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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign
This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.
Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.
It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.
> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, The Smart Campaign
The following is the second post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced. The first post can be found here.
In 1992, sporadic clashes between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh erupted into full scale war. By the time a ceasefire was reached two years later, the territory lay under Armenian control, and between 800,000 and 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced from their homes. Since the end of hostilities, ethnic Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled from Armenian-controlled to Azerbaijani-controlled territory have continued to face difficulties accessing economic opportunity. However, a financial sector inclusive to IDPs is emerging, lessening these difficulties and demonstrating that IDPs can be a bankable client segment. Read the rest of this entry »
> Posted by the Smart Campaign
It’s been an exciting few months for client protection in the microfinance industry. FINCA Kyrgyzstan, MBK Ventura in Indonesia, SKS Microfinance in India, and a number of other MFIs around the world demonstrated that they successfully integrate the client protection principles into their practices and joined the rapidly growing list of institutions that are Smart Certified. Today, we’re pleased to share that the number of clients across all the Smart Certified institutions surpassed the 15-million-client benchmark.
To date, 28 microfinance institutions, from Latin America to Eastern Europe and South Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s largest and best-known MFIs. These institutions are not only ensuring that their clients are equipped and best positioned to effectively use financial services, they’re also demonstrating to their respective markets and the global industry the good business that is responsible microfinance.
“Momentum to improve client protection is accelerating, with scores of MFIs across the globe improving their client protection practices, and being recognized for it through certification,” stated Isabelle Barrès, director of the Smart Campaign, in a press release. In Eastern Europe, there are certified institutions in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan. In Kyrgyzstan, with the certification of the nation’s network of FINCA MFIs, the country’s market crossed an important threshold. “As measured by MixMarket data, more than 50 percent of all microfinance clients in Kyrgyzstan do business with certified MFIs,” noted Barrès. The certified MFIs in Kyrgyzstan include the first formal financial institution serving low-income entrepreneurs in the region, as well as a relatively young institution, and encompass a range of service offerings like individual, group, and agricultural loans. Elsewhere in the region, the proportion of clients in certified institutions by country market is about 45 percent in Bosnia, and 40 percent in Tajikistan.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI
Islamic finance is expected to expand substantially in 2015, from 2014’s total of $2.1 trillion to $2.5 trillion, according to figures released last week by the Al-Huda Centre of Islamic Banking and Economics. In 2011, the industry had assets of about $1 trillion. Islamic microfinance, the segment of Sharia-compliant services targeting clients at the base of the pyramid, only occupies a small slice of the pie, at 1 percent of all Islamic finance globally. However this uptick in Sharia-compliant finance, as well as encouraging recent support for the 650 million Muslims living on less than 2 dollars a day, suggest a rising tide for Islamic microfinance.
The industry findings indicate that not only did Islamic finance surpass the $2 trillion landmark in 2014, it gained traction in nascent markets and entered new ones. Markets still green in offering Islamic finance that showed growth in 2014 include Morocco, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Libya, and several non-Muslim-majority countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa. Among the new markets where Islamic finance took root last year are Australia, Brazil, and China. Globally, there are 1,500 organizations working in Islamic finance across 90 countries – 40 percent of which are non-Muslim-majority countries. The expansion of Islamic finance opens the door for the many Muslims whose beliefs preclude them from accepting finance with interest rates and fee structures outlawed by Sharia doctrine.
> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors
The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.
Baku, Azerbaijan doesn’t look like a place that needs microfinance, at least not at first glance. Oil money is coursing through the streets. The shops include Tiffany’s, Cartier, Baccarat crystal, and every expensive fashion designer that New York and Paris have to offer. New apartment buildings line the road. This post-Soviet republic is transforming very fast.
But this is not the whole story. There is still a need to expand financial inclusion, despite the government’s efforts to do this. According to MicroRate’s report, “The State of Microfinance Investment 2013”, Azerbaijan is one of the largest microfinance markets for international investors. The 45 percent annual growth in Azeri microfinance is one of the fastest in the world. The Azerbaijan Microfinance Association (AMFA) reports that Azerbaijan’s microfinance portfolio, including via banks, is approaching USD 1 billion.
One group that is doing very important work, however, seems to be excluded from the party. These are the rural credit unions that are supporting agricultural finance.
By every measure, these credit unions are doing exactly what Western social investors want. They are committed to agriculture, and helping small farmers keep their holdings. Client protection is deep in their DNA, even if they are not familiar with the Smart Campaign. Rather than clients, they have members. Their governance is a cooperative structure, designed to serve the needs of these members. Interest rates are relatively low, aimed at sustainability rather than large profits. Loan amounts are small, designed to meet the farmers’ business needs.
Last month, I was invited to meet the Azeri credit unions at the invitation of Credit Implementing Agency, which is an umbrella institution that provides loan capital and support. Starting early in the morning, we drove for hours away from Baku to meet the credit unions on their own turf and have them explain their situation in their own words. We met in the simple structure that serves as the headquarters of one of the larger credit unions.