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> Posted by Rupert Scofield, Chair of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI)

A meeting of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion in September 2017 (pictured from left to right: Shameran Abed, Jesse Fripp, Steve Hollingworth, Maria Cavalcanti, Michael Schlein, Sharlene Brown, Rupert Scofield, and Robert Dunn. Not pictured: Christian Pennotti, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, and Michael Mithika)

In 2011, I joined the inaugural meeting of CEOs that led to the formation of the Microfinance CEO Working Group. Nearly seven years later, my colleagues and I have continued to enjoy the trust and collaboration made possible by sitting together and sharing our strategies, challenges, and opportunities. We have encouraged the sharing of information among key senior staff in seven departments such as risk management, social performance, and digital financial services, across our networks. This collective of senior managers, which we refer to as peer groups, find the conversations at their levels insightful and that they allow for greater efficiency at solving common problems. In some cases, members benefit from non-proprietary work and processes developed by another. In other cases, we are creating the solutions together. Today, we truly recognize that we are no longer a working group, but a strong partnership committed to advancing financial inclusion in a responsible manner. It is my pleasure to share our new name: Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI).

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> Posted by Brigitta Nyawira, Program Manager, Grameen Foundation

Alice is a smallholder farmer in Machakos, a semi-arid town east of Nairobi, where subsistence farming is prevalent. Most farmers in Machakos grow maize and other drought-resistant crops for domestic consumption and sell whatever little surplus they have at the gates of their farms and in local markets. Until recently, Alice struggled to make a decent living from her small plot of land and small grocery. She did not have the inputs required to increase her productivity, and her farming skills were basic at best, learned through season after season of trial and error. Farming was frustrating because it barely gave her enough money to feed her three children, take them to school, and pay hospital bills. But without capital and the requisite skills to expand her income sources, it was the only thing she could do.

Alice’s story is not uncommon. Smallholder farmers across Africa still face obstacles accessing suitable, affordable financial services. This is especially acute for women.

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

(click to enlarge)

What’s been happening with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG)? We’re glad you asked. Fresh-off-the-press is a new annual report from the MCWG, detailing the Working Group’s key accomplishments and activities of the past year. Consumer protection is among the standout areas for the MCWG for 2016. Over the course of the year, 14 local partners belonging to the MCWG network achieved Smart Certification, including BRAC Bangladesh, the first microfinance provider in the country and the largest in the world to reach the consumer protection milestone. In total, 21.9 million clients are served by 39 MCWG network Smart Certified institutions.

The MCWG is comprised of the leaders of 10 global microfinance organizations: Accion; Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance; BRAC; CARE; FINCA; Grameen Foundation; Opportunity International; Pro Mujer; VisionFund International; and Women’s World Banking. The newest member, added in 2016, is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and its General Manager Jesse Fripp. The MCWG also harnesses the expertise of more than 40 senior staffers across the member organizations, who meet regularly across seven Peer Groups focused on specific areas of microfinance, from digital financial services, to social performance, to communications, taxation, and others. Members and local partners work with more than 89 million clients in 87 countries, providing them with financial services as well as other support to help them succeed and lift their families out of poverty.

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> Posted by Chris Wolff

Embed from Getty Images

At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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> Posted by Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President, and Christian Loupeda, Senior Director Financial Inclusion, Grameen Foundation  

This is the second post in a three-part series that explores the role of digital financial services in expanding women’s control over their financial lives. You can read the first post here.

For poor, rural communities “field force” workers such as mobile money agents or government agricultural extension officers can be lifelines to services and information that bring rural residents greater control over their financial lives and help them increase their incomes and gain a connection to the larger world. But, for women, rather than a bridge, field force workers too often end up being one more hurdle on the way to access resources.

Across the developing world, almost all agricultural extension services lack female participation. Women, on average, comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers. Yet only 15 percent of the world’s agriculture extension agents are women, and only 5 percent of women farmers benefit from extension services–despite the fact that women play a significant role in farming activities from production all the way to commercialization. Similarly, for mobile money agents, GSMA reports that among its members that report on gender, only 23 percent of agents and 37 percent of customers are female.

As Lisa Kienzle mentioned in her post in this series on digital financial services for women, Grameen Foundation has found that a woman often benefits from being able to work with a trusted agent who can directly help her understand and use the services available. That’s why we have helped to develop women as banking agents in the Philippines. We created an independent network of female financial agents who work out of their neighborhood sari-sari (variety) shops. The all-female network now includes 862 trained agents, who bring digital financial services to more than 66,000 low-income clients. Recruiting female agents benefits the end clients, but also the female entreprenuers who become agents who typically see an increase in their own income of at least 20-to-30 percent.

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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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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.