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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

What are the biggest unanswered questions in financial inclusion? This isn’t rhetorical—we want your opinion.

In preparation for selecting three CFI Fellows for 2016-2017, we are developing a short list of questions whose answers would drive financial inclusion forward.

Our Research Fellows Program is an initiative intended to tackle the biggest questions in financial inclusion—in order for the industry to take action in new areas and in new ways. The current cohort of fellows is finalizing research ranging from big data to small enterprises to technology infrastructure to G2P payments.

The questions we put forward for this next cohort will only be relevant if they are essential to the financial inclusion community. So we’re coming to you (yes, you!) for your input.

To get the conversation started, here are some of the questions on our working list. Let us know below in the comments which you think are compelling, and please take the liberty of adding your own.
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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Smart Campaign is thrilled to announce that a new milestone for client protection in microfinance has been reached: there are now 50 financial institutions that have been awarded Smart Certification, recognizing their commitment to fair client treatment and responsible practices. In total, these institutions serve roughly 25 million clients.

The threshold was crossed with a handful of recent certifications – Fortis Microfinance Bank and Grooming Centre in Nigeria; Banco ADOPEM in the Dominican Republic; Fundacion Paraguaya in Paraguay; Pro Mujer in Nicaragua; and AgroInvest in Serbia. Each of these institutions worked over a several month process to assess and upgrade their operations to meet every one of the indicators signifying strong consumer protection practices.

Grooming Centre and Fortis Microfinance Bank collectively reach over a half million clients. Founded in 2006, Grooming Centre operates in 22 states in Nigeria with a network of 376 branches. Grooming Centre offers a range of financial services, including savings and credit, small business loans, agricultural loans, and clean energy financing. Fortis Microfinance Bank, along with offering financial services, provides clients with business support in areas including management, marketing, and administration.

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> Posted by Misha Dave and Jeffrey Riecke, Disability Inclusion Program Manager and Communications Specialist, CFI

Financial inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWD) is a hugely under-addressed area in the quest to bank the unbanked. Estimates indicate that less than one percent of microfinance clients globally are PWD, despite roughly 15 percent of the global population having some sort of disability, and four-fifths of these individuals living in developing countries. The Center’s Financial Inclusion for PWD program, launched in 2010, has developed steadily since its inception. Here on the CFI blog you might’ve seen us spotlight our Framework for Disability Inclusion, our report on attitudes related to disability inclusion among Indian MFIs, or our disability inclusion partnerships with MFIs.

The program has been busy over the past year. Let’s take a look at a few highlights.

India Partnerships: The Center’s PWD program provides trainings and resources to sensitize and equip MFIs to service PWD clients. The program recently forged new partnerships with two MFIs in India, Grameen Koota and Micrograam, bringing the total number of partnerships with institutions in the country to five. The other three partner institutions in India are Equitas, ESAF, and Annapurna. Across these three original partners, more than 30,000 lower-income disabled persons, including 2,000 visually impaired individuals (a severely excluded disability segment), have been included.

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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 Center Staff

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a global occasion to promote awareness and mobilize support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD). To mark the day, we wanted to share with you a new Accion video spotlighting the story of Reshma Babu. At five months old, Reshma contracted polio and lost the use of her legs, yet today, she lives independently. That’s partly due to her job at Accion partner Vindhya, where four out of five workers have some kind of disability. Vindhya is a business process outsourcing company that widely employs PWD to deliver high-quality and competitive services to companies spanning multiple sectors, including microfinance. Vindhya exemplifies how inclusion for PWD is a sustainable model for social enterprise at the base of the pyramid.

Along with partnering with Vindhya, here are some of the ways that Accion and CFI are working to achieve disability inclusion:
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> Posted by Center Staff

Last week, FI2020 Week created a global conversation on the key actions needed to advance financial inclusion, grounded in the findings of the recently launched FI2020 Progress Report. From November 2-6, 2015, stakeholders around the world participated in more than 30 events and shared their voices over social media, with #FI2020. As part of the week, global financial inclusion leaders offered calls to action. We started to provide highlights, but found that every single contributor had an important perspective to add, so this post includes all of their voices.

