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> Posted by Center Staff

Many enterprises operating in the informal economy provide low-quality working conditions for their employees. Workers might be exposed to difficult or dangerous environments, and the formalities of labor law are missing. A new project from the International Labour Organization’s Social Finance Program and the University of Mannheim in Germany tested the hypothesis that microfinance institutions, given their unique and expansive connections to the informal economy, can successfully apply interventions aimed at improving their clients’ working conditions. The project spanned 2008 to 2012 and included collaborations with 16 microfinance institutions. The project results are shared in the recently released report, “Microfinance for Decent Work – Enhancing the Impact of Microfinance.” It suggests that microfinance institutions indeed have the potential to leverage their positioning and resources to improve their clients’ business environments.

The project was carried out in four steps. First, the participating MFIs conducted an internal diagnostic to identify the most pressing work-related challenges faced by their clients. Across the breadth of identified challenges, the issues that the MFIs chose to address were reducing child labor, promoting business formalization, enhancing business performance, and reducing vulnerability, particularly in regards to risk management and over-indebtedness. Each MFI created its own intervention with its unique institutional context in mind. These innovations included launching new financial services, introducing non-financial services, offering packages of financial and non-financial services, and restructuring institutional operations. The innovations were piloted with client impact tracked to enable before and after comparisons in control and treatment groups.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on USAID’s microlinks.

Elisabeth Rhyne joined USAID shortly after the seminal PISCES (Program of Investment in the Small Capital Enterprise Sector) studies were completed in the 1980s. From 1994 to 1998, she was the Director of USAID’s Office of Microenterprise Development, where she developed and led USAID’s Microenterprise Initiative.

The breakthrough innovations that sparked the birth of microenterprise credit in Latin America occurred in the early 1980s, and USAID was very much the driving force. Through PISCES, the Program for Investment in the Small Capital Enterprise Sector, operational from 1979 to 1985, USAID and its partner organizations began to discover the principles of success for lending to the poor, opening the way for the microfinance industry.

To understand the origins of this microfinance strategy, it helps to visualize PISCES at a time when three streams of thought came together. First was the “Spring Review” on directed agricultural credit carried out by the rural finance gurus of Ohio State University, Dale Adams and Claudio Gonzalez Vega, with J.D. von Pischke of the World Bank. Their work revealed the waste and dysfunction of subsidized agricultural credit doled out by bankrupt government credit banks. These banks were swallowing hundreds of millions of development dollars annually. The Ohio State team’s manifesto was that financial institutions must make credit decisions based on risk assessments, not politics, and charge interest rates that would allow operations to be sustainable. That review launched a gradual shift by USAID, the World Bank, and other aid agencies away from public development banks. But, if public development banks were sidelined, who would serve the poor?

At the same time research mainly by the International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed the importance of the “informal sector,” small-scale businesses operated by low-income households. These were especially important in urban areas as a source of livelihood for a vast portion, and sometimes even the majority, of the poor in developing countries. (Why this was a revelation was a mystery to me – one has only to stroll through the poor areas of a developing country to see the scale of the informal sector.) The ILO’s work excited the interest of USAID’s Office of Urban Development. Michael Farbman and his colleagues there wanted to figure out how development organizations could assist the proprietors of small and microenterprises to improve their businesses and work their way out of poverty.

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> Posted by Kelley Mesa

milogoThe latest Center for Financial Inclusion podcast features Craig Churchill of the International Labour Organization’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility. Together with ACCION International Principle Director Monica Brand, Craig discusses some recent innovations being made in terms of microinsurance products, delivery channels, and supply gaps, as well as the challenges facing the advancement of the industry.

> Click here to download and listen to the latest podcast
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