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> Posted by Hannah McCandless, Program Support Associate, Village Enterprise

Through its one-year graduation program, Village Enterprise provides business and savings training, access to savings groups, seed capital, and mentoring to rural East Africans living in extreme poverty. The program combines these grassroots interventions with linkages to financial institutions, increasing the financial capability of the extreme poor. In the second part of this series, Village Enterprise reflects on some of the learning gained through these interventions, focusing on amplifying progress made at the grassroots level through linkages to formal institutions.

The adoption of attitudes, habits, and behaviors needed for healthy financial decision-making is an essential first step in preparing individuals to be consumers of financial services. But just because households regularly save money or understand the risks of microloans does not necessarily mean that they are ready to evaluate and take-up formal financial services on their own. To be effective, financial inclusion interventions for those living in extreme poverty, at the base of the pyramid, need to both foster financial capability and facilitate healthy linkages to financial institutions.

Recognizing this need, Village Enterprise is working to establish linkages between our Business Savings Groups (BSGs, our version of VSLAs) and formal financial institutions. However, as we have learned, linking our BSGs to the right financial institution is easier said than done. We have found that creating healthy linkages is a multi-step process, rather than a one-time event.

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> Posted by Ellen Metzger, CFI

Community savings groups are at the heart of successful rural banking

Before joining the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion, I spent four years in rural East Africa managing an ultra-poor graduation program. At Village Enterprise, we focused on savings group creation and distributed conditional cash transfers rather than livestock (as is customary with graduation programs) in order to empower choice and facilitate ownership among our participants. Over years of traveling the bumpy back roads of Uganda and Western Kenya meeting with hundreds of savings group members, I met very few participants who went beyond their local savings groups to take loans from financial institutions such as MFIs. Those few who did created great success stories. In light of the recent article “Your Inflexible Friend” in The Economist, which offers a review of microlending’s history, I reflect on why we don’t see microlending in the rural areas of Uganda and Western Kenya and how that can change.

A good reputation is critical. In these areas, tragic stories of delinquencies and defaults travel faster and are remembered longer than stories of success. In Kenya especially, where there is more competition in rural areas among financial institutions than in Uganda, reputation precedes the products and services. These reputations can vary dramatically every 5 kilometers you travel. When groups are asked about being linked to a particular financial institution, one community will trust the organization, the next community a few kilometers away will cringe at the name. Microfinance institutions are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in trust, so it’s imperative for them to design trustworthy products and ensure adequate follow-through on their services every time.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Impact investing in East Africa has grown strongly over the past five years with over $9.3 billion disbursed, more than 1,000 deals, and roughly 150 investors managing about 200 active investment vehicles. These are among the findings outlined in a new report from the Global Impact Investing Network and Open Capital Advisors, which provides a state of the market analysis for impact investing in the East Africa region. The report examines the supply of global impact investment capital, the demand for investment resources, challenges and recommendations, and the country-level markets. What was found?

Here are a few of the report’s key messages:

  • Kenya dominates impact investing in the region, accounting for more than half of its deployed impact capital and having more than three-times the in-country fund staff of any other country.
  • Uganda ranks a distant second in capital received at 13 percent of that of the region, receiving support from its favorable business and regulatory environments.
  • Despite its GDP being 50 percent bigger than Uganda’s, Tanzania claims about 12 percent of the region’s impact capital, owing its stature in part to its low population density, weak transportation infrastructure, and relatively unpredictable government interjections.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

One theme we come across repeatedly at CFI is the discrepancy between financial services access and usage. A central tenet of our vision of financial inclusion is that access isn’t enough; financial services need to meet client needs and actually be used. One example is mobile banking. As is now well known, millions are now accessing financial services for the first time with mobile payment platforms through telcos. As our By the Numbers report found, however, the proportion of financial services accounts that are mobile is much smaller for the world in general – East Africa is the outlier.

I just returned from an exciting two-week assignment through Accion’s Ambassador program with Akiba Commercial Bank in Tanzania. I met with Akiba staff, visited branch offices, and talked with clients. (You can read about my experiences, including a trip to Zanzibar and terrifying/awesome motorcycle taxi trips on the Ambassador blog.) Since I was in the region with the world’s highest adoption of mobile banking, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about how Akiba’s mobile banking experience has worked out, both from staff and client perspectives. Has adoption and usage met expectations? What kind of feedback was Akiba hearing from clients? What challenges was Akiba facing with their mobile platform?

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The most exciting trends and startups in inclusive finance this year

> Posted by Vikas Raj, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

There has been a lot of buzz in the financial technology (FinTech) space over the last several months, with a high-profile IPO, several more apparently on the way, and more and more venture funding flowing into FinTech startups. Bold ideas for financial services innovation are getting more visibility – just this month, Australian Wealth Index (AWI) listed the 50 Best FinTech Innovators, and CFI’s Elisabeth Rhyne conveniently categorized the list so it’s easy to see at a glance where the innovations are.

