Author Archive

You Say Competitor, We Say Collaborator: Why International Development is Unique

July 10, 2013

By Kimberly Davies. Cross-posted from Kiva.

Many industries view similar or related organizations as competitors. I’d like to think that the international development industry is unique in viewing others as collaborators. Since everyone in this industry is working toward a common goal — poverty alleviation — everyone is constantly looking for ways to share findings and learn from each other. Our biggest concern is reaching a common, hugely important mission. Since this desire outreaches any other concerns, proprietary material often does not exist. Discussing failures is encouraged. This may be counterintuitive to impressing funders, but luckily nowadays usually is not the case.

My first job was with Freedom from Hunger, an organization that would commonly state that “our goal is to put ourselves out of business.” They wanted to end world hunger and make themselves obsolete. How many other industries can you say are full of people working around the clock to try to put themselves out of a job?

Grameen Foundation and Kiva have similar passions. They have partnered for many years in a number of ways to support each other as well, from leveraging funds to volunteers. Last week, we hosted our first joint learning session in San Francisco, aimed to share learnings and product information from our own organizations and that of our partners. We focused on the need for good financial products, practices to build the right products, enabling environments required for success, and shared a number of very cool product examples. In this short blog series, we’d like to share some of the key items discussed at that event, and are interested to get your feedback.

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Tired of bad products? Let’s do something about it!

July 8, 2013
Another use for monopoly money

Another use for monopoly money – creative market research activities. (Image credit: Olga Morawczynski)

By Kimberly Davies. Cross-posted from

Innovation. Building the product around the customer. Human-centered design.

All of these phrases are becoming more common in the development space. For many, these are new ideas people are seeking to understand and learn more about. For others, these have been words to live and breathe by for some time. So what is new?

For the next year, Grameen Foundation, in partnership with the Citi Foundation, will focus on sharing what we have learned from our own human-centered product design methodologies. We will be creating a dialogue about the importance of understanding client habits and behaviors, using available data to generate client insights, and then using these insights to design products that meet down-market client needs as well as the needs of financial services providers.

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Change Management is More than a Few Lines on a Project Plan

June 22, 2013

By Julie Peachy. Cross-posted from Leadership Beyond Boundaries.

Just over three years ago, I found myself in a developing country managing a project that would help about 350,000 poor people save money.  The project was essentially an organizational transformation of a large microfinance institution.  We’re winding the project down now and I’m reflecting on what we did well, not so well, or maybe not at all.

I often thought of my role as Project Manager like that of an air traffic controller.  We had so many consultants on the project — from internal controls to financial risk management to marketing to human resources — I had to manage the runway and make sure there were no collisions in the comings and goings of the consultants or senior management.  Not just physically, but emotionally.  I spent a good bit of time that first year making sure that the work of each consultant would be seen as a success by the senior management and that they would embrace and implement the various recommendations.  I made sure that everything was happening according to plan.
But there were a few line items on the project plan that just were not tangible to me…

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Mark Cuban and Poverty Reduction

June 8, 2013

By Christopher “Happy” Tan, Grameen Foundation Asia Region CEO
Cross-posted from Qualcomm OnQ

After the Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Championship, a Twitter exchange erupted between Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks; and Skip Bayless, sports journalist, TV personality and ESPN commentator. This led to a heated episode of ESPN’s First Take  that went viral. Cuban contested that Bayless and other sportswriters only spoke in generalities. Whether Bayless was speaking of Lebron James’ “biggest collapse of a superstar that we’ve ever witnessed” or praising the Miami Heat by saying “Miami wanted it more than Oklahoma,” Bayless’ comments, in Cuban’s view, were too vague for anyone to question. Unfortunately, the issue of using vague generalities to describe a situation reaches far beyond the basketball court.

Melinda Gates’s describes the way we, in the nonprofit sector, usually evaluate the success of our programs by analyzing data at the end of the project, if at all, instead of using real-time data throughout implementation—a practice she likens to “bowling in the dark.” Like Skip Bayless, we can make all sorts of subjective conclusions around the efficacy of our work if we are not expected to offer factual evidence to support our claims. However, unlike sportscasting, the consequences of not using data in our work can be considerably more harmful.

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10 Ways to Improve Savings Products for the Ultra-Poor

May 31, 2013

The following post was created from a new case study written by researchers at Grameen Foundation India and edited by Kimberly Davies.
Cross-posted from

The poor need access to financial services to create diversified and reliable sources of livelihood, which help them move out of poverty. As an industry, microfinance, however, has found it difficult to reach the very poorest. The Livelihood Pathways for the Poorest project, which is jointly implemented in Gaya District, Bihar, India by the Grameen Foundation and the Livelihood School (part of BASIX group of companies), aimed to pilot a program that could fill the wide gap in services to the ultra-poor.

