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> Posted by Richard Shumann, COO, the Vitas Group

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I learned a hard lesson in 1996. I was managing a provincial office for an international NGO, serving internally displaced people in southern Africa. I paid a surprise visit to a food distribution site, and saw beneficiaries were not getting their full rations. I checked the warehouse and discovered our food distribution manager had been selling food aid on the side. I informed the country director, and the distribution manager was fired. When I explained to my deputy what had happened, he shook his head and said, “The boss is always the last to know.”

As I worked in microfinance as a consultant, manager and board member, I worried about how CEOs, boards and shareholders learned what was really going on in their institutions, instead of just hoping managers got away from their desks, actually found fraud, and reported it.

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> Posted by Rachel Morpeth and Danielle Piskadlo, Analyst and Director of the Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion 

The following post was originally published on the Microfinance Gateway.

As a hub of technology-based innovation, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) leads the world in mobile money accounts. 12 percent of adults in the region have a mobile money account, compared to 2 percent globally. In a recent global survey measuring progress towards financial access and usage, five of the ten highest scoring economies hailed from SSA. However, financial exclusion remains acute.

The fact that most of Africa’s population lacks access to formal banking services but has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world provides the perfect breeding grounds for the use of financial technologies to grow a customer base. However, as disruptive technologies and business models continue to revolutionize the financial inclusion landscape in Africa, they present new challenges to leaders and boards.

These challenges can only be overcome through creative, forward-thinking solutions and active dialogues across governance bodies – boards and regulators. Board members, CEOs, regulators and fintechs will come together to advance these issues in Ethiopia on October 12-13 at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s (CFI) Governing in a Digital World roundtable, a side event to African Microfinance Week. In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at a few of the challenges to be discussed, and their respective solutions.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Board members and CEOs of MFIs in the MENA region met at the MENA Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar hosted by CFI, Calmeadow and the Sanabel Network, in Jordan this March

Over the past few years, the financial inclusion landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has rapidly evolved with new market entrants, changing regulations and increased financial risks. The industry aims to expand access to formal financial services and achieve much needed economic stability, and yet the financial inclusion ecosystem in MENA has experienced slower growth over the last 10 years compared to their peers in other parts of the developing world. According to reports by the World Bank and CGAP, microfinance institutions (MFIs) in MENA are currently reaching approximately 3 million borrowers, with a loan portfolio of over $2 billion — far below the market potential estimated at 56 million borrowers. The stakes are getting higher and MFIs need to reconsider their strategic directions in order to reach the unmet clients at the base of the economic pyramid.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Director, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

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It may have been the worst-timed joke ever.

At an Uber all-hands meeting for the company’s 12,000 staff to announce how the board planned to address the findings of an investigation that confirmed Uber’s toxic workplace culture and serious instances of sexual harassment, Arianna Huffington, the lone woman on the board, noted that a second woman would be added to the board as one part of the response. “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” said Huffington. That’s when investor David Bonderman, another member of Uber’s board, blurted, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” He claimed to be trying to lighten the mood, but in the firestorm of criticism that followed his ill-considered remark, he quickly resigned from the board.

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> Posted by Kettianne Cadet, Lead Analyst, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

“Evolve or die, it is that simple!” remarked Kelvin Twissa, Board Member of FINCA Tanzania. His comments came during a session on Disruption at the recent Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) seminar in Cape Town.  In an era where business is definitely not usual, many incumbent financial institutions and their operating models are being threatened by disruptors, and the ability to continuously innovate and evolve has become an increasingly important ingredient for survival.

Graphic harvesting image from May 2017 Africa Board Fellowship Seminar

Graphic harvesting image from May 2017 Africa Board Fellowship Seminar

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> Posted by Miranda Beshara, Arabic Microfinance Gateway

Alex Silva, Executive Director, Calmeadow

Governance is a business imperative, and investors are willing to pay a premium for effective corporate governance. This was one of the key takeaways from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar, held recently in Amman, Jordan. We’ve seen this stated priority of governance in the MENA microfinance market exhibited elsewhere, too. A joint IFC-Sanabel report assessing the top perceived risks facing the microfinance industry in the Arab world uncovered that the market’s stakeholders viewed weak corporate governance structures as one of the more threatening risks out of roughly 30 risk categories. Financial service providers in particular perceive this risk to be rising.