At Venture Lab, we found the AWI list interesting but also felt it missed something significant: namely, that one of the biggest opportunities for FinTech is figuring out new solutions to include the billions of lower-income people who are today excluded from formal financial services. And it’s not charity that compels us to reach these customers – it’s good business. These customers represent a big market. In fact, they’re such a significant part of any emerging market’s customer base that any global providers with dreams of international expansion must cater to them if they want to succeed.

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> Posted by Madeleine Dy, International Programs Manager, Water.org

More than 100 leaders from the water, sanitation, and finance sectors came together October 21-22, 2014 for the second East Africa WaterCredit Forum in Nairobi to share progress made and to brainstorm lasting solutions to the water and sanitation crisis affecting East Africa. In Kenya, for example, access to safe water supplies is 59 percent and access to improved sanitation is 32 percent.

Water.org, in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, convened the Forum, part of Water.org’s five-year collaboration with the Foundation to bring safe water and sanitation to economically challenged communities in East Africa through the WaterCredit approach. Since 2010, the WaterCredit initiative in Kenya and Uganda has empowered almost 115,000 people to obtain financing from seven financial institutions (FIs) for long‐term, sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

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> Posted by Monica Brand Engel and Jackson Scher, Managing Director and Program Coordinator, Frontier Investments Group, Accion

Innovative payment solutions are proliferating globally. Enabled by the exponential expansion of mobile phones, social media, “big data”, and internet access, financial players throughout the world are inventing new ways to complete transactions. Disruptive innovations such as prepaid options, NFC-enabled payments, and cryptocurrencies are gaining significant adoption and are changing the payments space. These trends are especially pronounced in emerging markets where many new entrants have chosen to “leapfrog” traditional, resource-intensive systems and dive directly into the seamless and nimble world of digital financial services. Although these exciting innovations in digital payments have the potential to increase convenience for customers and dramatically reduce costs, some challenges remain. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

This week, The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network launched its Financial Inclusion hub, featuring stories, infographics, videos, and other resources on financial inclusion issues worldwide. The hub will be updated regularly over the coming months with original content. The first collection of posts includes:

  • Using mobile money to buy water and solar power in East Africa
  • Funeral insurance in South Africa: counting the cost of life and death
  • Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society
  • An interactive map on ATMs worldwide

Guardian Professional Network hubs are community-focused sites, where The Guardian brings together advice, best practice, and insight from a range of professional communities. With this week’s launch, financial inclusion is sharing the stage among global development issues such as climate change, global health and nutrition, and urbanization, with the goal of promoting understanding, dialogue, and debate among those working in global development. CFI is a knowledge partner with The Guardian for the Financial Inclusion hub, sharing story and topic ideas and facilitating connections with editors.

Visit the hub at www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/financial-inclusion. You can join the conversation on Twitter using #NOunbanked

Have some ideas for issues and stories that should be investigated as part of the hub? Let us know in the comments.

> Posted by Nate Gonzalez, Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on Next Billion.

In this age of “big data,” technology has begun to drive strategy formation, and this shift could have big implications for traditional businesses and social enterprises alike. In a thoughtful and engaging presentation (below), Philip Evans, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, explains why. Most traditional businesses, he says, operate in a value chain, where transaction costs are the “glue” that holds the chain together. Large corporations (such as banks) have been able to fend off competition by sufficiently reducing transaction costs through economies of scale. However, as the accessibility and flow of information has become cheaper and faster, the transaction costs traditionally associated with accessing the information needed to make key business decisions (e.g., extending a loan) have plummeted.

Plummeting transaction costs create space for new entrants to come in and completely disrupt traditional value chains and corporate structures. In his presentation, Evans lays out the case that lies at the foundation of the investment thesis behind Accion Venture Lab (where I am an investment officer): Start-ups with technology-enabled models can create scaled products and innovate much faster, smarter, and more cheaply than incumbent institutions.

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Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

This post is part of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Expert Exchange: Building A Movement Toward Financial Inclusion by 2020, cultivating conversation around the goal of reaching full financial inclusion by 2020. For further questions about this series, write to Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion.

As I mentioned in a blog post yesterday, financial literacy is a recipe that does not come together automatically, even if you seem to have all the right ingredients. You may have funding, but the funding could come with unrealistic expectations. You may have students, but the students may not have a good reason to pay attention to the lessons financial literacy training offers.

While I am new to the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign, I am certain that full financial inclusion, with fully financially capable clients, will not happen without a sound structure to support financial literacy efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.