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> Posted by Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President, and Christian Loupeda, Senior Director Financial Inclusion, Grameen Foundation  

This is the second post in a three-part series that explores the role of digital financial services in expanding women’s control over their financial lives. You can read the first post here.

For poor, rural communities “field force” workers such as mobile money agents or government agricultural extension officers can be lifelines to services and information that bring rural residents greater control over their financial lives and help them increase their incomes and gain a connection to the larger world. But, for women, rather than a bridge, field force workers too often end up being one more hurdle on the way to access resources.

Across the developing world, almost all agricultural extension services lack female participation. Women, on average, comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers. Yet only 15 percent of the world’s agriculture extension agents are women, and only 5 percent of women farmers benefit from extension services–despite the fact that women play a significant role in farming activities from production all the way to commercialization. Similarly, for mobile money agents, GSMA reports that among its members that report on gender, only 23 percent of agents and 37 percent of customers are female.

As Lisa Kienzle mentioned in her post in this series on digital financial services for women, Grameen Foundation has found that a woman often benefits from being able to work with a trusted agent who can directly help her understand and use the services available. That’s why we have helped to develop women as banking agents in the Philippines. We created an independent network of female financial agents who work out of their neighborhood sari-sari (variety) shops. The all-female network now includes 862 trained agents, who bring digital financial services to more than 66,000 low-income clients. Recruiting female agents benefits the end clients, but also the female entreprenuers who become agents who typically see an increase in their own income of at least 20-to-30 percent.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

Weather-indexed insurance is brilliant. It’s just not working.

It’s brilliant because it solves one of the basic challenges of insurance: moral hazard. Under the principle of moral hazard, having insurance tends to make an individual’s behavior riskier, increasing the likelihood that the product will be used. If I have fantastic health insurance, for example, I may be more likely to make riskier life decisions because I don’t feel the financial effects of the consequences of those decisions quite so acutely. If insurance is tied to the weather, however, nothing an individual does (unless you believe in the efficacy of a rain dance) will “trigger” the insurance.

Weather-indexed insurance is not a new phenomenon. Over the last decade we’ve heard exciting stories about weather-indexed crop microinsurance and the lifeline it offers to farmers given our world’s quickly-changing climate. Weather-indexed insurance was bundled with agricultural inputs like seeds or livestock, and the product was lauded as a way to increase the inclusion of poor people in insurance.

Amazing, right? So why, after a decade, aren’t customers buying? In India, for example, only 5 percent of farmers have taken it up where available.
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> Posted by Bruce MacDonald, Vice President, Communications and Operations, CFI

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

As 2016 New Year’s resolutions went, few matched the enthusiasm, ambition and fragility of the commitment made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On Jan. 1, its 10-member countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – inaugurated the ASEAN Economic Community, a common market whose goal is to forge a prominent regional bloc to rival China and Japan, and bring economic well-being to its 625 million citizens.

Some 13 years in the making, the Community promises an increasingly free flow of services, investment, skilled labor and capital to a market that is now larger in terms of population than either North America or the European Union. Such a single market, its creators envision, will increase intra-ASEAN trade and justify greater spending on infrastructure. Currently, the six leading nations in the group (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, a.k.a., ASEAN-6) allocate an average of 26 percent of their GDP to investment, which any recent visitor to Manila or Jakarta might argue is nowhere nearly enough.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist

Consolidation and investment in coffee brands is reaching a fever pitch, according to Andrew Daday, Director of Coffee for Stumptown Roasters. Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, and the modal coffee farmer is a smallholder living near or below the poverty line, resulting in unique value chains in Latin America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. These value chains are characterized by factors like the commodity coffee markets, agronomics, organization/associations of growers, government coffee marketing institutions, and the state of rural financial services. Specialty coffee is characterized by meeting particular quality standards. Specialty coffee production allows some farmers to escape the vicissitudes of the commodity coffee market and to capture value commensurate with their product’s quality and input costs. In the United States, 55 percent of the 48 billion dollars of coffee retail value consumed falls into the specialty category – representing immense growth in recent decades. If bullishness ratifies the growth prospects for high-end coffee in the U.S. and abroad, it is worth looking into how scaling will manifest at the agricultural end of the value chain, because the relationships coffee farmers have with downstream firms impact their well-being in a number of ways, including via their access to financing.

Agriculture finance for smallholders can be an operationally-intensive, high-risk enterprise. However, financial institutions like the Netherlands’ Rabobank and Mexico’s Banorte express that agricultural credit is especially viable and profitable if “producers are well-integrated into a viable value chain.” Linking into a larger firm’s supply chain is a boon to small business growth in many contexts. Besides serving as a “springboard for growth” for small businesses from increased market access, buyer-supplier linkages yield exposure to key industry information and data points along the value chain that contribute to better capital allocation and financial accessibility for qualified entrepreneurs. Linking with a value chain may also enable a transition from informal lending, which can rely overwhelmingly on local knowledge for underwriting, to the formal financial services sector.

