Author Archive

Why the Mobile Phone Might Not Be as Inclusive as You Think

January 8, 2013

Originally posted at Next Billion. Leo Tobias is a Technology Program Manager at Grameen Foundation.

Mobile Phone TransactionFinancial inclusiveness is a core tenet of our work at Grameen Foundation. Utilizing mobile phones for financial services has gained a lot of traction as a sustainable and scalable solution to serve the 2.5 billion people who do not have access to formal banking services. But does this solution really enable us to reach all of these people?

As part of a pilot program to implement mobile money at one of our partner organizations, a survey was conducted to gather basic knowledge about people’s access to mobile phones and their usage of mobile money and other financial services. While 98 percent of members interviewed have access to a mobile phone, only 78 percent owned their own mobile phones.

So what’s the problem? A previous study conducted by Grameen Foundation at Cashpor, a microfinance institution (MFI) in India, revealed there are significant access, convenience and security issues associated with customers not having their own handset or the knowledge to operate the technology themselves…

To read this full post, visit Next Billion.

To learn more about this project, please see our Project FAQ.

Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab Projects Win U.S. Chamber Award

December 14, 2012

By Christopher Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Asia Region, Grameen Foundation

Christopher (“Happy”) Tan is Grameen Foundation’s CEO for the Asia Region, where he is responsible for defining and executing the organization’s regional long-term strategy and overseeing its various investments and programs there. A native of the Philippines, he has almost 15 years of experience in development finance, nonprofit management and public interest law, having worked for ShoreBank Advisory Services (SAS), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC/Chicago) and SALIGAN in the Philippines. He holds an MPP from The University of Chicago and a JD from the Ateneo de Manila University.

I am delighted to announce that Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab initiatives in Indonesia were recognized at the 2012 Citizens Awards, sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and held on December 6 in Washington, D.C.  Our project partner, Qualcomm – through its Wireless Reach initiative ™ – received the “Best International Ambassador” award for its collaborations with Grameen Foundation and our local partner, the social enterprise Ruma, on these projects.

The award identifies a successful social, community or environmental initiative that positively impacts one or more developing countries.

Through our project with Wireless Reach and Ruma, we have enabled poor entrepreneurs, most of whom are women, in Indonesia to offer a range of mobile phone-based services to people in their communities. This effort provides a profitable business opportunity to those living below the poverty line while giving communities access to information and services that can increase their income and improve their lives.

Grameen Foundation and Qualcomm believe that mobiles phones play a critical role in alleviating poverty. This recognition from BCLC highlights the growing support for that vision.

Our experience in Indonesia, a vast country of more than 16,000 islands and 234 million people, is providing important insights about the benefits of mobile connectivity. With approximately 75 percent of the population living below $2.50 per day, the lack of affordable access to telecommunications remains a problem, which places a large percentage of Indonesians in rural areas at an economic and social disadvantage. However, the availability of affordable mobile phones and a rapidly growing 3G network is enabling rural communities, through our AppLab project, to access high-value social applications via mobile phones to close information gaps and reduce market inefficiencies.

Ruma Client

On average, these entrepreneurs have increased their income by $1.10/day by providing mobile-based services in their communities.

As of November 2012, more than 15,000 Ruma entrepreneurs have served more than 1.5 million unique customers. More than 82 percent of the businesses are owned by women and 100 percent of Ruma entrepreneurs are profitable. We have also found that, on average, the entrepreneurs increased their income by $1.10/day, which is a substantial increase in their livelihood (63% of the portfolio lives on less than $2.50/day).

These results have been more than encouraging. We have seen a steady increase in overall living conditions for micro-entrepreneurs such as Ibu Nur Zanah, who operates a home-based business that sells used clothes, while her husband sells soup on the street. Their household lives on approximately $2.00 per day, which barely provides for their two children, aged seven years and 15 months. As a Ruma Entrepreneur, Ibu increased her household income by 100%, earning an additional $2.00 per day, moving her family above the poverty line. The ultimate goal for the Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab projects is to empower more entrepreneurs like Ibu Nur Zanah.

We are honored that our program has been recognized by BCLC, and proud to be working with Qualcomm and Ruma on projects that demonstrate the significant impact that mobile technology provides for people who were previously technologically isolated. We look forward to expanding these projects to further help, encourage and move more people and communities above the poverty line.

