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> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)

sewingLimited access to credit in the developing world is often exacerbated by conflict, which presents a strong demand for microfinance. In Iraq, for example, only 11 percent of adults hold an account at a formal financial institution, according to the 2014 Global Findex. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, is helping to build a more inclusive financial sector in Iraq through its partnership with Vitas Iraq, a subsidiary of Global Communities, which is a non-profit development organization that partners with local stakeholders across a range of topic areas. Vitas Iraq established Al Tamweel Al Saree LLC (ATAS) as the financing vehicle to support expansion of its operations. In 2012, OPIC provided ATAS with a direct loan to enable the expansion of Vitas Iraq’s portfolio of loans to individuals and to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME), thereby expanding financial access in Iraq.

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.

Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.

It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Freshly published is the latest edition of the Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, our weekly online magazine sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. Among the stories in this week’s edition are the launch of the Citi Mobile Challenge in the Asia-Pacific region, the kick-off of this year’s microTracker survey on the microenterprise industry in the United States, and a blog post series from Ericsson on financial inclusion in Iraq. Here are a few more details:

  • Following successful Citi Mobile Challenges in other regions, the Asia-Pacific iteration invites developers to submit innovative mobile banking solutions for a chance at taking their technologies into production with the support of Citi and its partners.
  • The U.S. Microenterprise Census’s online microTracker survey is open, collecting and counting data on the microenterprise industry in areas including client reach, lending volume, and performance efficiency.
  • A new post series on Ericsson’s “M-Commerce: the Call for Change Blog” spotlights the financing landscape in Iraq, which serves only 11 percent of adults in the country, targeting action areas like regulation, interoperability, and mobile money.

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.

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo and Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Program Specialist and Communications Associate, CFI

In Iraq and Afghanistan, about 23 and 35 percent of people live below the poverty line. Both countries have microfinance industries, though they’re small and financial inclusion rates are low. In the effort to combat these low levels of inclusion, an unlikely financial service player, the U.S. military, is using the principles of microfinance to optimize fund dispersal by local ground commanders in order to strengthen communities in conflict areas.

Charkh, Afghanistan

We recently become aware of this military effort when contacted by a group of West Point cadets interested in learning more about microfinance. In the conversation we learned that U.S. military ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan each receive about five thousand dollars a month to allocate as they see fit toward development projects in the local communities where they are posted. The money can go towards public roads, schools, medical clinics – projects contributing to community rebuilding and reconstruction. These allotments from ground commanders are part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) developed in 2008. Currently, ground commanders don’t have specific guidance on how they should allocate these funds so they often rely on suggestions from village elders, who the cadets recognized are sometimes biased and self-interested in the projects they recommend.

The cadets are therefore working to develop a portfolio optimization template – based on the principles of microfinance – to guide ground commanders on how to allocate their CERP funds as microgrants to help raise the standard of living within local communities. The project objective is to enable ground commanders to allocate their funds as loans to small-businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals, facilitating income growth, economic development, and community strengthening. The template is modeled after microfinance practices because of similarities in distribution methods found between microcredit loans and the financial aid provided by ground commanders through CERP funds.

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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.