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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 Center Staff

The latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked, is now available. Among the stories in this week’s edition are: the prevalence of countries inadequately tracking the well-being of their older citizens; the launch of Monese, a mobile-based banking service targeting immigrants and expats in the U.K.; and CARE distilling lessons learned from its work developing sustainable agricultural value chains in a new book. Here are a few more details:

  • HelpAge International recently released the 2015 Global AgeWatch index, which ranks countries on quality of life for older people based on access to pensions, healthcare, employment, and further education. The index had to exclude 98 countries that don’t sufficiently collect such data on this growing population segment.
  • Monese, licensed as an electronic money institution, lessens “residency restrictions” and offers accounts to those new to the U.K., providing services like cash deposits, withdrawal, and low-cost international money transfers.
  • In their new book on reducing poverty via value chain development, among others, CARE shares the following takeaways: work along the entire value chain – not just with farmers; design for scale from the start; and skillfully empowering women is smart economics and the right thing to do.

For more information on these and other stories, read the latest issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to Eric Zuehlke at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

In addition to its other benefits, microfinance can be a vehicle for promoting environmentally sustainable development. Small-scale finance, when bundled with other services, can improve access to clean energy for people at the base of the pyramid, and can assist them to protect ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and adapt to climate change. And for the poor, climate change mitigation and adaptation is critical. Although poor people have contributed the least to climate change, according to the United Nations, they will suffer its effects in the biggest way. Though still a burgeoning area, a number of microfinance institutions are effectively pairing microfinance and environmental action, including Kompanion Financial Group in Kyrgyzstan, ESAF Microfinance in India, and XacBank in Mongolia. A few weeks ago at European Microfinance Week (EMW) these three institutions were acknowledged for their work in this area, with Kompanion winning the 5th European Microfinance and Environment Award, and ESAF and XacBank placing as runner-ups.

The Microfinance and Environment Award, launched in 2005, recognizes institutions committed to serving the poor while contributing to environmental sustainability. It’s jointly organized by the Development Cooperation Directorate, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), and the Inclusive Finance Network Luxembourg in collaboration with the European Investment Bank. Below is a snapshot of the environmental efforts of the three institutions, featuring the videos that were shown at EMW.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

New data shows the Cambodian microfinance market disbursed $1.79 billion in loans over the first three quarters of 2014, amounting to a 51 percent increase over last year’s Q1-3 figures. The data comes from the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) and includes loans issued by 45 of the country’s MFIs. Last year’s total for the same period was $1.18 billion from 39 institutions. In a country where fewer than 20 percent of the adult population has access to formal financial services, such expansion in activity might be exciting, but is it sustainable for borrowers and institutions?

Some individuals who are unfazed by the rapid growth point to the recent economic strengthening enjoyed by the country. Cambodia’s GDP increased annually on average 7.7 percent between 1994 and 2013, and it’s expected to maintain a nearly equivalent trajectory in the years to come. On distributing this wealth, the country achieved its Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty in 2009. Agriculture in Cambodia is big, constituting about 35 percent of the country’s GDP. About 90 percent of those who are poor or who are vulnerable to slipping into poverty live in rural areas. More small and medium sized entrepreneurs making investments in farming efforts, or other income-generating activities, aligns with an expanding economy.

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> Posted by Michiel Sallaets, Communications Manager, Incofin Investment Management

To continue Sri Lanka’s development in its post-war, post-tsunami era, it’s essential that greater investments be made in the country’s agriculture sector and in its financial services for the base of the pyramid.

In Sri Lanka, about 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Agriculture is the main source of income for these people and many of them work at the smallholder level. Loans are necessary for farmers to adequately invest in seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other productive inputs. Loans can also prove instrumental in compensating for the occasional inadequate harvest. Yet, the proportion of people who have taken out loans in Sri Lanka in the past year is a dismal 9 percent. Only 22 percent of the population in the past year has saved in a financial institution.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

The impact investing space is growing and benefitting an increasingly diverse array of areas including financial services, agriculture, healthcare, housing, energy, and more. Expanding too is the number of impact investing organizations incorporating impact measurement as part of their investment activities. As more players enter and the industry matures it’s even more important that the industry embraces the capture of impact data and assessment of progress against stated goals. This information validates the industry, helps investors manage investee companies, and improves investor and investee strategic decision-making. It also positions the industry to convince funders, especially new ones, to mobilize additional capital.

Last year the G8 created the Impact Measurement Working Group as part of its Social Impact Investing Taskforce. A few weeks ago the group released its “Measuring Impact” report, which includes seven guidelines for impact measurement and five case studies of how investing organizations have put the guidelines to good use. The initiative by the G8 reflects an elevated priority and the development of the industry.

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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.