Day Twelve: An Indonesian Entrepreneur’s Story

November 22, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Ibu Marni, a 44-year-old mother of two, lives in the village of Kunciran, outside the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. She joined Grameen Foundation as a Village Phone operator in late 2009. Grameen Foundation operation manager Ellen Sasha shares her story:

Ibu Marni spent years creating businesses out of her home, ranging from selling groceries to renting out video games, only to watch each one fail due to rising costs, increased competition and complaints from neighbors. Each failure put her deeper into debt, and when her husband lost his job as a construction worker, she struggled to find new ways to support her family. As an optimist with an entrepreneurial spirit, however, she never gave up.

In 2009, through Grameen Foundation and its social-enterprise partner, Ruma, she finally found a sustainable business model: selling airtime for mobile phones. With the money she makes, especially now that her husband has found work again, she has been able to pay for her son’s college tuition and to expand their tiny house, so that he no longer has to share a room with his sister.

Ibu Marni’s hard work and entrepreneurial spirit have helped her provide a better life for her children.

What makes Ibu Marni special is her friendly character, mature attitude and ability to mingle with new people, especially in poor communities. As an older woman, she can easily start a conversation with a group of ladies, who may not be as comfortable talking to a male field officer. She can also approach customers in very poor neighborhoods where strangers are usually not welcome, because people are less suspicious of someone like her.

As her technological and financial literacy continue to improve, she plans to create her own cooperative to help provide capital to other poor entrepreneurs, such as coffee vendors. She has learned that by helping others start up small home businesses, they can rise up together from poverty.

Ibu Marni has grown from humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur who now helps others in her community. When you support Grameen Foundation, you can also give a hand up to poor people around the world and help us break the generational chains of poverty.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Eleven: Helping People at the “Bottom of the Pyramid”

November 21, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Ellen Sasha, of Makasar, Indonesia, began working for Grameen Foundation as a field officer in March 2010. She had previously worked for the American Red Cross, researching avian-human influenza prevention in Indonesia, and has written a book about conflict and consensus in Bougainville – Papua New Guinea. She is now Operation Manager of a pilot project for a new mobile application that Grameen Foundation is developing for poor entrepreneurs.

After studying politics and working with several other nonprofit organizations in Indonesia, I was excited about joining Grameen Foundation, where I work to highlight the usefulness of mobile technology for the poor. This mission really caught my interest, since it was really rare finding a non-governmental organization with that focus here in Indonesia; I was eager to do something unique while helping others.

Ellen Sasha, Operation Manager for Grameen Foundation in Indonesia, is regularly inspired by her interactions with the poor women she meets.

But working in the field is not as easy reading theories in books. A major challenge involves bridging the gaps between the diverse range of people we that we meet every day. It’s not just the differences between larger communities, but the differences in small groups that can be striking as well. Before they will consider using the products that we offer, we must earn their trust. Only then can we demonstrate the value of our product from their perspective.

The best part of my job is really helping people at the “bottom of pyramid” by directly engaging with poor women and other people in the community. I enjoy learning directly from our clients how mobile technology can really fit and be useful in their struggling communities. I love chatting with our beneficiaries, closing the distance between my life as an educated woman who works in an office and their lives as poor women who work in the home. Some of them see me as a family member now and feel comfortable confiding in me about all sorts of problems in their lives. In turn, this helps me understand their situation even more deeply, revise my theories and gain new insights for projects that we’re working on.

By understanding and addressing their thoughts and concerns about new things, we can really improve these women’s lives. Their humbleness, honest attitude, high integrity and caring are inspirational. My work with them doesn’t feel like fulfilling an obligation; instead, it feels like a kind of hobby – something I do that gives me happiness and pleasure.

You can help us reach more poor women in Indonesia – and around the world – by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Three Stories (and Lessons) about Saving through the Mobile Phone

November 20, 2012

Julia Arnold is a Program Associate for Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings initiative. If you have any questions for Julia about her time in India with the members of Cashpor, she will answer them here in the comments section.

In July, on behalf of Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings initiative, I went to Cashpor Microcredit in Varanasi, India, to conduct research on mobile phone use among its savings and credit clients.  The microfinance institution (MFI) began offering savings services via mobile phones in July 2011, providing a vital financial service to its clients to which they would not otherwise have access.  Building assets through a safe, reliable savings account helps the poor plan for the future and mitigate the risk of small, unreliable incomes.

