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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 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 Ira W. Lieberman, Todd A. Watkins, and Anna Kanze

We’ve identified the problem: Microfinance is no longer sexy. It’s old news. It can’t deliver “impact,” and its effect on alleviating poverty was oversold and has underwhelmed. It’s well and good to offer working capital loans, but at the end of the day, the poor need education, health care, water for drinking and irrigation, roofs, and electricity together with a wide variety of financial services. It’s time for investors seeking real innovation to move on to the next big thing that will transform the lives of poor people and save our planet. Never mind microfinance’s decades-long track record of listening to the poor and underserved clients and effectively developing products and services based on their needs.

Of course, we issue these statements with considerable sarcasm. But, all joking aside, industry trends and shifting sentiments are presenting investors with a real question: Should they abandon the reliable and successful platforms and infrastructure that microfinance institutions (MFIs) have built? In turn, MFIs are saddled with the question of whether to stick to what they know best, or instead, to use their platforms to deliver expanded product offerings that increase access to other essential services.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Smart Campaign is thrilled to announce that a new milestone for client protection in microfinance has been reached: there are now 50 financial institutions that have been awarded Smart Certification, recognizing their commitment to fair client treatment and responsible practices. In total, these institutions serve roughly 25 million clients.

The threshold was crossed with a handful of recent certifications – Fortis Microfinance Bank and Grooming Centre in Nigeria; Banco ADOPEM in the Dominican Republic; Fundacion Paraguaya in Paraguay; Pro Mujer in Nicaragua; and AgroInvest in Serbia. Each of these institutions worked over a several month process to assess and upgrade their operations to meet every one of the indicators signifying strong consumer protection practices.

Grooming Centre and Fortis Microfinance Bank collectively reach over a half million clients. Founded in 2006, Grooming Centre operates in 22 states in Nigeria with a network of 376 branches. Grooming Centre offers a range of financial services, including savings and credit, small business loans, agricultural loans, and clean energy financing. Fortis Microfinance Bank, along with offering financial services, provides clients with business support in areas including management, marketing, and administration.

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Participants in a workshop on aging and financial inclusion, organized by the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and HelpAge, held last week in New York City at MetLife.

When we wrote about the topic of aging in our recently-released paper Aging and Financial Inclusion: An Opportunity, I have to admit that I was skeptical that any stakeholders would be motivated to action — regardless of how compelling the paper was. Aging, I thought, is something people feel uncomfortable talking about, whether because they worry about their own old age, or that of their parents, or because they consider older people an uninteresting market segment. Whatever the reason, I was worried that our effort to call attention to this issue would fizzle out and fade into the internet abyss.

I was thrilled to be proved wrong.

Last week, discussing the new paper in our various meetings in Washington, D.C. and in New York City and in a global webinar, we learned that much more is happening in this area than we had initially known, and that more people are willing to consider what aging may mean in their own work than we expected.

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> Posted by Anne Hastings and Tyler Owens, Microfinance CEO Working Group

The following post was originally published on the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s blog, 100millionideas.org.

Since its inception in the spring of 2011, the Microfinance CEO Working Group has worked diligently and collaboratively to define the concept of Responsible Microfinance around the globe and lead by example to try to fulfill this vision. It has focused on three key pillars on which Responsible Microfinance is built: client protection, pricing transparency, and social performance management. A responsible microfinance institution (MFI) is one that, at a minimum:

  • Does all in its power to protect its clients from harm;
  • Is transparent about fees and interest rates; and
  • Implements best practices in social performance management including monitoring effectiveness in achieving desired client level outcomes.

An MFI can achieve this by complying with the industry-developed standards of the Smart Campaign, MicroFinance Transparency, and the Social Performance Task Force, known as the Universal Standards for Social Performance Management.

The Working Group is a collaborative effort of the CEOs of Accion International, FINCA International, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund, and Women’s World Banking. At the Microcredit Summit in Manila in October 2013, the Working Group publicly encouraged its collective 224 affiliated MFIs around the globe to embrace Responsible Microfinance by sharing a list of commitments. Since making those commitments, the group has made significant headway toward strengthening each one of the pillars of Responsible Microfinance.

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> Posted by Anne Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group 

The CEOs of eight leading global microfinance networks – Accion, FINCA, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International, and Women’s World Banking – made six significant commitments at the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s Partnerships Against Poverty Summit last week in Manila. These eight CEOs make up the Microfinance CEO Working Group. Together they represent more than 250 retail microfinance institutions in 70 countries globally and provide financial and often non-financial services to more than 40 million families.

Here are the commitments:

1. Client Protection: Encourage all affiliates to progress toward Smart Campaign certification and be on a pathway toward certification by the end of 2014.

2. Pricing Transparency: Motivate our affiliates to commit to pricing transparency and integrity by agreeing to publish their pricing data using standard methodologies, such as those developed by MicroFinance Transparency, in order to allow investors and clients to make informed decisions.

3. Social Performance: Promote the Social Performance Task Force’s Universal Standards for Social Performance Management among our affiliates and commit to supporting their compliance.

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> Posted by Mary Ellen Iskenderian and Rupert Scofield, Co-Chairs of the Microfinance CEO Working Group

As co-chairs of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, we are pleased to share with you a joint statement from the Working Group in support of the recently announced Smart Campaign Client Protection Certification Program. Certification will offer public recognition for institutions that meet adequate standards of care in appropriately protecting microfinance clients, as verified by an independent evaluation. It marks a clear step forward in ensuring the microfinance industry puts the treatment of its clients first.

Since we began meeting in early 2011, many of the Working Group’s discussions have focused on the fundamental question of what the microfinance industry requires to flourish in the future. We believe that client protection is central to the answer. It is common sense – and good business practice – that a fair and respectful relationship with clients is required to develop trust, reduce risk, and serve them appropriately. As leaders of FINCA and Women’s World Banking, we are especially concerned with the fair treatment of women clients, the traditional backbone of the microfinance industry, who are often more vulnerable to exploitation.

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> Posted by Josh Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

The elephant in the room of vulnerable minorities that continue to be excluded in large numbers from microfinance services is the globe’s second largest population after women: men. The vulnerability of men is often overlooked, due to their historic domination of women and their control of wealth in most societies throughout recorded history. Of course for every wealthy landowner or merchant, there were many slaves, landless laborers, and indentured servants, who controlled none of the world’s wealth and were lucky if they scratched out a living.

When microcredit first gained traction and credibility as a poverty alleviation strategy in the seventies, creating self-employment opportunities for women in the informal sector was central to its mission. Organizations like Women’s World Banking (birthed at the UN’s World Conference on Women in 1975) and Pro Mujer (1990) embodied this outreach strategy. There were very sound reasons to focus on women, who are and remain the poorest of the poor. And this emphasis reflected the zeitgeist of the time, as many of the early leaders of microfinance came of age in the women’s movement. Theirs was a struggle for equal rights and equal pay in societies that were patriarchal and discriminatory. It was a logical next step to bring this message of women’s rights to international development work.

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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.