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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Grameen Foundation

We need to ensure products and services help family units, not just individuals, thrive.

Writing in 1982, about Fred Astaire, Robert Thaves wrote “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels.” Since then, this quote about two legendary dancers has been used to celebrate the skills and talents of women and to demonstrate their ability to juggle complexity and pull it off gracefully.

At Grameen Foundation, we celebrate women for the potential they carry for ending poverty and hunger. In fact, some statistics suggest that if women farmers had the same resources as their male counterparts, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by 150 million. Beyond access to quality farm inputs, credit, and land, we also know that when women have equal access to education, health services, and business services they can thrive economically. Helping mothers be healthy before and during pregnancy also results in healthier children and more productive societies. Women are a key driving force against poverty.

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> Posted by Steve Hollingworth and Kathleen Stack

Grameen Foundation and Freedom from Hunger are proud to announce that we have joined forces to form a single unified organization.

Under the banner of Grameen Foundation, our mission is to enable the poor, especially women, to create a world without hunger and poverty.

This is more than mere words. It is an unflagging commitment to focus our resources and combined expertise on charting new paths out of poverty with programs that expand financial inclusion, enhance health, strengthen resilience and improve livelihoods for the world’s poorest people.

Through combining the programs, expertise and talent of Grameen Foundation and Freedom from Hunger we will further broaden and deepen our impact, and build a whole that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Both organizations have roots in the earliest movements for microfinance, and today conduct programs that tackle poverty and hunger from multiple directions.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

If someone asked you, “In the past 12 months, have you ever been afraid of your spouse?” how do you think you’d respond? I would personally hope you’d be able to say “never”. I wouldn’t want to hear you say, “often” or even “sometimes”.

A few years back, I wrote a blog post about domestic violence and microfinance. This topic came out of the 2014 Microcredit Summit in Mexico where we were talking about health indicators. Carmen Velasco suggested we’d forgotten to add an indicator related to domestic violence to the list, since conceptually it feels that if we don’t include domestic violence under the theme of health, it might continue to not get covered anywhere.

Since the Summit, Freedom from Hunger has had a chance to ask the question I asked you above in three countries. While most demographic and health surveys and other standardized surveys on domestic violence may go through a series of questions about whether a person has experienced physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or other types of abuse, we were looking for something less invasive, if that’s possible. When I found the above question in an Indian survey, it felt right. I actually had a personal reaction to it. At one point in my life, if someone had asked me this question, I might have said “sometimes” or even “often.”

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> Posted by Isabel Whisson and Maria A. May, BRAC

Destructive and devastating, disasters threaten to rob communities of resources, households of livelihoods, and families of loved ones. Difficult to anticipate and inherently costly, is there hope of fostering resilience against them?

Certainly. This year at BRAC’s Frugal Innovation Forum, an annual congregation of development innovators, the conversation centered on “scaling resilience“. In responding to crises as diverse as Nepal’s earthquake, to Typhoon Haiyan, to the collapse of Rana Plaza, a common theme for solutions promoting resilience was to create systems in advance that enable immediate response and recovery.

Having access to financial services is key. According to Michael Kellogg of VisionFund International, “People know what they need following a disaster and are extraordinarily adaptable in identifying ways to meet those needs. Equipping them with money soon after the disaster enhances their capacity to quickly rebuild livelihoods and the economic recovery of the local market.”

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

Known as the “hardest interview you’ll have with a client,” the interview you have with a client who is leaving is also, however, one of the most important interviews for a microfinance institution – and likely any organization or company concerned about the costs of client acquisition and retention.

The latest debates on the success of microfinance have encouraged Freedom from Hunger to dig deeper into our repertoire of “impact stories” and critically review the reasons why microfinance clients whose lives were not improving were dropping out, particularly since critics often suggest that microfinance tends to result in negative outcomes among participants.

Since 2007, Freedom from Hunger has been developing and testing an “impact story” methodology to discover client experiences that are representative of the entire clientele of an MFI or even multiple institutions, ranging from success to failure and whatever is happening in between.

Thus far, Freedom from Hunger has collected over 700 client impact stories from 25 local partners located in ten countries throughout Latin America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Six countries were visited a second time after an interval of three or four years to re-interview the impact story participants. This is a significant effort to take qualitative interviews and conduct them with a small random selection of clients and use the information for fairly meticulous research purposes.

With these impact stories, we wanted to answer some basic questions. Why are some clients successful and why are some not? Why do some clients drop out? Are all the reasons for drop-out negative and does the drop-out result in a client being worse off than if they stayed a client? Can we tell if microfinance is to blame for their negative status? What can we do to improve?

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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 United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly held a side event last week on youth financial inclusion; the Microfinance Gateway spotlighted resilience, for both households and financial institutions, in the realm of financial inclusion; and the Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA), in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Data2XCARE, released a report on the value of data to women’s financial inclusion. Here are a few more details:

  • The U.N. General Assembly side event focused on the importance of financial inclusion for youth, including youth entrepreneurs, and it was asserted that the energy and dynamism of young people will be integral in achieving the newly adopted 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Fifty-four percent of youth between 15-24 don’t have a bank account.
  • Resilience, or the ability to anticipate, adapt to, and/or recover from adverse situations, is a key lens for considering financial inclusion. Microfinance Gateway’s spotlight shares industry work on resilience from Freedom from Hunger, ILO, IMF, Making Finance Work for Africa, Microinsurance Network, and MicroSave.
  • GBA, IDB, and Data2XCARE’s new report, based on interviews with over 50 financial inclusion stakeholders, makes the case for sex-disaggregated data – how this data could inform better policies and private sector action – and discusses the challenges to its collection and use.