Though we understood that a majority of Cashpor clients had some access to a mobile phone before the MFI began offering the savings services, there is global evidence that poor women have limited access to and literacy with mobile devices.  We wanted to know if the mobile phone requirement in Cashpor’s program limited the ability of its clients, all of whom are female, to access the savings services. (more…)

Day Ten: Save, Hope, Live and Love

November 20, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Santosh Daniel, of Mumbai, India joined Grameen Foundation February 2010 as a Project Manager leading oure microsavings initiative. Prior to joining Grameen, Santosh had sixteen years of experience with ICICI bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and ACCION, specializing in lending to urban poor.

I wanted to work for Grameen Foundation to help lend credibility to this microfinance model being used successfully to reach the poor – to learn and overcome the immense challenges. It’s creative work, and it’s a very uplifting feeling to witness the impact of our actions reflected through the smiles the clients we serve. I enjoy being a part of a very active and vibrant organization in which is defining and influencing the international development landscape in India.

Santosh regularly meets with savings groups in the villages, helping connect poor women to savings accounts through a mobile phone.

Grameen Foundation supports Cashpor, a microsavings program in partnership with ICICI Bank, to use mobile phones to enable poor, isolated customers to withdraw and deposit their money without having to travel to a bank. We operate in seven districts in Utter Pradesh, with about 80,000 clients. Until now, these women didn’t have access to a bank account, because they live in villages where there are no bank branches. Furthermore, they don’t make enough money to open conventional accounts, which require minimum balances and deposit/withdrawal amounts.

In the past, if these women had some extra money, they would keep it around the house or bury it. Otherwise, it would be spent on non-essential and impulse purchases, or taken by their children, or even eaten by rats. They didn’t have any options for an organized way of saving money. This account allows them to make very small deposits – even deposits of 20 rupees (about $0.40) are allowed – from their mobile phones, which are available for less than $10 in India. Most of the women are illiterate, so they are assisted by the center manager, who also collects and distributes the money at the end of the weekly meeting.

Work requires me to be in the field much of the time, visiting savings groups meetings about six times a month. The most challenging part of the job is patiently working with different stakeholders with divergent interests towards a common goal. Not all the factors influencing the project are controllable, but how close we can come to understanding and responding to the uncontrollable effectively defines our success.

With our technology and information-collecting expertise, we’re helping take this mobile-enabled savings to the rural villages where these women can enroll themselves through the mobile phone and start saving. Many of them are illiterate, so we also teach them financial literacy to help them understand the text messages. We are also getting them in the habit of saving money, which allows them to make a plan. Our initiative has brought them closer to their dreams of being able to save, hope, live and love.

Help even more poor women reach their dreams through access to savings accounts and other services by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Teaming up with Kiva to Empower the Poor

November 19, 2012

Community Knowledge Worker

We’re proud to announce that Kiva lenders can now support our high-impact Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program!

Through our AppLab initiative, we’ve spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people’s lives through information sharing about such areas as healthcare, business opportunities, finances and agriculture. In Uganda, where we’re focusing on agriculture, we do this through a network of “farmer leaders” nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers. (more…)

Day Nine: A Savings Account to the Rescue

November 19, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Rajkumari Buddhu lives in Kaurouta, a village in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. She shares a small mud-thatched hut with her husband, four children, two daughters-in-law and grandchildren. The family’s livelihood comes from weaving clothes and selling them at the local market, Rajkumari spins her wheel and makes small spindles of different-sized threads from larger spindles, forming the spools used in the weaving process. Here is her story, as told to local Grameen Foundation staff.

Rajkumari has always wanted an organized way to save the small amount of money that, though discipline, she had left over every week, but without access to a savings facility, she often spent it. When Grameen Foundation microfinance partner Cashpor introduced a savings program in her area in July 2011, Rajkumari quickly enrolled. Now she has a disciplined and reliable way of saving.

Rajkumari (shown here with her grandson) earns a living weaving thread, and has been able to help herself – and her family – in times of emergency, thanks to her savings account provided by Cashpor, helped by Grameen Foundation.

