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> Posted by Josh Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

The elephant in the room of vulnerable minorities that continue to be excluded in large numbers from microfinance services is the globe’s second largest population after women: men. The vulnerability of men is often overlooked, due to their historic domination of women and their control of wealth in most societies throughout recorded history. Of course for every wealthy landowner or merchant, there were many slaves, landless laborers, and indentured servants, who controlled none of the world’s wealth and were lucky if they scratched out a living.

When microcredit first gained traction and credibility as a poverty alleviation strategy in the seventies, creating self-employment opportunities for women in the informal sector was central to its mission. Organizations like Women’s World Banking (birthed at the UN’s World Conference on Women in 1975) and Pro Mujer (1990) embodied this outreach strategy. There were very sound reasons to focus on women, who are and remain the poorest of the poor. And this emphasis reflected the zeitgeist of the time, as many of the early leaders of microfinance came of age in the women’s movement. Theirs was a struggle for equal rights and equal pay in societies that were patriarchal and discriminatory. It was a logical next step to bring this message of women’s rights to international development work.

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Posted by Amanda Lotz, Financial Inclusion 2020 Project Coordinator, CFI

Schwab Foundation describes a social entrepreneur as possessing a healthy impatience. Leila Janah arrived on a red eye to Washington to speak at the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and then traveled back to San Francisco for another engagement that afternoon. I’d call that a little healthy impatience.

I was fortunate to attend the Global Corporate Citizenship Conference at the BCLC in the company of a highly socially conscious audience to listen to Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource.

Initiated in Kenya in 2008, Samasource provides people at the base of the pyramid, currently earning less than a living wage, with the opportunity to earn a sustainable source of income in support of complex digital projects needed by large enterprises, such as Google and eBay.  Through in-country partners, employees are recruited and validated. Using the internet, Samasource equips its employees with technological skills and 2-4 weeks of training. It then connects them to digital work that requires a “human touch” and is not easily completed by automated systems. Even better, the target employees of Samasource are women and youth (two client populations to consider when discussing current financial inclusion challenges). Since its inception, Samasource has expanded operations to a total of nine countries, including India, Haiti and Pakistan  more evidence of healthy impatience.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Starting today, part one of the documentary film Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide becomes available to watch on PBS’ website. Inspired by the widely-praised book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky has become a transmedia project whose scope reflects its social ambitions. The project shares the stories of women from all over the world who are seizing the opportunity to confront oppression with meaningful solutions through health care, education, and economic empowerment.

The Half the Sky project includes a two-part, four-hour documentary film (part two will be available to watch on PBS’ website starting tomorrow), a Facebook-hosted social action game, mobile games, two websites, educational video modules with companion text, a social media campaign supporting over 30 partner NGOs, and an impact assessment. We encourage engaging with the project in every way you’re able.

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>Posted by Josh Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

What do we know about gender wage equality at microfinance institutions? Is greater operational efficiency at MFIs achieved in part at the expense of women’s pay? Discrimination against women as employees is pervasive around the world.  For example, in the United States, it was only in 2009 that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became law. Even today, American women continue to earn significantly less than men for comparable work—77 cents to every dollar, according to some studies. I have looked around for evidence that MFIs are conscious of this issue, but my research uncovered no clear insistence for compensation equality for the employees of microfinance institutions from either social investors or industry standard setting groups. In fact, the issue isn’t discussed or even raised.

The highly regarded and influential Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) recently adopted Universal Standards for Social Performance Management, which sets social performance goals for MFIs. The standards are representative of this striking silence on the issue of gender wage equality. While the document includes treating “employees responsibly” as one of the six key areas that must be addressed, it merely affirms blandly: “5a.2 Employee compensation levels constitute a living wage for employees.” It is only in the “Additional Good Practices” annex that the SPTF is more expansive about management standards when it comes to employees, but even then it does not specifically address wage discrimination, see the following: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Yesterday, in a piece on Huffington Post, Mary Ellen Iskenderian of Women’s World Banking and Joe Saunders of Visa Inc. announced a new partnership between Visa, Women’s World Banking, Diamond Bank and Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access. The partnership will focus on advancing financial inclusion for women in Nigeria and transforming the lives of women in emerging markets.

