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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

The CFI is excited to welcome Sharlene Brown, who joins us as the Executive Director of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, where she will oversee the Working Group’s ongoing efforts to support the development of its member organizations and the microfinance industry at large. I had the opportunity to ask her about her work thus far, how she views the ever-changing inclusive finance industry, and where the Working Group fits in. 

How did you first get interested in microfinance?

I was born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, New York, so depending on the time of day and where I am, I might say I’m from Jamaica, or Brooklyn, or Brooklyn by way of Jamaica. Regardless, from a young age I knew I wanted to be able to give back. During an opportune economics course at Wellesley College, I came across Professor Yunus’ work and began to connect the dots between my own internal drive and burgeoning interest in investing and social responsibility, and the money management practices I had seen in my own community. ROSCAS, susus, juntas, or whatever you choose to call informal savings and credit groups, were the way that my family largely built their resources and foundation in the United States. So, early on I recognized that these types of non-traditional financial services can work well.

Where did this take you after graduating from college?

I followed an urge to challenge U.S. corporations on their bad behavior and joined Domini Social Investments, an investment firm focused on triple-bottom-line investments. Following a few years at Domini, I stayed in the socially responsible investment space and worked with the U.S. Sustainable Investment Forum, a member association for social investors. I also had an introduction to a New York-based group called Shared Interest, which supports microfinance in South Africa. There I created a social impact framework to help them balance their partners’ social results alongside financial performance.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

There are no final victories when it comes to providing equal opportunities for groups that have suffered from historic discrimination and exclusion. This is true in the United States. This is true everywhere else in the world.  Attitudinal barriers that belittle and marginalize, originating in class, racial, or religious prejudice, may triumphantly come down in one generation only to be resurrected in the next – or even sooner if some shock to the body politic is great enough.

Thus, watchdog groups like the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Smart Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League can never call it quits and declare victory. Backsliding into bigotry is more likely the rule than the exception with our tribal species.

To bolster this glum supposition is this example of the ongoing difficulties facing another beleaguered minority: Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is new evidence about employment discrimination from researchers at Rutgers and Syracuse University.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, struck Southeast Asia in early November 2013, creating unspeakable devastation. In the Philippines alone, where the typhoon’s wrath was concentrated, over six thousand people lost their lives. One microfinance institution, ASA Philippines, sprang into action only a day after the typhoon hit, demonstrating not just microfinance’s social mission, but also how providers in the industry are evolving to support their clients through more than just credit.

Typhoon Haiyan affected 16 provinces where ASA Philippines had operations, spanning 72 branches and 104,708 active borrowers amounting to a loan portfolio of roughly 365 million Philippine Pesos (~US$7.5 million). Fast forward to the present, about two years later, ASA Philippines has almost a 99 percent collections rate and the institution is thriving. How did the institution manage this crisis? Hint: It wasn’t because of merciless collections practices.

The day after Haiyan hit, ASA Philippines’ president traveled to Tacloban, a city that was largely destroyed by the typhoon, to visit the local ASA Philippines office. For the staff, the president’s presence underlined the ambitious and important relief work ahead of them. Under normal operating circumstances, ASA Philippines’ offices are open 24/7, reflecting the institution’s motto of BWYC: Be with Your Clients. ASA Philippines works towards a culture of immediate response, during the typical day-to-day operations, and during times of tragedy. I recently spoke with a few ASA Philippines staff members and they drew a link between support for clients and client trust. Clients will remember the first person that helps them, I was told. This connection fosters trust and connection, which in turn supports efforts to repay loans.

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> Posted by Saran Sidime, Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

West Africa is the second-fastest growing regional economy in Africa. Its GDP is more than double that of East Africa. However, its impact investing landscape doesn’t reflect this.

There are currently 45 impact investors active in the region, including 14 development finance institutions (DFIs) and 31 non-DFIs. Direct impact investments deployed in the region totaled $6.8 billion between 2005 and 2015. This is small relative to East Africa, which has over 150 investors and $9.3 billion in deployments on the books for roughly that same time period. Nevertheless, the investing trends in West Africa are encouraging, according to The Landscape for Impact Investing in West Africa, the third in a series of regional market landscaping studies published by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

The main barriers to impact investment in the region, according to the GIIN, include a lack of investment readiness among entrepreneurs and investees (in part due to difficulty obtaining bank financing), unpredictable policy environments, difficulty raising capital locally (among fund managers) compared to global standards, few exit examples, and macroeconomic and political instability. That is a truly daunting array of challenges. While in recent years there has been strong growth and investment in ecosystem actors such as incubators, accelerators, associations, and technical assistance providers, the ecosystem is not at sufficient scale to service the needs of the region.