If there were any doubts about the potential to achieve global financial inclusion, it would be dispelled by the passion and sense of opportunity in the calls to action that were posted last week as part of FI2020 Week. A visionary tone was set by the inaugural posting by Ajay Banga of MasterCard, who declared that “financial inclusion is both economic and social inclusion and necessary for the future well-being of our planet.” Jean-Claude Masangu Mulongo, former Governor of the Central Bank of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, draws the link between financial inclusion, economic growth, and poverty reduction, while also—appropriately, given his role–noting the link to financial stability. Yves Moury of Fundación Capital heightens the urgency by stating that “poverty is the greatest scandal of our times,” and Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya adds that “poverty elimination must be the endgame of all financial inclusion strategies.”

This strong sense of social mission comes out in a call from Dr. William Derban of Fidelity Bank Ghana to “leave no one behind” in the march toward inclusion. Michael Miebach of MasterCard also talks about meeting the needs of all members of society, including women, and Bindu Ananth of IFMR Trust mentions smallholder farmers as another group that is often excluded. In light of breakthroughs in technology, Sonja Kelly of the Center for Financial Inclusion urges us to reach out to those who are traditionally excluded from technology, and not just early adopters. As Larry Reed of the Microcredit Summit Campaign puts it, “We need to approach the challenge with the end in mind, designing a system that can sustainably reach clients in the most remote areas and who transact in the smallest sums.”

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> 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.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

MIAW-poster

First of all, a disclaimer. I am by no means a mental health expert. Like many, I’ve had my own experiences which have led to interests into the causes and impacts of mental health issues as well as the coping mechanisms we might use when we or someone we know suffers from a mental illness.

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, as you might know, and it has reminded me of a conversation that Josh Goldstein, Vice President of Economic Citizenship and Disability Inclusion at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, and I started a while back — a conversation that also led to an exchange of ideas on his blog post “Four Interventions to Help Victims of Trauma Find Hope and Dignity” in which he summarized his remarks at the 8th Annual PCAF Pan-African Psychotrauma Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya. (Josh’s full conference remarks can be found here.) During this conference, Josh tried to answer the question of whether microfinance institutions (MFIs) can help victims of trauma who suffer from mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to find hope and dignity through self-employment.

In his post, Josh suggests steps to be taken by our sector to be inclusive of those suffering from mental health disorders. In this post, I’ll address two of those steps:

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Vice President, Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

“Over a sixth of the world’s population has directly experienced armed conflict, torture, terrorism, sexual and gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing or genocide,” states the website of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF). I recently attended the 8th Annual PCAF Pan-African Psychotrauma Conference in Nairobi, a multidisciplinary event that focuses on psychological trauma in Africa’s war-affected societies. PCAF operates mental health clinics in Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda and conducts trainings for mental health professionals. At the conference, I was surrounded by global leaders from health care, academia, and a litany of organizations working in the mental health space.

At first blush, my participation at such an event might seem odd as my work focuses on disability inclusion for microfinance. But, I’d argue that’s more of a reflection of how society, and our industry, views mental disabilities – with reductive biases – rather than how they fit within microfinance.

I had the privilege of presenting a keynote to the attendees. I discussed whether it’s possible for trauma patients who have gone through a successful course of treatment that includes counseling, medication, and livelihood trainings to become clients of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and build small-sized enterprises. Immediately below is an abridged version of my speech, with the complete text linked at the end.

Can MFIs help victims of trauma find hope and dignity through self-employment?

As a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor myself from the U.S., who received treatment, I believe with all my heart that in a just society poor people with mental health challenges should get the help they need so they can flourish as human beings. Unfortunately, in the international development world I come from, this great cause is barely on the radar—in spite of the fact that reaching the most destitute is at the urgent core of all international development work. Indeed, I share your outrage at the paucity of funding and support for community mental health from governments and foundations.

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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.