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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 Kelsey Truman, HBS-Accion Program Coordinator, CFI

Domestic abuse and violence against women (VAW) are pervasive and shocking. According to the World Bank, 38 percent of murders of women globally are committed through intimate partner violence. Globally, one-third of all women have experienced domestic or intimate partner violence. The World Health Organization even went so far as to call VAW a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” Could financial services possibly play a role in improving this situation?

One of the largest hurdles in combating VAW around the world is women’s inability or unwillingness to seek help when they find themselves in abusive situations. In conjunction with fear, one important reason many women don’t seek help rests on their degree of financial dependency. That is, they don’t have enough money or economic resources necessary to establish themselves independently, much less pay for legal fees and so forth. Furthermore, women’s vulnerability to violence has been shown to increase with their relative level of poverty. If women are given options to easily and discreetly pursue financial options and open bank accounts independently of their husbands and other male family members, it could very well save their lives one day.

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> Posted by Lisa Kienzle and Gigi Gatti, Grameen Foundation

Nanays will use the Panalo system to conduct transactions for clients and provide them with receipts.

Women make great digital financial service (DFS) agents: they are often savvy at managing liquidity, effective at building trust, and perhaps most importantly, they are more effective at onboarding other women into DFS than men. This makes the recruitment and training of women agents an important strategy for closing the gender gaps in digital financial services and technology, and for ultimately ensuring universal financial inclusion.

Men in developing markets still outpace women in account ownership by 9 percent. The technology gap is even larger – women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Given the growing emphasis on digital solutions to drive financial inclusion, this technology gap could further widen the financial services gender divide if not explicitly taken into account in the design of digital solutions. Women agents are a crucial element of that design.

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> Posted by Alex Counts

During my final years as President of Grameen Foundation and Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG), I advocated that two papers be written that I had neither the time nor the expertise to do justice to myself.

The first paper was a distillation of lessons for practice from recent studies on the impact of microcredit and microfinance. Many papers that set out to determine whether microfinance worked stumbled on important insights about how it could work better. Unfortunately, those discoveries were buried in papers that people barely read beyond summaries and extracts. A paper that presented these “lessons for practice” in a form that was accessible to busy practitioners could make a big impact, by removing friction from the maddeningly difficult process of using research to positively influence policy and practice.

The second paper I advocated for was one that made the case for how philanthropy and social/impact investing, and more broadly, subsidy, could play a positive role in the microfinance industry today. Such a paper would need to start with making the case that such social investments had any role to play, as the conventional wisdom was settling on the idea that it did not have any.

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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 Center Staff

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Screenshot from VisionFund International’s webinar (click to watch)

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

On day three of Financial Inclusion Week 2016 we were excited to see conversations happen around the world, including in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Australia. We offer a rundown of these events and the vibrant online conversation below.

The week is nearing a close but there are still plenty of upcoming events and ways to get involved. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter with #FinclusionWeek, join tomorrow’s webinar with Innovations for Poverty Action, or submit a client quote and photo to our collection of client insights.

What’s Happening

VisionFund International hosted a webinar (two webinars, in fact, to accommodate for different timezones) focused on the future of digital financial services. The webinar centered on how VisionFund is using technology to lend to smallholder farmers at the right level, and at the right time. During the webinar, Tom Allen and Justin McAuley, Director of Change and Programs and Director of Global Digital Architecture at VisionFund, highlighted a new application they developed which uses available geographic and market data to better extend their products to smallholder farmers and manage risk. You can watch the full webinar here.
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> Posted by Alex Counts

The following post was originally published on the Grameen Foundation Insights Blog.

When I sat down with Larry Reed a few weeks back and learned of the significant changes in store for the Microcredit Summit Campaign, two decades of memories were stirred up. I tried to imagine what the world would be like had the original Microcredit Summit not taken place and even more important, if the Campaign that followed it had been stillborn or less robust.

