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> Posted by Rupert Scofield, Chair of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI)

A meeting of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion in September 2017 (pictured from left to right: Shameran Abed, Jesse Fripp, Steve Hollingworth, Maria Cavalcanti, Michael Schlein, Sharlene Brown, Rupert Scofield, and Robert Dunn. Not pictured: Christian Pennotti, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, and Michael Mithika)

In 2011, I joined the inaugural meeting of CEOs that led to the formation of the Microfinance CEO Working Group. Nearly seven years later, my colleagues and I have continued to enjoy the trust and collaboration made possible by sitting together and sharing our strategies, challenges, and opportunities. We have encouraged the sharing of information among key senior staff in seven departments such as risk management, social performance, and digital financial services, across our networks. This collective of senior managers, which we refer to as peer groups, find the conversations at their levels insightful and that they allow for greater efficiency at solving common problems. In some cases, members benefit from non-proprietary work and processes developed by another. In other cases, we are creating the solutions together. Today, we truly recognize that we are no longer a working group, but a strong partnership committed to advancing financial inclusion in a responsible manner. It is my pleasure to share our new name: Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI).

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> Posted by Center Staff

With Financial Inclusion Week 2017 less than two weeks away, we’re excited to share a full calendar of events and specifically, 11 webinars or online events that you can join from wherever you are. Topics include micro pensions, IndiaStack, interactive voice response technology, and more. Don’t pass up an opportunity to hear from organizations and experts from around the world – register today!

Monday, October 30

Digital Fireside Chat: How Are New Products and New Partnerships Unlocking Access to Insurance?
Hosting Organizations: AXA, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion
To kick of Financial Inclusion Week 2017, Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion will join Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of AXA Emerging Customers for a digital fireside chat. During the webinar, Rhyne and Wattez-Richard will discuss how new products and partnerships are opening up new potential in the inclusive insurance space. They will take a specific look at how AXA is working to reach emerging customers.

Technology-Enabled Financial Inclusion in Myanmar
Hosting Organizations: ThitsaWorks, Internet Journal
ThitsaWorks and Internet Journal will host a Facebook Live conversation on the impact of digital services on financial inclusion in Myanmar, where mobile phone ownership has grown rapidly from 5 to 90 percent between 2011 and 2017.

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

(click to enlarge)

What’s been happening with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG)? We’re glad you asked. Fresh-off-the-press is a new annual report from the MCWG, detailing the Working Group’s key accomplishments and activities of the past year. Consumer protection is among the standout areas for the MCWG for 2016. Over the course of the year, 14 local partners belonging to the MCWG network achieved Smart Certification, including BRAC Bangladesh, the first microfinance provider in the country and the largest in the world to reach the consumer protection milestone. In total, 21.9 million clients are served by 39 MCWG network Smart Certified institutions.

The MCWG is comprised of the leaders of 10 global microfinance organizations: Accion; Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance; BRAC; CARE; FINCA; Grameen Foundation; Opportunity International; Pro Mujer; VisionFund International; and Women’s World Banking. The newest member, added in 2016, is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and its General Manager Jesse Fripp. The MCWG also harnesses the expertise of more than 40 senior staffers across the member organizations, who meet regularly across seven Peer Groups focused on specific areas of microfinance, from digital financial services, to social performance, to communications, taxation, and others. Members and local partners work with more than 89 million clients in 87 countries, providing them with financial services as well as other support to help them succeed and lift their families out of poverty.

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> Posted by Alex Counts

During my final years as President of Grameen Foundation and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG), I advocated that two papers be written that I had neither the time nor the expertise to do justice to myself.

The first paper was a distillation of lessons for practice from recent studies on the impact of microcredit and microfinance. Many papers that set out to determine whether microfinance worked stumbled on important insights about how it could work better. Unfortunately, those discoveries were buried in papers that people barely read beyond summaries and extracts. A paper that presented these “lessons for practice” in a form that was accessible to busy practitioners could make a big impact, by removing friction from the maddeningly difficult process of using research to positively influence policy and practice.

The second paper I advocated for was one that made the case for how philanthropy and social/impact investing, and more broadly, subsidy, could play a positive role in the microfinance industry today. Such a paper would need to start with making the case that such social investments had any role to play, as the conventional wisdom was settling on the idea that it did not have any.