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.

Three questions every ‘pro-poor’ group needs to ask themselves

> Posted by Chris Dunford and Carmen Velasco

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

This month, the United Nations will celebrate achievement of Millennium Development Goal No. 1. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. How did this happen? Is it because of targeted anti-poverty programs, or is it due to broad-based economic growth, especially in China and India? If economic growth is the main cause, as it seems to be, further progress may be doubtful. Economic growth alone is unlikely to reach the residual hundreds of millions still living in extreme poverty.

Nor is it likely that anti-poverty programs, whether public or private, will lift this “bottom billion” from extreme poverty. For example, the U.S. poverty rate hovers around 15 percent of the population, nearly unchanged for decades, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on U.S. anti-poverty programs. For another example, in poorer countries, microfinance was billed as a self-financing solution to deep poverty and became a darling of international development donors in the 1990s and “social investors” in the 2000s. Then smart social scientists tested the claims with sound field research and found little to no impact on poverty.

Is it reasonable, however, to expect anti-poverty programs, by themselves, to lift large numbers of people above an arbitrary poverty line? Given that the poor must overcome many burdens before they can seize whatever economic opportunities are available, perhaps we should ask a different question:

Do anti-poverty programs ease the burdens of poverty?

While the recent research into microfinance shows little to no increase of annual household income, on average, the same studies very often show that the burden of poverty is alleviated by giving microfinance participants access to money when they really need it during the year. Economists call this impact “consumption smoothing.” In plain terms, it means people get enough to eat throughout the year instead of going without adequate food for a day, a week, or even months at a time. If so, this is an impact worth celebrating, is it not?

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Vice President, Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

“Over a sixth of the world’s population has directly experienced armed conflict, torture, terrorism, sexual and gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing or genocide,” states the website of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF). I recently attended the 8th Annual PCAF Pan-African Psychotrauma Conference in Nairobi, a multidisciplinary event that focuses on psychological trauma in Africa’s war-affected societies. PCAF operates mental health clinics in Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda and conducts trainings for mental health professionals. At the conference, I was surrounded by global leaders from health care, academia, and a litany of organizations working in the mental health space.

At first blush, my participation at such an event might seem odd as my work focuses on disability inclusion for microfinance. But, I’d argue that’s more of a reflection of how society, and our industry, views mental disabilities – with reductive biases – rather than how they fit within microfinance.

I had the privilege of presenting a keynote to the attendees. I discussed whether it’s possible for trauma patients who have gone through a successful course of treatment that includes counseling, medication, and livelihood trainings to become clients of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and build small-sized enterprises. Immediately below is an abridged version of my speech, with the complete text linked at the end.

Can MFIs help victims of trauma find hope and dignity through self-employment?

As a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) survivor myself from the U.S., who received treatment, I believe with all my heart that in a just society poor people with mental health challenges should get the help they need so they can flourish as human beings. Unfortunately, in the international development world I come from, this great cause is barely on the radar—in spite of the fact that reaching the most destitute is at the urgent core of all international development work. Indeed, I share your outrage at the paucity of funding and support for community mental health from governments and foundations.

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> Posted by Monique Cohen, Independent Advisor, and Founder of Microfinance Opportunities

When an Equity Bank client in Kenya was asked if she saw value in financial education, she replied without hesitation, “Yes, but I thought it was only for rich people.” Delighted with this ringing endorsement the interviewer never asked her what financial education meant for her. If she had we might have gone down a different track.

Intuitively, financial education seems like a good thing. Many experts will tell you that it or financial capability are important for achieving financial inclusion. Yet, the research tells a contrary story: financial education, building financial literacy, or financial capability interventions in developing countries have little effect on changing financial behaviors, including the uptake and usage of formal financial services. I keep asking: What am I missing in this picture? Why doesn’t it add up? With 12 years of experience in this space I would argue that there is much confusion about what financial education is, what it can do, and what we want it to do.

Financial institutions have much to gain from effective financial education, as, of course, do clients. At present, however, the field is torn between two paradigms – a money management paradigm and a product usage paradigm. Though both have merits, neither gets it quite right. I propose a more client-led perspective as a way to ensure that financial education can become more meaningful for the user.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Freedom from Hunger

While recent research indicates that access to and use of microcredit alone is not transformative for the average client served (see “Where Credit Is Due”), there has been very little discussion about the types of indicators being used to measure “transformation” in the ongoing debates. In fact, it seems that we all have accepted the general findings that microcredit has only had modest impacts on, along with other indicators of poverty and well-being, education, health, and social capital because the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have said so. There needs to be greater thought and debate about the choices of indicators used to support these conclusions.

Freedom from Hunger over the past 20-plus years has integrated health with microfinance and helped build a body of knowledge indicating that microfinance plus health services can enhance health outcomes. In an ongoing partnership with the Microcredit Summit Campaign, supported by Johnson and Johnson, we have pilot-tested a series of health indicators that financial service providers (FSPs) can use to track client health outcomes. This pilot test was built on years of experience of evaluating health outcomes with our FSP partners, as well as on similar experiences of developing common tracking indicators in the health sector. We created a list of criteria to assess the types of indicators we felt would be meaningful to track—for individuals with and without health services – which included dimensions of feasibility, usability, and reliability. Initial results have been shared in several webinars with SEEP and the Social Performance Task Force.

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