That world would be one with fewer people having access to financial services, especially among the poorest, and thousands of ideas, debates, partnerships and personal connections grounded in ensuring that those financial services made a positive, lasting impact on the lives of the poor would have been lost.

It would also be a less inclusive and just world, one where civil society’s role at the global level in encouraging governments and the private sector to adopt, adapt and support the best ideas might still be nascent. Indeed, one of the most powerful legacies of the Campaign is the role of citizen’s movements in pushing governments and businesses worldwide to get behind action on climate change. In fact, the advocacy model pioneered by the Campaign’s scrappy mother organization, RESULTS, has been applied with stunning success to combat global warming through Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Citizens’ Climate Education, whose board of directors I recently joined.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Associate, CFI

The CFI is excited to welcome Sharlene Brown, who joins us as the Executive Director of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, where she will oversee the Working Group’s ongoing efforts to support the development of its member organizations and the microfinance industry at large. I had the opportunity to ask her about her work thus far, how she views the ever-changing inclusive finance industry, and where the Working Group fits in. 

How did you first get interested in microfinance?

I was born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, New York, so depending on the time of day and where I am, I might say I’m from Jamaica, or Brooklyn, or Brooklyn by way of Jamaica. Regardless, from a young age I knew I wanted to be able to give back. During an opportune economics course at Wellesley College, I came across Professor Yunus’ work and began to connect the dots between my own internal drive and burgeoning interest in investing and social responsibility, and the money management practices I had seen in my own community. ROSCAS, susus, juntas, or whatever you choose to call informal savings and credit groups, were the way that my family largely built their resources and foundation in the United States. So, early on I recognized that these types of non-traditional financial services can work well.

Where did this take you after graduating from college?

I followed an urge to challenge U.S. corporations on their bad behavior and joined Domini Social Investments, an investment firm focused on triple-bottom-line investments. Following a few years at Domini, I stayed in the socially responsible investment space and worked with the U.S. Sustainable Investment Forum, a member association for social investors. I also had an introduction to a New York-based group called Shared Interest, which supports microfinance in South Africa. There I created a social impact framework to help them balance their partners’ social results alongside financial performance.

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Grameen Foundation Study, Measuring the Impact of Microfinance: Looking to the Future

> Posted by Kathleen Odell, Associate Professor of Economics at Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

Today we’re pleased to announce the release of Measuring the Impact of Microfinance: Looking to the Future, the third in a series of papers commissioned by Grameen Foundation. This series was initiated in 2005 to survey and contextualize the available evidence on the impact of microfinance. I got involved in the project in 2009, when I met Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation’s founder and then-CEO, at a conference in Chicago. We discussed the first Measuring the Impact paper, and the evidence on the impact of microfinance that had emerged in the intervening years. By the end of that conversation, I’d volunteered to write a second paper in the Measuring the Impact series, which was published in 2010. In early 2015, I was delighted to be asked to author the third paper in the series, Looking to the Future, as well. (For the record, my relationship with Grameen Foundation is limited to writing these two papers, which I do as a volunteer through the Bankers without Borders initiative, as part of my research agenda at Dominican University. I have complete editorial control over the content.)

When I returned to the microfinance literature last year, there were two key questions to sort out. First, what had happened in microfinance impact research since 2010? And second, what was going on with microfinance practice?

In answer to the first question, there was a lot of new research. The best-known papers were certainly the recent batch of microcredit randomized control trials that were published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, in early 2015. The results from these studies have been widely discussed and summarized (on NextBillion and in numerous other places), and I’ve included detailed summaries of each in Looking to the Future as well. The research has shown (repeatedly) that while loans do not lead a typical family directly out of poverty, access to a broad range of reliable financial services, including loans, has an array of positive impacts on clients. Although these are, admittedly, selected examples, recent research presents strong evidence that access to credit yields increases in business creation, investment and expansion. There also is good evidence that access to credit leads to increases in occupational choice and consumption choice, including reduced impulse spending on goods like cigarettes. (See the table below from the paper.) 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.

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