You can now read the findings of this project in our newest white paper, Solutions for the Poorest: Insights on Savings Behavior of Clients. This paper offers insights on savings behavior that are both layered and deep. We have classified these insights into three categories: program level, group level, and client level insights. Among those categories, here are the ten factors we discovered that had the greatest impact…

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Where is the data? Analyzing customer footprints for better product design

April 20, 2013

Jacobo Menajovsky, Senior Data Analyst – Grameen Foundation

Cross-posted from the Institute For Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion

These are my daughter’s old shoes.

We just took them out of the closet to pass them on to her younger brother who’s recently started walking, but when I took a closer look at them, I wondered if their best days weren’t behind them. Call me crazy, but I immediately started decoding all the signs and indicators of their usage. Yes, to me, data is everywhere.

We are constantly gathering, interpreting and acting on data. Think about it. Every time you walk into a new situation, your “decision support system” starts to process past data to help you adjust to the new experience. Your brain is actually modeling those signs and symbols (data), building connections and classifying them into categories.

What if you wanted to understand how these shoes were used? Do you think you could reconstruct the past simply by looking at them? There are lots of signs and indicators: a broken ankle wrap, a heavily-rubbed toe cap, and many holes.

Read the full post at IMTFI…

Eleven Tips to Help Ensure that Your Mobile Financial Services Program Is Successful

March 19, 2013

Cross-posted from the Institute For Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion

While “mobile money” is a common term, the reality is that money programs vary across regions and between implementing partners, mobile money products are not all the same, and the clients who use them vary. That said, we have found a number of “dos” and “don’ts” that apply for all microfinance-related mobile financial services (MFS) programs. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) should consider the following tips as they roll out and tweak their mobile financial services programs.

Read the full post at IMTFI…

Reflecting on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2013

Shannon Maynard, Vice President, Chief Talent and Knowledge Officer, Grameen Foundation

On this International Women’s Day, I find myself struggling to celebrate the progress that women have made in all facets of society, while acknowledging that more than 3 billion people in the world – the majority of them women – still live on less than the cost of my morning cup of coffee.

This sobering fact puts into perspective the Marissa Mayer debate on the problems of privilege that I face as a working mother.  Flexible work schedules, telecommuting, affordable child care – how about a livelihood, access to a phone, and prenatal health care?

To bring greater awareness to the magnitude of global poverty and the daily struggles that a vast majority of women in the world face, I am taking the $2.50 Challenge along with a growing number of donors, volunteers, and supporters of Grameen Foundation.

Together, we organized online campaigns to encourage our friends to try to live on $2.50 today, or to donate money toward Grameen Foundation’s work to put the same kind of financial and information services that you and I often take for granted into the hands of these poor women.

For many, it’s surprising that the world’s poorest women make far more financial decisions each day than you or I do.

Kenyan Charity Kulola and her seven daughters found themselves homeless after Charity’s husband kicked her out for bearing him no sons.  Taken in by her brother, Charity was introduced to Yehu Microfinance Trust and opened a coconut stall with a loan of just $64.  With her income, she can now send all seven of her daughters to school.

Imagine being Charity – not having reliable income, facing significant financial shocks caused by poor health without a support structure, and having no access to information on where you might find some help or assistance.  What kind of hope is possible for a better future when you are investing all your energy into just making it through the day?

Grameen Foundation, working with a diverse set of strategic partners – from large multinational corporations and government agencies to local social enterprises – is committed to connecting millions of women like Charity to their potential by leveraging their underappreciated strengths and giving them the tools they need, in a business like way.  In other words, Charity is not the beneficiary of charity but a customer who now has opportunities and tools to choose from.  And with that choice comes a sense of control over her life’s circumstances and hope – hope for herself and a better future for her daughters.

So, on this International Women’s Day, I will raise awareness of the differences in my life circumstances and millions of women like Charity as well as our similarities – our shared hope that our daughters will grow up in a world where they have access to more opportunities than we ourselves have been given.

Rural Poor Women in Focus at the Mobile World Congress 2013

March 4, 2013

By Sean Paavo Krepp, Uganda Country Director

In Indonesia, “mobile microentrepreneurs” like the one pictured here are already helping other poor people in their community find jobs and get information on market prices for their goods.

Last week the mobile and internet world converged on Barcelona for its own Oscars: the Global Mobile Awards.  Hosted annually by the GSMA – the umbrella organization for mobile operators worldwide – it’s the place to preview all the new apps, services and devices coming on the market.

I had the honor of participating as a judge for the mWomen Best Mobile Product or Service for Women in Emerging Markets award. The GSMA introduced the award in 2012 to address the staggering gender gap in mobile phone use (PDF), especially for rural poor women. The mobile industry responded with a growing number of new services – tapping a business opportunity the GSMA estimates to be about $13 billion.

As Bill Gates rightly points out in his Annual Letter: “setting clear goals and finding measures that will mark progress toward them can improve the human condition.” And the mWomen Initiative at the GSMA has done exactly this to measure and draw the industry’s attention to the barriers to uptake as well as recognize trailblazers.

