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> Posted by Kim Wilson

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How do refugees finance their journeys and which expenses need financing? This was the question that a team of us at Fletcher set out to answer in our study “The Financial Journey of Refugees.” We studied the routes and financial challenges of more than 100 refugees in Greece, Jordan and Turkey, between July 2016 and April 2017. The refugees we interviewed had traveled from South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, East Africa and West Africa.

Regardless of their country of origin, with the exception of Syria, a refugee’s biggest expense was the cost of hiring a smuggler. Smuggling expenses ran about 85 percent of the total cost of the journey. The smuggler’s fee included important services: travel by air or overland, depending on the refugee’s budget, guide services across borders, payment of bribes at border crossings, and documentation falsification expenses. Smuggling prices varied widely by country of origin (some borders being porous, others sealed tight), by how deluxe a trip was (air versus ground), by numbers of borders crossed (affecting the number of falsified IDs required). To give an example, journeying overland from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to Greece might cost $7,500 per person, a price that went up or down based on shifting rules and border crackdowns. Traveling from Eritrea to Greece might cost the same amount. Traveling from Syria to Turkey could cost as little as $500.

The price of the journey was one factor in a traveler’s safety – the higher the cost, the better the traveling modes, and the safer the travel. While what refugees paid their smuggler was important, how they paid them was equally important. Did the refugee pre-pay the kingpin smuggler in advance of the journey? Did she post-pay him after arriving safely in Greece or Germany? Did she pay leg by leg? All these strategies were in play and we outline them in our report summary and they are detailed by the refugees themselves in a Compendium of Field Notes. Below we describe two of many strategies.

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> Posted by Miranda Beshara, Arabic Microfinance Gateway

Alex Silva, Executive Director, Calmeadow

Governance is a business imperative, and investors are willing to pay a premium for effective corporate governance. This was one of the key takeaways from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar, held recently in Amman, Jordan. We’ve seen this stated priority of governance in the MENA microfinance market exhibited elsewhere, too. A joint IFC-Sanabel report assessing the top perceived risks facing the microfinance industry in the Arab world uncovered that the market’s stakeholders viewed weak corporate governance structures as one of the more threatening risks out of roughly 30 risk categories. Financial service providers in particular perceive this risk to be rising.

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> Posted by Elissa McCarter-LaBorde, CEO, Vitas Group

Alex Silva and Jeffrey Riecke’s recent blog post entitled “What’s ‘Responsible’ about Impact Investing Exits?” hits squarely on the head a critical issue facing our industry. But it doesn’t go far enough. They ask “What if responsible investors sell their stake to an investor that doesn’t place priority on the social mission?” They argue for investors to take a “pragmatic” course and find “a buyer in the middle,” meaning something in between the “high-priced but questionable offer” and the “capital-starved social investors.” This left me wondering, who exactly is in the middle?

In the past, the NGO founders of what are today profitable microfinance banks were expected to be the keepers of a social mission, if not through ownership then through some form of continuing sponsorship or governance role. Compared to five years ago, today we see term sheets that force NGO shareholders out in the name of successful exits. In fact, even the large open-ended funds, presumably more socially-responsible leaning ones, and the development finance institutions (DFIs) that technically don’t require tighter exits of 5-7 years, are coming with term sheets that require a put option (an option contract giving the owner the right to sell assets at an agreed price) in 5-7 years back to the NGO founder or the company, or that include a drag-along right that forces a majority sale to a future “strategic buyer.” In other words, if the minority investor finds a strategic buyer who wishes to buy a majority stake or to acquire the whole company, the investor can drag other shares along to constitute a majority sale.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

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If you had to embark on a journey similar to that of the 65 million people who are currently forcibly displaced, what would you bring? Most likely among your provisions would be a smartphone. Phones are the contemporary map and compass, a gateway to critical information, a means for keeping in touch with loved ones, and a financial toolkit. More and more, aid workers are witnessing refugees arriving at camps with smartphones. For both the refugee journey and the post-journey settlement process, a phone can be vital. With this in mind, you might not be surprised to learn that mobile money usage among refugees, including for cash transfers from governments and NGOs, is on the rise.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Time flies. It’s hard to believe that the Africa Board Fellowship (ABF) program will soon begin its fifth cohort of fellows. Over the past few years and four cohorts, the ABF program has included more than 125 CEOs and board members from over 40 financial inclusion institutions across 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re an inclusive finance leader in sub-Saharan Africa, now’s your chance to join the governance and strategic leadership program. Applications are now open for the fifth cohort.

ABF recently held two seminars in Cape Town, welcoming the fourth cohort of fellows and graduating the third cohort. With new case studies on disruptive technologies, and an emphasis on interactive role plays and simulations, the seminars proved once again that peer-to-peer exchanges are an effective way to examine best and worst governance practices. To hear the fellows’ takeaways from the two seminars, watch our new video above.

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> Posted by Center Staff

MeetingRoom_MENA.pngYou’d be hard-pressed to list all the ways corporate governance can make (or break!) an organization. In the financial inclusion sector, strong boards ensure effective strategic planning, manage sustainable growth, bolster attractiveness to investors, balance risks, develop client centric products and delivery channels, and, increasingly, act as “strong digital sparring partners for management.”  Yet, a recent study sponsored by the Sanabel Network and the IFC that inspected risks confronting the microfinance sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) found that half of their interviewees perceived corporate governance risk as “high” or “very high.”

Being a board member or CEO of a financial inclusion institution is a great responsibility, and can also be a complex task. All boards have different dynamics and governance best practices can sometimes be nebulous. To address these challenges, Calmeadow, FMO, Sanabel and the CFI are hosting a “Governance and Strategic Leadership Seminar” this March in Amman. This seminar brings together CEOs and board members of leading financial institutions serving the financially excluded in the MENA region to strengthen board capacity through peer learning and exchange. If you’re a leader in MENA’s inclusive finance sector, please consider attending this seminar to contribute your unique experiences and perspectives, and also to learn from the experiences of your peers.

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> Posted by Tess Johnson, Project Associate, CFI

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This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

NGOs, both large and small, are often on the front lines of humanitarian efforts, assisting people who are affected by conflict and terrorism. It is troubling that so many of these organizations’ efforts are hampered by de-risking. The funding and other forms of non-monetary aid that NGOs provide are directed towards addressing seemingly intractable problems – such as humanitarian conflict, forced displacement, natural disaster, and violent extremism – and yet, the de-risking behavior of banks, brought on in response to anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulation, often makes it difficult for these organizations to function and serve those who are most in need.

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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.

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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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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.