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> Posted by Iftin Fatah, Investment Officer, Overseas Private Investment Corporation

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The 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey from the GIIN showed that respondents, which make up a diverse and active group of impact investors, committed more than $21 billion to impact investments in 2016 and planned to commit 17 percent more capital than that in 2017. Geographically, however, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) only makes up 2 percent of assets under management.

Islamic finance is largely concentrated in three markets – Iran, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia – but it spans nearly every part of the world, including MENA, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. For its part, Islamic finance has grown over the past two decades, with total assets reportedly totaling roughly $2 trillion. Despite this growth, Islamic finance still makes up a small share of the global financial market. These two areas of Islamic finance and impact investing are ripe for potential collaboration. Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, 650 million are living on less than 2 dollars a day.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

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On Monday, Myanmar launched its first domestic online payment network. The payment platform centers on a partnership between 2C2P, a Southeast Asian payment services company with a history of digital finance work in the country, and Myanmar Payment Union (MPU), the national payment network set-up by the country’s central bank. The new platform allows MPU cardholders, currently 900,000 individuals and counting, to make online purchases in-country. The e-pay advancement is a promising step for financial inclusion in the country, which continues its recovery from economic isolation and military rule.

The Myanmar Payment Union, the country’s only domestic card-based payment system, launched in 2011, encompasses 20 banking partners, including three state-owned banks. In the time since MPU introduced banking cards and ATMs, card adoption has increased, with enormous growth in 2014, from roughly 200,000 cardholders early in the year to the current level of 900,000. With the new online payment system, businesses now need to sign onto the service via one of MPU’s partner banks, which will provide technical support and consultation throughout the process. On both the business and consumer end, achieving the necessary platform traction will require significant awareness building – quelling fundamental questions like: will my payment actually reach the merchant?

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

If you are in a wheelchair in Guatemala, lots of nice people will be willing to carry you up the stairs… But that’s not the point. A recent conversation with Alan Tenenbaum, a disability inclusion advocate based in Guatemala, offered me that perspective. Tenenbaum, who became a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury in his late twenties, focuses his work on the Latin American country. Those looking to advance disability inclusion in Guatemala, like in most countries, have their work cut out for them. Countrywide, according to Team Around the Child, less than two percent of Guatemalan adults with disabilities have work, most children with disabilities do not attend school, and only a small percentage of those in need of wheelchairs have one. To date, according to a recent paper from Trickle Up, most efforts to advance disability inclusion in Guatemala have been limited to urban areas – even though 50 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas, where economic opportunities are harder to come by.

I sat down with Tenenbaum to get a sense for progress made and challenges still present in Guatemala for persons with disabilities (PwDs). Since his injury, Tenenbaum wrote a book sharing his story, En la Silla de Morfeo (On Morpheus’ Chair), started and led a foundation, Sigue Avanzando, and has regularly given speeches for schools, universities, news outlets, and private companies. At the heart of these efforts is what he identifies as the biggest barrier to disability inclusion: public awareness.

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> Posted by Hema Bansal, India Director, the Smart Campaign

As a child growing up in India, I was always intrigued by stories from Myanmar, but disturbed by conflicts that it had witnessed. Not knowing much about the country, as an adult I still had an innate desire to visit. On May 7th and 8th, I attended the Responsible Finance Seminar, organized by Entrepreneurs du Monde (EDM), held in Myanmar’s city of Yangon. I was completely awed by the mystical peace of the city, I was also impressed by the demonstrations of support at the seminar for instilling client protection in Myanmar’s microfinance industry. It’s a great opportunity for a young market to secure responsible practices from its outset.

Myanmar, the second-largest country in Southeast Asia, remains one of its poorest. Decades of isolation have severely affected its development. In terms of financial inclusion, a large proportion of the population in Myanmar relies on informal lenders. The formal sector only serves about 20 percent of the population, largely because of the existing financial institutions’ limited capability.

In May 2011, President Thein Sein publicly recognized microfinance as a means of development by enabling local and foreign investors to establish fully privately-owned MFIs. Since the rationalization of licensing in Myanmar, around 110 MFIs have been registered. Deposit-taking institutions have been allowed to set-up shop rather easily due to low minimum capital requirements and the absence of separate prudential regulations from non-deposit-taking institutions, such as rules pertaining to reporting standards and portfolio quality management.

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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.