M-powering Women

Women play a fundamental role in poor households. They are often the largest contributors to farm production and food security, and they often act as the custodians of healthcare, education and financial planning in the family. So reaching them with vital information and financial services can be a key catalyst in alleviating and reducing poverty.

In our 10 years of product and service user-centered design work with the rural poor, Grameen Foundation has identified some key barriers to uptake. There are three important barriers that guided my votes for this year’s mWomen nominees.

Power Relations

The most striking observation pertains to power relations in the household. In rural households, men often control the assets in the home and do not welcome mobile phone usage. In fact, 74 % of 2500 women surveyed by the GSMA in four developing countries found that women did not own a phone because their husbands would not allow it. Furthermore, 82% of married women who did own a phone said it made their husbands suspicious.

The key learning is that a segmentation strategy needs to address both men and women when discussing mobile uptake. In our work with PT Ruma and Qualcomm in Indonesia we made it mandatory for men to sign the micro-franchise agreement and encouraged cross gender dialogue on the benefits of starting a Ruma business.

Confidence and skill

Many women also lack self-confidence and, in many cases, they also lack the literacy and numeracy skills needed to operate a phone. Those that own phones often use only voice with little use of SMS and almost no usage of smartphone services.

We have found that using intermediaries – whether mobile enabled MFIs, mobile health workers or Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) – helps to overcome these barriers to access.  Technology alone is not enough and having an early adopter or role model train others and contextualize products or services can form an important bridge to the rural household.

It is also important for operators to design marketing campaigns and collateral that focus not only on what they are offering but also how it works. Educating the market needs to be balanced with building awareness in this emerging segment.

A recent Grameen Foundation case study on a collaboration to reach women savers over the mobile phone through Cashpor, found that – especially with sensitive financial services delivered over the phone – a microfinance institution can play an important role in helping women overcome barriers to access. Interestingly, it noted that the children in the households were earlier adopters of the technology and could support women as they learn to use new products and services.

Furthermore, we have found that the best recruiters of women are themselves women. It builds confidence when women see a community leader – someone like me – become a role model.  PT Ruma recruits only women, our MOTECH work in Ghana focuses on midwives and our CKW program has built a strong gender strategy to encourage women micro-entrepreneurs to take up our micro-franchise business in a box.


Finally, the affordability, relevance and ease of use of products and services are key drivers for uptake.  Sometimes counter-intuitive gender differences exist, making research and user-centered design absolutely important.

For example, I recently participated in a user-centered design co-creation workshop for a mobile commitment savings product in Uganda.

When men and women were asked about the service both were very sensitive to price and concerned about the fees. But, when it came to liquidity, women wanted greater access to their savings and fewer penalties for early withdrawal.

When we probed further, the men said it was hard to hold on to money especially on weekends, while women said they often needed fast access to cash when their family or children fell sick.

And the winner is….

This year’s award went to Asiacell for its Almas Line, which provides mobile services to women in Iraq. It used consumer insights data to design a suite of services tailored to the women’s needs.  Of note was a free service that allows women to block calls or texts from potential harassers.

The most compelling aspect of the Asiacell service was a television campaign that targeted women but also spoke to men by portraying the services as linked to deep traditional values.  Asiacell’s women subscribers grew to 3.5 million within 16 months – just as many female customers as it had in its first 11 years of operations. This clearly demonstrates that consumer insights, a solid offering focused on women, and creative excellence can help drive usage of mobile services.

I was honored to be a judge at the GSMA Awards and to serve on the esteemed GSMA mWomen Panel. The GSMA has done an excellent job in highlighting the needs of the poor, especially women, and has shown the business benefits of bridging the gender gap, as well as the strong potential for social impact of the use of mobiles among women.

Mobile Financial Services for the Poor – What We Must Know

February 4, 2013

Originally posted on our AppLab Blog.

Fredrick Ndiwalana is Relationship Manager, Applab Money Accelerator, and Ali Ndiwalana is Research Lead, AppLab Money Incubator, at Grameen Foundation Uganda.

Members of a VSLA in Western Uganda learn about how to access market information on a mobile phone.

There is consensus that the poor (those living on less than $2.50 per day) need the same kind of financial services as their more affluent counterparts, albeit in smaller affordable units. What is not clear – especially in markets where formal financial exclusion is high and innovation is low – is whether financial institutions can design pro-poor financial products. After all, this is an area where they have not done so well for the so-called rich, despite years of experience. East Africa is such a market.

In Uganda, where Grameen Foundation’s  Applab Money Accelerator is located, financial institutions continue to offer savings products for which the interest earned by the customer is much lower than the rate of inflation. This is something that the average ”financially included” savings account holder has become accustomed to, and financial institutions have always found a reasonable way to justify it such as a low bank rate as well as high operational costs. Though such explanations may be acceptable to the economically schooled, they seem to defy logic when it comes to explaining them to the less schooled.

Read the full post at our AppLab Blog