Archive for February, 2012

Dialing up new businesses for the poor

February 29, 2012

This week, mobile phone makers, operators and developers are converging at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Hosted by the GSM Association (GSMA), it is the largest gathering of its kind.

Mobile phones play an integral role in the way Grameen Foundation helps poor people get access to the financial services, business opportunities and vital information they need to improve their lives. We’re at the conference to help build even greater awareness of, and support for, the life-changing opportunities that a simple phone can provide to poor people around the world.

Over the next few days, our team will share insights from the conference. Today’s highlight comes from Sean DeWitt, Director of our AppLab Indonesia initiative, which is helping to create new technology-based businesses for poor people in Indonesia, in collaboration with Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative™ and Ruma, a local social enterprise.

Through this initiative, the “microfranchisee,” typically a woman, sells mobile airtime minutes to local customers. The microfranchisee can also use the phones to provide customers with additional services, such as access to job listings. Since 2010, we have created a network of more than 10,000 microfranchisees (85 percent of whom are women) serving more than 1 million customers. On average, they earn $1.10 per day – a significant sum in a country where 75 percent live on less than $2.50 per day.

Today, there are more than 5 billion mobile phones around with the world, with 4 billion of them in developing countries and emerging markets, where they are often shared by several people. Be sure to follow our coverage of the Mobile World Congress to learn more about how these phones are being used to deliver products and services to poor, rural communities.

David Roodman Does His “Due Diligence,” and Gets it Mostly Right

February 16, 2012

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

David Roodman, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, the country’s leading think tank on overseas aid and international development, has written Due Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry into Microfinance, a remarkable book about microfinance.  It is, quite simply, the best book I have ever read about microfinance among the many I have gone through.  He analyzes the history, track record, recent developments and future of microfinance, and though I do not agree with all of his judgments, I agree with the vast majority of them and admire how he went about deconstructing such a diverse arena of human endeavor.

Most impressive is how he carries the reader through his rigorous thought process.  He repeatedly poses important questions, weighs the evidence, assesses whether there is enough information to make a definitive judgment, presents alternative answers and their implications, admits to a degree of uncertainty, and then does his best to provide an answer – all in plain language.  The hallmarks of his writing are nuance, detail-based distillations of publicly available information, fairness and dispassionate analysis.  If I had to keep one book on my desk for easy access to guide my writings, conversations, analysis and decisions, it would be his.  (Due Diligence is the culmination of research and writing process that played out on his blog, which has evolved to become a leading online source for microfinance information and analysis over the past couple of years.)

Cover of David Roodman's "Due Diligence"

Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation's president and CEO, calls David Roodman's new publication "the best book I have ever read about microfinance."

After some introductory remarks, Roodman sets the modern microfinance movement in a historical context, and does this better than I have ever seen before.  His survey also provides some important lessons for those working to expand and improve microfinance today.

The bulk of the book addresses the question “Does microfinance work?” in distinct ways. Does microfinance reduce poverty, does it improve the control the poor have over their lives regardless of whether it leads them to a poverty-free life and, thirdly, has it become a vibrant new industry that strengthens societies by enhancing ecosystems (in the broadest sense) consistent with long-term socio-economic development?  I admire how he has given equal weight to the three dimensions of “working” – I strongly agree with him that all are important and the latter two (especially the third) have been comparatively neglected by microfinance advocates and critics alike.

Due Diligence deserves to be read by anyone involved in microfinance, including those who volunteer their time or contribute and/or invest their money.  Let me summarize how he answers the main questions he asks, as well as his recommendations, and then distill how I believe someone involved with Grameen Foundation – or any microfinance network or institution – should feel about their past and future involvements, given his judgments and recommendations.

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Finding Your Calling as a Skillanthropist

February 7, 2012

Shannon Maynard is director of Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders initiative.

In today’s dynamic world, the importance of volunteering – to both the recipient and the volunteer – cannot be exaggerated. Unfortunately, volunteering is often perceived as a form of charity or something that only the recipient benefits from. What is not emphasized enough is the fact that volunteers gain just as much from the experience.

Lynda Barton took a sabbatical from her job with a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland to work with Grameen Foundation’s mobile health initiative in Ghana.

Since Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® (BwB) initiative was launched in 2008, 800 volunteers have logged more than 65,000 hours of service – worth more than $5 million – helping poverty-focused organizations and their clients around the world. Listening to their stories and learning from the insights they have gained through those experiences has been invaluable.

In this post for international-development portal Devex, Shannon Maynard, director of Bankers without Borders, discusses some of the ways in which volunteers benefit from donating their time and skills to social enterprises fighting poverty. She contends that experience and professional standing don’t really matter when it comes to “skillanthropy.” Whether they’re expanding networks or building cultural and professional skills, she says, everyone has a chance to leverage their volunteer experience to best fit their needs and rise within their respective organizations.

>> Read the full post for all  seven ways that volunteering services pro bono have helped advance our volunteers’ careers in development.