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> Posted by Saquiba Aziz, Social Responsibility Associate, Pakistan Microfinance Network

Loan officers, who form the base of organizational hierarchy of a typical microfinance organization, are instrumental in expanding the outreach of microfinance and building goodwill with microfinance clients. Hence it is extremely important that the right kind of social and financial message is conveyed through them. However, despite the critical role that loan officers play in an organization, their voices and their challenges in the field are largely ignored when it comes to literature on microfinance.

Realizing the need to study and document the ground realities and perspectives of this fundamental human capital of microfinance providers, the Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN), with financial support from the State Bank of Pakistan and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, recently undertook a qualitative study on loan officers, titled, “Loan Officers’ Voices: Perspectives and Lessons from the Foot Soldiers“. For the research, PMN conducted focus group discussions and in depth interviews with loan officers from 10 institutions that volunteered to participate.

Some very interesting findings emerged from the study. Most of the loan officers were found to be aware of the vital role that they were entrusted with, i.e. the growth and risk management of their institutions. Their work, primarily based in the field, is premised upon assumptions of self-surveillance, monitoring, and discipline to achieve the targets set for them. Loan officers shared diverse visions about the job at hand: responses differed from helping the underprivileged to seeking experience in client handling. Another group viewed their jobs in terms of the authority and social power it brings to them as they monitor clients’ usage of loans. This improves their self-esteem as they feel good about the fact that they are in a position to oversee and help people.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published last Friday on MasterCard’s Inclusion Hub.

When the Basel Committee speaks, everyone involved in the financial world pays attention. In their new report, it attempts to come to terms with financial inclusion.

As the global regulatory framework for banks, Basel III has no doubt featured in side conversations at Davos. Banking authorities around the world must make shifts to maintain the Committee’s concern with financial system stability, while opening the way for financial inclusion to advance. The new report is called “Guidance on the application of the core principles for effective banking supervision to the regulation and supervision of institutions relevant to financial inclusion.

….If that title grabs you, you might be one of those people who can actually read the document’s carefully worded prose.

In response to the guidance, I would like to share four broad observations, not so much about the specific guidance – which is generally sound – but about the challenges involved in adapting the work of banking authorities to the new world of financial inclusion.

The guidance is uneven in its coverage of new types of financial inclusion providers

The report goes deep on microfinance. It discusses, but has not yet fully explored, digital financial services, big data and new forms of consumer credit.

The implicit assumption throughout the report is that the biggest financial inclusion challenge is credit risk coming from small lenders. This underplays the extent to which financial inclusion also involves large non-financial corporations like telecoms companies and major retail chains. The techniques these players deploy may require supervisory approaches different than those for smaller institutions.

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> Posted by Center Staff

If you’ve ever been a tourist in a developing country, there’s a good chance you’ve partaken in a tour where you were brought to the intimate setting of an artisan, chef, or small-business owner’s shop. When you arrived at the shop, your tour guide introduced you to its proprietor, and the proprietor told you a little bit about the history and operation, and maybe even demonstrated a bit of the craft. After all this, you were asked if you’d like to buy anything. This model works. As a tourist, you want to be exposed to local cultures, you want unique experiences, and maybe you want to pick up a souvenir or two to bring back home. If you can accomplish all three, and get to know the person your purchase benefits, all the better.

But what if we could take this model one step further? After all, tourism is an enormous industry. Globally it accounts for roughly 5 percent of the world’s GDP and one in every 12 jobs. In Mexico alone, for example, international tourists spent roughly US$12 billion in 2011. If some of this capital could be used to create greater impact, the benefits would be huge.

En Via, an organization based in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, is attempting to achieve this by combining tourism, microfinance, and education. En Via offers tours of five largely indigenous communities in Oaxaca, where participants are given the opportunity to meet with local women who are farmers, artisans, vendors, chefs, and other small business owners. As a tourist you meet with the women and their families, learn about their livelihoods and communities, watch product demonstrations like the spinning of wool, taste freshly made foods, and, yes, make purchases if you’re so inclined. In turn, En Via uses the money collected in tourism fees to fund small business loans to the women who were visited during the tours.