Just in the past year, she recalls tearfully, there have been three separate occasions that have made her feel grateful for Cashpor and Grameen Foundation:

  1. Rajkumari became sick with severe pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital. After the first few days of treatment, paid for by her husband and sons, the hospital insisted on an additional 4,000 rupees (about $75). Her family’s resources had totally dried up, but she realized that she had some money left in her Cashpor savings account. With the IV still attached to her wrist, she traveled on her son’s bicycle to the nearest Cashpor branch. It was almost 6 p.m., but to her great relief, she saw the center manager’s motorcycle still parked outside. She immediately went over to him and withdrew the entire 3,200 rupees in her account, then managed to borrow the balance from her neighbor and pay the hospital to continue her treatment.
  2. Rajkumari’s daughter-in-law, during the third trimester of her pregnancy, realized that her baby had stopped moving. She was rushed to the hospital and told that she needed an operation to save the baby and herself. Rajkumari’s family was not prepared for this sudden expense, but the money in her savings account again came to the rescue. After seeing the birth of her healthy granddaughter, Rajkumari felt proud that her small savings account helped save the lives of her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.
  3. A less dramatic, but still meaningful, occasion happened when her twin daughters wanted to participate in the state-level Khabaddi athletic championship in Delhi, but they needed money to fund the trip. Rajkumari managed to help them with her small savings, and she now proudly displays the trophy and the certificate that her children won in the championship.

Though the Hindi meaning of her name is “princess,” life has never treated Rajkumari as one. Now, with the help of Grameen Foundation and Cashpor’s savings program, she is the queen of the house – managing household finances, helping with the family business and helping the family lift themselves out of poverty. Access to savings has helped usher in new hope to face the hardship and give wings to her aspirations.

You can help more families like Rajkumari’s lift themselves out of poverty when you support Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Eight: Reaching the Poor and the Organizations That Serve Them

November 18, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Cristopher Lomboy lives in Los Banos, in the Philippine province of Laguna. He joined Grameen Foundation in November 2009 as its poverty measurement specialist in Asia.

One of our exciting initiatives in Asia is the microsavings initiative in collaboration with CARD Bank in the Philippines, which reaches around 600,000 clients. Its goal is to encourage more poor people, especially those living on $1.25 or less a day, to have access to formal savings services. The program allows them to pool their money as a group and then open one account for each member of the group.

Cris strives to put life-changing tools – like savings accounts – in the hands of the poor, and to help other pro-poor organizations reach more poor people, more effectively.

My role is to help the project measure the poverty levels of the clients, then use this information to find out if we are reaching the poorer people. If not, we develop approaches to reach those clients. What makes my job rewarding is the opportunity to become a thought and practice leader in poverty measurement, and to support “blended performance reporting” – meaning that we look at both financial sustainability and social impact. Also, being able to learn about poverty alleviation efforts in different Asian countries enriches my own approach to helping influence pro-poor organizations’ initiatives to help the poor.

One of the challenges of my job involves reaching out and sharing our rich experience and tools with more pro-poor organizations. The magnitude of poverty is great and there is a real need quickly exchange knowledge and stories between practitioners, to help improve their practice. We also collaborate with other organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, to provide technical support for poverty measurement data.

Our goal is to increase our direct outreach to poorer clients. There are many people who do small jobs, like selling vegetables and seasonal manual labor, who are most vulnerable to crisis. If they can at least save some money for an emergency or life event in their families, then reduce the risk they face, and break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

You can help us connect even more poor people to savings accounts when you support Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Seven: Filipinos Saving to Secure their Future

November 17, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Elsa Ligua, 41, of San Pablo City, in the Philippine province of Laguna, is married, with four children. She’s now able to save money through a microsavings program offered by CARD Bank, a microfinance institution that is a long-time partner of Grameen Foundation. She shared her story with Grameen Foundation’s Cristopher Lomboy.

Elsa Ligua’s husband has a shoe-repair stall near the public market. She helps add to the family income by selling food. All four of their children go to school, and she is proud that the eldest also works as a supermarket clerk. She joined the microsavings program at CARD Bank, which Grameen Foundation helped develop, to help save for her children’s college tuition. Both she and her husband had to drop out of school, so they want to make sure that their children become educated and have better opportunities in life.

Every day, a CARD Bank savings officer visits their home and collects about 50 cents from Elsa and other members of her savings group. On good days, she deposits even more money. Her goal is to save about $200 by June 2013, so that she can pay the tuition fees. She disciplines herself not to withdraw her savings and instead lets it grow over time until she needs it.

Elsa (right) and her niece Rose Anne are now able to save for emergencies and other future events, thanks to the savings account provided to them by CARD Bank, with the help of Grameen Foundation.

Before the savings program, she kept spare money around the house, but ended up spending it. But now, with her money in a safe and remote location, she’s not tempted to use her savings immediately, she says.

You can help more people like Elsa achieve their savings goals – and eventually escape poverty – when you support Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12