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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

In my breakout group at CFI’s workshop last week in Bogota, everyone talked at once. With eight voices coming at me, my brain’s very basic ability to understand Spanish shut down. The workshop participants were bursting with ideas they urgently wanted to express. But, as my colleague Sonja Kelly pointed out, a situation where everyone is speaking and no one is listening is an apt metaphor for the problem the workshop sought to address.

The workshop focused on the challenges in integrating insights from behavioral economics into the operations of financial institutions. Two organizations that leverage behavioral economics for product design, ideas42 and Innovations for Poverty Action, presented the research perspective. Closely connected with academics at Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Princeton, both organizations start from the research finding that a number of cognitive and emotional biases cause people to make decisions that depart from rationality, and that these biases can significantly affect the use of financial services. Ideas42 focuses on identifying features in product design and delivery that, while not overruling choice, nudge people in a desirable direction – features such as commitment savings accounts or reminder messages to encourage savings. IPA promotes the same kinds of nudges, but focuses on the testing of these innovations through randomized controlled trials.

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> Posted by Karen Firestone, President and CEO, Aureus Asset Management

The following post was originally published on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.

Financial services firms want to reach more women; so I conclude from data presented by Pamela Grossman of Getty Images at SXSW this year. According to data collected by Getty, financial firms are buying 20 percent more stock photos of women today than they were five years ago. At the same time, the share of men shown in their advertising has declined.

Of course, we live in a wildly diverse world; we want to be inclusive and broad-minded ourselves; and we therefore want our providers of financial advice, energy, and technology to reflect those values. We prefer Morgan Stanley or Citigroup to be talking to all of us, showing us that they have transcended their traditional, mostly white and male clientele. According to Chris Edwards, former Group Creative Director for Arnold Worldwide, we also want visual evidence that the professionals at these firms are as diverse as the clientele they seek. Advertising images reinforce and extend these efforts.

Financial institutions portray women today as competent and self-confident, and often feature attractive, middle-aged advisers talking to couples in which the woman is similarly well dressed and clearly attentive. According to Dr. Emma Firestone, who has studied the audience perception and response to images and words in media and entertainment, from a cognitive perspective, “It makes sense for advertisers to present women as strong, well-educated consumers. This is appealing to women who see an attractive self-image reflected back at them, and to men, who are flattered by the idea that smart, self-possessed, and financially secure women are their own life partners.” Men are much more likely today, than decades ago, to be comfortable with and appreciate their spouses as full partners in their own financial decision-making – at the same time, imagery of supportive female financial advisers plays into comforting stereotypes of the woman-as-helpmeet, perhaps humanizing an industry consumers view as confusing or even threatening.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

Biogas toilet made possible through WaterCredit

Biogas toilet made possible through WaterCredit

An estimated 2.6 billion people in the world lack access to basic sanitation. This reality is a root cause of much sickness and disease throughout the developing world. Like many things, water and sanitation problems disproportionately affect women and children. According to data from WHO/UNICEF, women globally spend an estimated 200 million hours each day collecting water, a child dies every 20 seconds from a water-related illness, and girls often do not attend school during menstruation, or drop out at puberty, due to the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities.

I had never thought much about how toilets might relate to microfinance but lately water, sanitation, and toilets seem to be all I read about.

I was vaguely aware of the efforts of to put microfinance tools to work in the water and sanitation sector by connecting MFIs with communities in need of clean water and toilets. I also knew a little bit about Peepoople, the makers of Peepoo, a personal, single-use, self-sanitizing, fully biodegradable toilet that after use, turns into fertilizer that can improve livelihoods and increase food security. This product is not only improving health and livelihood but has also created a series of work opportunities, both formal and informal. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

December 31st is the first application deadline for the 2013 Harvard Business School-Accion Program on Strategic Leadership for Microfinance.

The Program – the world’s first education course to provide high-level management and leadership training for those shaping the microfinance industry – will be held April 1-6 at the HBS campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As in previous years, the course will employ the HBS-pioneered case method approach in which participants work through real-life situations and decisions while exploring the key issues shaping financial inclusion.

Past Program participants encompass an array of financial inclusion leaders, including executives from microfinance institutions to conventional commercial banks and policymakers. Here’s what a few of them have said about their experiences with the Program:

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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.