En Via is structured so that 100 percent of a tourist’s fees go directly towards the loans of the women that they had the opportunity to meet. The loans range from US$100 to $250, and carry zero interest. To date, En Via’s client default rate is at less than one percent. Since it began offering loans in 2008, over 1,500 loans have been given out to almost 400 women. Funds repaid are applied towards En Via’s administrative costs and education programs.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Transparency sounds simple – in business, government, relationships, and most areas of life. Take the business of offering financial products and services. As a provider, you inform prospective and current clients of everything they need to know about your product.  As a client, you use this information to make sound decisions about buying and using said product. Consequently, providers can claim full disclosure and hope to benefit from increased loyalty of clients. Clients have the information to make educated decisions and rest easy knowing exactly where that provider stands.

Similarly, in relationships, transparency (read: honesty) is always the best policy. The best practice is always to say everything that’s on your mind. After all, the truth will set you free… Except for maybe when your partner is already overwhelmed with information. Or when what you’re trying to share is incomprehensible. Or when your partner is trying to concentrate on something else. What I’m trying to get at is this: transparency may seem simple, but it’s not. Effective transparency provides information in a way that enables the person receiving the information to understand it and use it.

Inclusive finance providers need to hit the sweet spot – sharing the optimal amount of the most critical information with clients, in an understandable format, at appropriate times. To make matters more challenging, inclusive finance clients are often illiterate, poorly educated, or new to formal institutions.

The good news is that around the world, including in Mexico, the inclusive finance industry is hard at work to embed transparency effectively. In 2014, the Mexican government passed widespread financial reform that emboldened the role of the consumer protection agency, CONDUSEF, and made its rules mandatory for all credit institutions. CONDUSEF was enabled to issue and publicly publish recommendations to financial institutions. In the last year, CONDUSEF imposed important new regulations in areas of transparency and money laundering, and ended up revoking the operating permits of 1,449 non-regulated (SOFOM) institutions that did not meet the standards.

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Grameen Foundation Study, Measuring the Impact of Microfinance: Looking to the Future

> Posted by Kathleen Odell, Associate Professor of Economics at Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

Today we’re pleased to announce the release of Measuring the Impact of Microfinance: Looking to the Future, the third in a series of papers commissioned by Grameen Foundation. This series was initiated in 2005 to survey and contextualize the available evidence on the impact of microfinance. I got involved in the project in 2009, when I met Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation’s founder and then-CEO, at a conference in Chicago. We discussed the first Measuring the Impact paper, and the evidence on the impact of microfinance that had emerged in the intervening years. By the end of that conversation, I’d volunteered to write a second paper in the Measuring the Impact series, which was published in 2010. In early 2015, I was delighted to be asked to author the third paper in the series, Looking to the Future, as well. (For the record, my relationship with Grameen Foundation is limited to writing these two papers, which I do as a volunteer through the Bankers without Borders initiative, as part of my research agenda at Dominican University. I have complete editorial control over the content.)

When I returned to the microfinance literature last year, there were two key questions to sort out. First, what had happened in microfinance impact research since 2010? And second, what was going on with microfinance practice?

In answer to the first question, there was a lot of new research. The best-known papers were certainly the recent batch of microcredit randomized control trials that were published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, in early 2015. The results from these studies have been widely discussed and summarized (on NextBillion and in numerous other places), and I’ve included detailed summaries of each in Looking to the Future as well. The research has shown (repeatedly) that while loans do not lead a typical family directly out of poverty, access to a broad range of reliable financial services, including loans, has an array of positive impacts on clients. Although these are, admittedly, selected examples, recent research presents strong evidence that access to credit yields increases in business creation, investment and expansion. There also is good evidence that access to credit leads to increases in occupational choice and consumption choice, including reduced impulse spending on goods like cigarettes. (See the table below from the paper.) Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

“We would not be here without the visionary work of the pioneers who came before us, especially the women leaders who fought to build the very first banks for women in countries with seemingly insurmountable barriers,” writes Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking in the forward of a new online book, Celebrating Women Leaders: Profiles of Financial Inclusion Pioneers. The book shares the stories of 31 women leaders from around the world who made the financial inclusion landscape what it is today.

Those recognized in the book include practitioners, academics, researchers, regulators, thought leaders, financiers, and more. Among them, the industry’s earliest pioneers, like Ela Bhatt, founder of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), as well as those who joined more recently, like Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the Better Than Cash Alliance, and Jennifer Riria, CEO of Kenya Women Holding. Full disclosure: of the 31 included in the book are also CFI leaders and partners, including Anne Hastings, Elisabeth Rhyne, Essma Ben Hamida, and Jayshree Vyas.

The book was the idea of Samit Ghosh, CEO and Founder of Ujjivan. Ujjivan and Women’s World Banking worked together on the project, with young women working in the sector researching, conducting interviews, and writing the leader profiles.

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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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