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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 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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> Posted by Center Staff

Next week, CFI will launch the first-ever FI2020 Week. From November 2-6, 2015, over 25 partners across the globe will organize conversations exploring the most important steps to achieving financial inclusion.

FI2020 Week will bring together diverse stakeholders to conduct interactive and participatory events, each of which will produce calls to action. The range of participants will include banks, insurance companies, payment companies, telecommunication companies, policymakers, regulators, NGOs, microfinance institutions, investors, financial inclusion support organizations, financial capability experts, and fintech companies, from around the world. All of these participants will focus on the question, “What is an important action needed in your country (or industry segment) to advance financial inclusion?”

We want YOU to join us! Throughout the week, many FI2020 Week partners will hold webinars – an opportunity for those who will not be attending in-person FI2020 Week events to participate in a variety of interesting conversations. The webinars cover a full range of topics, from client protection in mobile money use, to incorporating financial capability into product design. Check them out below and register now to join hundreds of people around the world in FI2020 Week.

And for more information, check out our Storify feed of social media and blog postings on the FI2020 Week website here and follow #FI2020 on Twitter for the latest updates.

Client Protection and Technology: The GSMA Code of Conduct for Mobile Money Providers
Hosted by: GSMA
Date: November 4, 2015
Time: 9:00 am – 10:00 am EST

This session will discuss how the GSMA – the global association for mobile network operators – is working with its members to ensure that mobile money services are safe, reliable, and secure, and that customers are treated fairly. The Code of Conduct for Mobile Money Providers includes eight high-level principles addressing topics such as safeguarding customer funds, AML/CFT, training and monitoring of staff and agents, reliable service provision, security, and fair treatment of customers. This session will provide a brief background to the Code of Conduct initiative and outline the plan for implementation of the Code. It will be useful for regulators, financial inclusion specialists, consumer protection advocates, and any other stakeholders who are interested in understanding what mobile operators are doing to ensure the safety, reliability, and fairness of mobile money services.

Register now!

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> Posted by Amitabh Brar and Paul DiLeo, Investment Manager and President, Grassroots Capital Management

A rare, behind-the-scenes look

Performance data on private equity funds is not easy to collect, and privately-held microfinance investment vehicles (MIVs) are no exception. Much less is known about the investment process within these MIVs, and how the three main elements of their governance — board, investment committee, and fund manager — interact to create value within these funds. A new Calmeadow study written by Grassroots Capital Management shines light on the elusive subject of governance inside a pioneer equity fund, AfriCap. The study, sponsored by a group of AfriCap investors, evaluates strategy setting and resetting, investment decisions, and portfolio management from the standpoint of the prime movers governing the fund: the board and its committees.

About AfriCap

After three years of planning, AfriCap was launched in 2001 with $13 million to invest in support of commercial microfinance in Africa. The sponsors were inspired by the accomplishments of Latin America’s Profund, then in its sixth year, and indeed many of AfriCap’s investors had collaborated earlier on Profund. Fund investments were complemented with a $3 million technical assistance (TA) grant facility to strengthen investees’ capacity. AfriCap saw some spectacular early successes. Some of its investees are today well-recognized financial institutions, including Equity Bank (Kenya) and Socremo (Mozambique), among others. These early results led to increased investor interest and in 2007 new investors joined, tripling AfriCap’s capital to $42 million. The TA pool was boosted to $11 million. In addition, the decision was taken to transform the closed-end fund into a permanent investment company, and the manager into an African-owned and run management company with the ability to manage multiple funds

Yet, notwithstanding AfriCap’s early successes, the fund failed to recover investment costs in 12 out of 21 investments, and there were several write-offs. The fund ended up delivering only modest financial returns to its investors, and the results were especially disappointing for new investors who joined at the time of recapitalization. In 2013 the board approved a plan to liquidate the fund and return unused capital to the investors, reversing an earlier decision to run AfriCap as a permanent company.

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> Posted by Tyler Owens, CFI Staff

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The current era of financial services for the poor is marked by the growth of high-tech delivery mechanisms, innovative start-ups, new socially responsible investing models, and more traditional banks growing their portfolios of base-of-the-pyramid clients. Different players in increasingly crowded markets often collide in trying to win over more clients. Just one recent example is the newly public Alibaba, which has issued more than $16 billion in small loans over the last three years through its SME loan company AliFinance. The result of all this can lead one to question the role that traditional MFIs will play in the years and decades ahead. What will be their unique value proposition and how will they earn and maintain market share and the loyalty of their clients?

There is evidence that microfinance industry practitioners and stakeholders are not prioritizing questions of relevance and long-term customer retention. All too often, thinking strategically about the place of an MFI in a rapidly changing financial services landscape takes a back seat to the daily crush of competition and loan book performance. The 2014 Microfinance Banana Skins report—which is built on surveys of industry practitioners and insiders—concluded that the most urgent risks the industry faces are those of day-to-day business operations, such as credit control, competition, and management quality. The report went on to say that “longer term risks associated with the survival and evolution of the industry such as technological change, product development and funding are considered to be less urgent – and are less well defined.” It concluded that paying scant attention to long-term risks in the industry—at a crucial point in its development—may be a serious risk in itself.

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> Posted by Center Staff

For Alex Silva, President of Omtrix and Executive Director of Calmeadow, a transition from industrial engineering and corporate banking to microfinance was natural. In our most recent Microfinance Matters Interview, Silva discusses his unique introduction to microfinance, the commercial approach to microfinance that he was instrumental in developing and much more.  Read this intriguing interview to learn more about Silva’s progression into microfinance and some of the many lessons he learned along the way! Read the rest of this entry »

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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.