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> Posted by Elissa McCarter-LaBorde, CEO, Vitas Group

Alex Silva and Jeffrey Riecke’s recent blog post entitled “What’s ‘Responsible’ about Impact Investing Exits?” hits squarely on the head a critical issue facing our industry. But it doesn’t go far enough. They ask “What if responsible investors sell their stake to an investor that doesn’t place priority on the social mission?” They argue for investors to take a “pragmatic” course and find “a buyer in the middle,” meaning something in between the “high-priced but questionable offer” and the “capital-starved social investors.” This left me wondering, who exactly is in the middle?

In the past, the NGO founders of what are today profitable microfinance banks were expected to be the keepers of a social mission, if not through ownership then through some form of continuing sponsorship or governance role. Compared to five years ago, today we see term sheets that force NGO shareholders out in the name of successful exits. In fact, even the large open-ended funds, presumably more socially-responsible leaning ones, and the development finance institutions (DFIs) that technically don’t require tighter exits of 5-7 years, are coming with term sheets that require a put option (an option contract giving the owner the right to sell assets at an agreed price) in 5-7 years back to the NGO founder or the company, or that include a drag-along right that forces a majority sale to a future “strategic buyer.” In other words, if the minority investor finds a strategic buyer who wishes to buy a majority stake or to acquire the whole company, the investor can drag other shares along to constitute a majority sale.

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> Posted by Ellen Metzger, Consultant

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With stories of fintech success and excitement showing up everywhere, it’s hard not to wonder about the place of banks in the financial landscape of the future. Are fintech providers here to stay or are they the buzz of the day?

The chief officer of finance, innovation and payments at Equity Bank in Kenya, John Staley, strongly stands in favor of banks. He recently argued that banks are in it for the long-term and that fintech companies will come and go – or get absorbed by the banking industry.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Time flies. It’s hard to believe that the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program will soon begin its fifth cohort of fellows. Over the past few years and four cohorts, the ABF program has included more than 125 CEOs and board members from over 40 financial inclusion institutions across 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re an inclusive finance leader in sub-Saharan Africa, now’s your chance to join the governance and strategic leadership program. Applications are now open for the fifth cohort.

ABF recently held two seminars in Cape Town, welcoming the fourth cohort of fellows and graduating the third cohort. With new case studies on disruptive technologies, and an emphasis on interactive role plays and simulations, the seminars proved once again that peer-to-peer exchanges are an effective way to examine best and worst governance practices. To hear the fellows’ takeaways from the two seminars, watch our new video above.

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> Posted by Center Staff

MeetingRoom_MENA.pngYou’d be hard-pressed to list all the ways corporate governance can make (or break!) an organization. In the financial inclusion sector, strong boards ensure effective strategic planning, manage sustainable growth, bolster attractiveness to investors, balance risks, develop client centric products and delivery channels, and, increasingly, act as “strong digital sparring partners for management.”  Yet, a recent study sponsored by the Sanabel Network and the IFC that inspected risks confronting the microfinance sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) found that half of their interviewees perceived corporate governance risk as “high” or “very high.”

Being a board member or CEO of a financial inclusion institution is a great responsibility, and can also be a complex task. All boards have different dynamics and governance best practices can sometimes be nebulous. To address these challenges, Calmeadow, FMO, Sanabel and the CFI are hosting a “Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar” this March in Amman. This seminar brings together CEOs and board members of leading financial institutions serving the financially excluded in the MENA region to strengthen board capacity through peer learning and exchange. If you’re a leader in MENA’s inclusive finance sector, please consider attending this seminar to contribute your unique experiences and perspectives, and also to learn from the experiences of your peers.

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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.