The post begins:

A growing chorus of voices is calling for a shift away from cash-based economies in the developing world. For governments, non-governmental organizations and companies focused on expanding financial access to the underserved, it is fast becoming a top priority. Not only is it too costly and unsustainable to reach people who rely solely on cash-based financial services, but relying solely on cash severely limits economic and social growth. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Donza

As the European Union presses ahead with plans to impose quotas that would increase the proportion of women on company boards, I am reminded of a recent conference call where a participant expressed frustration with a similar investor-imposed quota that required at least two women to serve on the board of a microfinance institution. Citing a lack of qualified board members in the microfinance industry, let alone qualified female board members, he said, “I can go out and ask two of my female friends to sit on the Board but they aren’t going to contribute anything.”

This “checking the box” perspective is not only unjust; it also represents a bad business decision. Studies reveal that “firms with equal representation of women on their boards had 56 percent higher operating profit compared with companies with all-male boards.”

Women comprise 51 percent of the population, control approximately 80 percent of household spending, and yet only make up 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 boards of directors and  less than 14 percent of board members for Europe’s biggest companies. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Rosita Najmi, Financial Inclusion Practice, World Bank

“Congratulations,” the young man said, as I entered a favela in Rio. Puzzled, I raised my eyebrows and shrugged my shoulders. “He was congratulating you because you’re a woman.” said the young woman accompanying me on a UNDP assignment.  My eyebrows migrated even further north. With a smile, she clarified, “Today is International Day of the Woman.” As we walked on, I turned and yelled over my shoulder with a wave, “Obrigada.”

While I’m passionate about a lot of things, since 2001, I’ve been thinking more about the concept of universal, financial citizenship and the role of women in poverty reduction. I’m sure my colleagues at the World Bank would each have a diversity of views on this topic. However, I think we would all agree upon certain core ingredients, such as (i) access to a suite of quality products and services (including savings, credit, insurance, remittances, payments and beyond), (ii) regulations that ensure consumer protection and transparency, and (iii) individual financial identities and histories that benefit from financial education and security. While this might easily resonate with someone who believes in the larger concept of democratizing development, at this point, you might be asking what “universal” means. That’s where the women (and other vulnerable populations like persons with disabilities, rural populations, and indigenous people) come in. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Donza

I recently attended a presentation in Boston where Dana Dakin, the founder and president of Womens Trust, a microfinance program serving women in Ghana, was asked about the impact of her program. Dakin replied that “wife beating is down,” repeating the words of the response of Victoria, a leader in the community of Pokuase, a Ghanaian town of approximately 20,000 people. The Executive Director of Womens Trust Ghana, Wilma Longdon, hypothesized that this result is  due not only to that fact that their microloans are empowering women in Pokuase, but also to the way that these microloans take the pressure off men to be the sole providers for their families. Dakin admitted it is almost impossible to prove causality between the program and this outcome.

Womens Trust is a unique  microfinance institution that channels all of its profits from microlending into innovative education and healthcare programming for women and their families. Its three-pronged approach to development and empowerment provides microlending, education, and healthcare services to women and girls in Pokuase. They hope this approach will be sustainable, scalable, and replicated, and so do I!

Flash forward a day and I’m meeting with another incredible woman. Jennifer John works with Criterion Ventures on its Women Effects Investments (WEI) initiative, which looks to build an ecosystem around investing in women and girls. John and her colleagues are identifying and creating new female-friendly investment opportunities and mobilizing more female investors to place their assets in vehicles that expand the seat at the table for women in social investing. WEI is looking to shape the social capital markets with a “Gender Lens” which looks at women’s access to capital, workplace equity, and how well financial products and services are tailored to the needs of women. The Gender Lens is meant to maximize the impact of investments on women and girls because WEI believes that when women are economic agents and leaders, social change accelerates and returns multiply. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Ela R. Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Gujarat, was recently appointed to the board of directors of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Bhatt, who is sometimes called the “mother of Indian microfinance,” helped start the Mahila Sewa Co-operative Bank in 1974, two years before Muhammad Yunus initiated the project that would later become Grameen Bank.

Bhatt was interviewed by the New York Times blog India Ink. Among the major points she made to interviewer Vikas Bajaj:

  • “The future of microfinance sector, as such, is not dark. One, because of women – amongst the poor, women are a big part of it. They have proved themselves everywhere.”
  • “The poor need a full package of financial services, savings, credit, insurance — I also add housing — social security, financial literacy, pensions and counseling. If the purpose is poverty reduction, that whole package of financial services is needed.” Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Michelle Romeu

This week’s blogosphere features question marks over India’s legislative landscape, tourists and their relationship to microfinance, and new ideas for boosting women’s economic power.

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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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