> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Accion MfB staff explaining the PLWD product to clients

Last month, Accion Microfinance Bank (MfB) in Nigeria launched the People Living With Disabilities (PLWD) product to provide loans to a marginalized group that has largely been left out of the financial system – people with disabilities (PWD). To mark the occasion, some of the first clients of these loans including a member of the albino community and visually impaired clients attended an opening ceremony, which also included officials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The PLWD launch was the result of close collaboration across organizations and continents. CFI’s Joshua Goldstein and Bunmi Lawson, Managing Director/CEO of Accion Microfinance Bank, met with officials from the Central Bank of Nigeria to garner their support. In addition, CFI’s PWD team in India, including CFI partner v-shesh, advised Accion Microfinance Bank.

At the launch, Bunmi Lawson stated that, “Many people living with disabilities are financially excluded. We are pleased to be able to give them the opportunity to improve their means of livelihood to give them a brighter future.”

I asked Emeka Uzowulu, Head of Business and Product Development at Accion Microfinance Bank in Nigeria to share how this product came about and what their future plans are for reaching PWD.

1. Congratulations on the launch of the PLWD product! Can you give a brief background on how this product came about? What was the history of developing this outreach to persons with disabilities and what was key to getting it off the ground?

At Accion Microfinance Bank, our mission is to economically empower micro-entrepreneurs and low income earners by providing financial services in a sustainable, ethical, and profitable manner. We realize that a sizable number of this group are living with one form of disability or another which limits or frustrates their efforts to be productive, as well as that of their families. In consideration of these challenges, we are committed to identifying and partnering with them in making their futures brighter by providing access to loans, savings, and insurance at a very minimal cost.

The development of this product would not have been possible without support from the Central Bank of Nigeria, who established N220 billion of seed capital, with 2 percent of the wholesale component of the funds going to economically active PWD (excluding mental disabilities) at 9 percent per annum inclusive of all charges. With the availability of the funding window and at a lower interest rate, the market was ready and waiting with open arms. Accion Microfinance Bank in conjunction with the Secretariat of the People Living with Disabilities Association and the Albinos Foundation was able to design and develop a special product for PWD. We interacted with the People Living with Disabilities Association’s leadership on nearly a weekly basis, getting to know PWD, their economic daily activities, sources of livelihoods, banking relationships, and financial needs.

The product design and development was achieved through collaboration with P. Rajasekharau, Misha Dave, and Abhishek Agrawal in Accion’s India office, Joshua Goldstein of CFI, and Adebiyi Olunbunmi of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

2. Can you discuss the stigma against PWD in Nigeria? How does it manifest, especially in terms of access to employment, social services, etc.?

Nigeria, with a population of over 170 million, is estimated to have around 25 million people living with one form of disability or another. Regardless of this large number of people living with disabilities, very little if any support is given to them and they are often excluded from social, political, and economic affairs. The most common avenue of aid for these people is through families, and non-governmental and religious organizations. But, the present administration led by President Mohammad Buhari has promised to improve the lives of PWD by reviewing the law.

Jonathan Tobin (CBN), Bunmi Lawson (Accion MfB), Temitope Akin-Fadeyi (CBN) at the PLWD launch event

The stigma associated with PWD stems mostly from the public’s unawareness and/or disregard for the cause of the disability, and such poor understanding has only helped to prolong age-long, problematic, traditional beliefs about disabilities.

3. Do PWD receive their own unique services or outreach from Accion? How does your approach to PWD differ from working with other client groups?

At Accion MfB, we have tailored the PLWD product to suit them perfectly. With a very low interest rate and no administrative fee applicable, they are assured that the cost of funds is basically next to nothing. Compared to applicable interest charges on regular products, some people will term this “free funds.”

We have also designed means to disburse funds to an eligible PWD at his/her place of business if the disability is shown to prevent such person from accessing the bank premises.

4. Is Accion Microfinance Bank working with PWD on products other than loans? How about insurance or client education programs?

Apart from loans, we encourage them to save through a wide range of savings products already put in place, and ensure they have access to other banking needs such as use of ATMs, POS, etc. We also provide them with insurance covers and are still working on creating an informative forum where they would benefit from client education programs.

5. Did you learn from others’ experiences working with PWD – from CFI’s work in Paraguay, India, and other countries?

Extensive research was carried out here in Nigeria through group discussions, and major informational contributions were shared from Accion International and CBN. Putting all these together helped us roll out what we believe will be a reference point for many more PLWD products to follow suit.

6. This program is supported by the Nigerian central government and CBN officials attended the launch event. Can you talk a bit about their role and the significance of the national government taking this on in a public way?

Along with the funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria, a special monitoring team was set up to ensure that all funds as approved by the CBN were utilized accordingly. In addition, the Secretariat of the Financial Inclusion Department of the CBN, headed by Temitope Akin-Fadeyi, working with Adebiyi Olubunmi, was instrumental to the success of the project by monitoring, supervising, and providing other support. This is a bold approach which will hopefully help stem the negativity and stigma associated with living with a disability in this part of the world.

7. What are your future plans for PLWD? How would you like to see this product and overall outreach to persons with disability evolve over the next few years?

We will continue to ensure that as many PWD as possible are aware of the existence of this product. It is also our expectation that while we continually reach out to them either individually or through their associations, they will continue to be receptive and allow us to support making their futures brighter. In the near future, Accion Microfinance Bank will be the leading microfinance institution in Nigeria in the provision of financial services to PWD.

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