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Report cover pageNew CFI/IIF report examines the role that alternative data plays in helping mainstream financial institutions reach underserved customers.

>> Posted by Tess Johnson, Research Associate, CFI

With the explosive growth of data and the breakneck pace of digitization, mainstream financial service providers (FSPs) are increasingly turning to new and alternative data sources and analytics tools to more efficiently reach emerging markets and help bring the world’s 1.7 billion underserved people into the formal financial system. This “new data,” largely separate from traditional credit bureau data, represents a tremendous opportunity for commercial banks to identity new customers, many of whom were previously “credit invisible,” and to better understand and serve the needs of their existing client base. However, the path to greater data utilization is not always clear, as FSPs must weigh the benefits of embracing a data-centric approach with significant operational challenges, including changing a risk-adverse banking culture, recruiting top technical talent, upgrading legacy IT infrastructure and navigating a complex regulatory environment. Building upon in-depth interviews with banks, fintechs and other actors, Accelerating Financial Inclusion with New Data—the newest joint report from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Institute of International Finance (IIF), supported by MetLife Foundation—examines the data landscape and evaluates the progress FSPs have made in innovating around data and areas where they have faced obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

It’s important to recognize the work of others, but so easy to let the days slide by silently – until a major transition occurs.

Last week there was such a transition, in the form of a gala to recognize the achievements of Alex Counts, founder and for 18 years, CEO of Grameen Foundation. So I decided to mark the occasion with these thoughts.

The story of the organization’s founding is a simple one, reflecting the naiveté and boldness of youth. As a recent college graduate, Alex moved to Bangladesh to apprentice at the Grameen Bank. On returning home to the U.S. seven years later, in 1997, and with $6,000 provided by Muhammad Yunus, he started the Foundation to carry Grameen Bank’s work for the very poor into countries around the world. He didn’t know what he didn’t know, as is the case for most entrepreneurs, social and otherwise. Grameen Foundation operated on a shoestring in those early days.

Over the next 18 years, Alex built an organization that today works in Asia, Africa and Latin America with a multimillion dollar budget and a high-powered board of directors (just a little self-promotion – I’m honored to be a member). Grameen Foundation has assisted some of the best and most mission-driven microfinance institutions in the world – Fonkoze, Grameen Koota, Cashpor, CARD Bank and many more – to raise money, improve their operations and try new things, with a constant eye on serving the very poor and the least-included, especially women. The Foundation was an early entrant into what is now the Fintech space, with the MIFOS initiative and the Grameen Technology Center, and it has become an important innovator in the use of mobile phones as a tool in support of the financial, agricultural and health needs of the poor.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. I wanted to recognize Alex from a more personal point of view.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

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Often, we hold out hope that innovation will happen through the great leap forward, the stroke of luck, the miracle cure – and when one candidate fails, we go off in search of another.

There is justifiable concern that this yes-or-no approach hampers international development. A recent article in the New Republic listed “big ideas” in international development that failed – not because they were bad, but because they were big. The article describes a $15 million-plus project to install thousands of water pumps attached to merry-go-rounds in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages which sought to overhaul entire villages by building housing, schools, clinics, roads, and other key infrastructure. In these and the article’s other cases, with expectations high and money and attention flowing in, the projects sank, often because they outgrew the scale at which they had proven to work. Yet some of a project’s apparent lack of success may simply come down to the measurement you’re using. Many of the world’s most successful development efforts – deworming campaigns, for example – only improve the average life in tiny increments.

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>Posted by Center Staff

There is great concern in the microfinance world and beyond regarding government efforts to take over Grameen Bank. Todd Bernhardt, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Grameen Foundation, has written a thorough and thoughtful summary of the latest developments as part of the Grameen Foundation blog. The post begins:

As you might have read in the news this week, the Bangladeshi government seems to be moving into the end game in its longtime effort to take over Grameen Bank, a move that has been widely criticized within Bangladesh and around the world.  To briefly summarize, the cabinet – presided over by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina – voted on Thursday to amend the Grameen Bank Ordinance of 1983, effectively removing the Board of Directors’ right to choose the Bank’s Managing Director, and vesting that power instead in the Board’s government-appointed (and aligned) chairman…

To continue reading the rest of  the article on the Grameen Foundation blog, please click here.

Image credit: banglanews24.com

Have you read?

U.S. Women Senators Unite in Support of the Women of Grameen Bank

Microfinance in Bangladesh: It’s Not What You Thought

> Posted by Center Staff

A great deal of misinformation has circulated around the Web about the recent confrontation between Prof. Muhammad Yunus/Grameen Bank and Bangladesh’s government.

We’re passing on this short, factual summary because it’s important for people to know about that chain of events. It’s a new document from the Friends of Grameen.

It contains links to all the key documents for those who want to dig deeper, as well as Prof. Yunus and Grameen’s side of the story, which is not always reflected in press accounts.

Image credit: RocketOOO

Have you read?

Microfinance Leaders Strive to Walk the  Walk

13 Key Institutions in Microfinance Industry Sign Open Letter Supporting Muhammad Yunus

Who Has Muhammad Yunus’ Back?

> Posted by Center Staff

More than a dozen institutions with high-profile roles in the world’s microfinance industry today released an open letter in support of Dr. Muhammad Yunus as he grapples with a harsh attack by the Government of Bangladesh.

The level of unity shown here by the industry is unprecedented.

The letter reads, in part: “We are increasingly concerned and dismayed with the troubles Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus is facing in Bangladesh … We deeply deplore this lack of justice and unproven allegations that not only impugn Dr. Yunus’ character and the integrity of his flagship bank, but reach much further.”

“Dr. Yunus has played a seminal role in the development and recognition of microfinance … He has our strong support, and our wishes for a just and speedy resolution to this sad turn of events,” add the signatories.

The open letter is signed  by: Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

In Bangladesh, the ugly events of the last few months have reached a climax, and everyone in the microfinance industry would do well to wake up — and speak up.

What’s afoot? As the Financial Times puts it: “After publicly denouncing the founder of Grameen Bank for corruption and of ‘sucking the blood’ of the poor, Dhaka has limply resorted to a legal technicality to remove the Nobel Prize winner from the board of the microfinance institution.”

What’s at stake? In the words of Sam Daley-Harris, the director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, this is “the latest move in a campaign to persecute Prof. Yunus and undermine the independence of Grameen Bank.” And because Grameen has yet to comply with Dhaka’s dictates, as the Financial Times observes, the deadlock resulting from this “political score-settling” can hurt only “both the bank and the wider microfinance industry.” Read the rest of this entry »

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