wisdom you’ve been able to impart – you are handing the MFI over to somebody else.

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group 

Global Forum Venue: The London Lancaster

Global Forum Venue: The Lancaster London

As I traveled to London to attend the FI2020 Global Forum, my mind was filled with many thoughts. First was excitement that I had been invited to attend when I was still very much a microfinance practitioner. I was still in the process of adjusting after 17 years living in Haiti struggling to build an institution that would be a model of a client-centric, double bottom line microfinance institution (MFI) committed first and foremost to reaching the very poorest people in Haiti and providing them a pathway to a better life. For me, this meant providing them with a full range of financial and social services. My commitment to these clients had been solidified through my years in Haiti but also by my service on the Smart Campaign Steering Committee and the Board of the Social Performance Task Force and more recently by my role as a practitioner advisor to Truelift.

But now that I was in the plane and on my way, I had taken on a new role: Manager of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, a collaborative effort of the CEOs of eight pioneering global microfinance networks – Accion, FINCA, Freedom From Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International, and Women’s World Banking – all dedicated to advocating for more responsible microfinance practices and to instituting the highest standards of performance within their own MFIs. These eight CEOs represent 250 MFIs in 70 countries, serving some 40 million families. Suddenly I had been boosted from deep concerns about the future of poverty in one tiny country of 9.5 million to a preoccupation with the future of MFIs worldwide.

The Forum was a beautiful reflection of the often chaotic financial services marketplace of today where traditional banks, telecoms, retail stores, donors, investors, policymakers, regulators, and MFIs often collide in seeking to capture new markets. In attendance were the CEOs of institutions like Citi and MasterCard, along with several former Governors of Central Banks, technology innovators like the CEO of bKash, executives of insurance companies like MetLife and Swiss Re, Managing Directors of investment companies like Wolfensohn Fund Management, experts in alternative data systems like Cignifi. There were times when I thought maybe I had actually entered the wrong conference! Who were all these people, and what did they have to do with the future of microfinance?

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> Posted by Madeleine Dy, Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

Making the case for more attention to risk management and governance in both the financial inclusion sector and corporate world can be an uphill battle, but McKinsey’s Global Survey findings provide some strong reinforcement. If we let the numbers speak for themselves, they tell an interesting story. Their survey of 772 corporate directors showed that although over 90 percent of respondents reported that their boards have become more effective over the past five years, risk management still surfaces as the biggest difficulty faced by boards.

The survey shows that board directors have improved their knowledge on various company issues since the last survey conducted in 2011. More specifically, about one-third say they have a complete understanding of their organization’s current strategy, as compared to about 20 percent in 2011. However, only 15 percent can say the same for the risks their company faces. In fact, the reality is that 30 percent of directors reported they have limited to no understanding of the risks facing their company.

You might ask why there is such a difference. The answer lies in the time directors spend on the two topics. Directors responded that they spend more time on strategy than any other area, 28 percent compared to only 12 percent for risk management. This clearly shows where their priorities and attention are focused. McKinsey mentions that companies and boards are becoming more complacent about risks as the 2008 financial crisis becomes a more distant memory — unfortunately fading memories do not translate to fading risks. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.



Governance challenges vary greatly between institutions and regions, and that is why there is such a great opportunity for boards and MFIs to learn from each other by sharing their personal experiences.

Earlier this month the CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance program, along with Calmeadow and Boulder Institute of Microfinance, hosted a governance seminar in Mexico called Governance Leadership in a Competitive World. The seminar was structured as a peer-to-peer learning opportunity to engage board members and CEOs in an active dialogue. Participants discussed the challenges they face in governance and risk, and their roles and responsibilities in setting and monitoring the MFI’s mission and strategy. The cases, tools, and materials presented at this seminar created an opportunity for board members to share their experiences and to learn governance best practices from each other. While there are many complexities and nuances to governance, below are 12 practices we hope will be implemented from our governance seminar.

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> Posted by Madeleine Dy and Danielle Piskadlo, Program Specialist and Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

It’s heating up—maybe not in terms of the weather but certainly in terms of growth and competition for many microfinance institutions (MFIs). And as growth and competition rapidly increase in many countries, there are many potentially serious risks and impacts that MFIs need to take into account. As we have seen in the crises in Andhra Pradesh, Nicaragua, and Morocco – to name a few – microfinance is risky business, and it can be argued that many industry failings result from poor risk management and oversight. It might also be fair to say that risk management didn’t garner much attention before because times were good, but now, as more markets heat up, it is important that we learn from past mistakes, and focus the necessary resources to implement preventative risk management measures.

To provide MFIs with the risk management resources needed to help tackle this challenge, we are excited to announce that Risk Management was recently added as a “Hot Topic” on the Microfinance Gateway! The risk management resources now available through the Microfinance Gateway were compiled by a dedicated team of Credit Suisse Virtual Volunteers¹ in coordination with the newly established Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM)², which was created to raise awareness as well as develop best practices and appropriate standards for risk management in microfinance globally.

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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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