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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 Ben Lebeaux and Jessica L. Cassel, Senior Communications Specialist and Staff Attorney, Accion

One of the fastest, most efficient ways to promote financial inclusion is to make sure that regulators create policy that encourages innovation and collaboration. Because regulators can singlehandedly affect everything from microfinance institutions to financial technology startups to credit bureaus, helping them make the best possible decisions is one of the best ways to help the two billion financially excluded people access savings accounts, credit, checking, insurance, and more.

That’s why the Microfinance CEO Working Group’s Model Legal Framework and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (MLF), published in the spring of 2015, is such a valuable tool. Regulators can use the MLF as a framework to either evaluate existing regulation or to adopt new best practices. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it allows policymakers to quickly find, adapt, and use the best available legislation. 

Global law firm DLA Piper and its nonprofit affiliate, New Perimeter, were instrumental in creating the MLF. The firm’s dedicated team of roughly 20 lawyers has worked with the Working Group for the last two years, contributing nearly 3,000 hours of pro bono time to draft and refine the MLF. New Perimeter continues to support the project, traveling with Accion’s lawyers and financial inclusion experts to train Latin American regulators on the MLF, and plans to update it periodically.

We spoke with Sara K. Andrews, the Assistant Director of New Perimeter, and DLA Piper Associate Erik Choisy about how they got involved with the MLF, the work they did to support it, and why they dedicated such significant time and energy to support financial inclusion.

Accion: Tell us more about New Perimeter. Why did DLA Piper commit to providing international pro bono legal assistance?

Sara K. Andrews (SA): DLA Piper created New Perimeter in 2005 to expand the firm’s extensive pro bono programs beyond the United States, and to give our lawyers opportunities to address some of the critical issues confronting underserved regions of the world. One of our first projects was in Kosovo, helping to restore the country’s judicial and prosecutorial systems. Since then we have worked on over 100 multi-year pro bono projects involving more than 800 DLA Piper lawyers from across the firm.

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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 Center Staff

2015 was a year full of great reads (and listens). As we enter 2016, we wanted to take a look back at last year and what we were most excited to explore.  Through our work writing the FI2020 Progress Report, which assesses global progress in five key areas of financial inclusion, we benefited from important research from many in the financial inclusion field.  As part of this effort, we were eager to update our FI2020 Resource Library with the most informative reports and research outputs.  We encourage you to check it out – and in the meantime to review the highlights listed below.  The organizations responsible for these reports cover a wide array of stakeholder types, from support organizations, to telecommunication companies, to financial service providers – proof that progress in financial inclusion is being driven by many.

What Happens to Microfinance Clients Who Default? (January)
The Smart Campaign
Author: Jami Solli
This report looks in-depth at the enabling environment, the practices of providers, and customer experiences in Peru, India, and Uganda, to understand what happens when microfinance clients default on their loans. We were especially interested in the paper’s findings that demonstrate that effective credit bureaus give financial service providers the confidence to treat customers who default more humanely.

Money Resolutions: A Sketchbook (January)
CGAP
Author: Ignacio Mas 
This working paper explores the underlying logic for how people make money resolutions, including how people organize their money and make decisions about financial goals and spending. The paper focuses on peoples’ approaches to making financial decisions – rather than evaluating the decisions themselves – identifying the inner conflicts they face in the process.

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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 Center Staff

FI2020 Week is 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 are participating in more than 30 events and sharing their voices over social media, with #FI2020.

We’re two days in! FI2020 Week thus far has been a whirlwind few days, with events all over the world, a handful of public webinars, and robust social media conversations. We hope you’ve had the opportunity to take part in the action!

To get you up to speed, though certainly not comprehensive, here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening.

In Bangladesh, BRAC conducted an internal debate about the impact and benefits of its own microfinance program.  Answering tough questions like “Does BRAC risk doing more harm than good by using microfinance in its model of fighting poverty?” staff shared their perspectives, providing insights into how to improve the program. Check out some of the presented arguments on BRAC’s Twitter feed.

In Nigeria, Accion and Accion Microfinance Bank discussed financial inclusion strategies for the country. The three biggest industry gaps identified were the lack of mobile and agent banking infrastructure, human capital in the microfinance banking sector, and a spirit of collaboration and partnership among the various players.  Moving forward, the discussion participants will apply greater focus on savings as a necessary service offering that can be improved.

The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI) conducted a webinar on the lessons drawn from a six year project (2009 – 2015) carried out with 12 WSBI member banks aimed at creating usable savings services in the hands of the poor. One call to action from the webinar was the need for greater connectivity to combat the challenge of reaching clients in rural communities. As WSBI aims to add 400 million customers to its network by 2020, it will need to partner with more organizations in order to reach very remote village groups.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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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.