Author Archive

Day Six: Connecting Colombian Farmers, Amid Conflict

November 16, 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.

Lori Ospina began working for Grameen Foundation as an intern in the Washington D.C. headquarters in 2009. She is now a program in Colombia, Grameen Foundation’s newest branch office, working with local partners and farmers trained and paid to be Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) to use mobile phones to bring information and financial services to isolated farmers.

When we began working with the farmers, I was really nervous that they wouldn’t like the program or that our incentives wouldn’t be enough to get them on board. However, the feedback has all been incredibly positive. One of our CKWs told me that this has become her “hobby” – going out and talking to the farmers about their problems and being able to help them. Another CKW told me that people now show up at his farm to get registered, and farmers call him with their questions. All of them were very willing to adopt it – I was blown away.

Lori Ospina (right) with Grameen Foundation’s Colombia Office Adminstrator, Luz. She’s inspired by meeting so many hard-working rural farmers, especially those who continue persevere amidst a dangerous atmosphere of conflict and violence.

Many farmers know the basics already, but they’re excited about the new information. The top two things they ask about are pest/disease control and crop diversification, because most of them only grow a single crop on their farms, but they would like to grow other things too. Our system updates information constantly, so we’re able to see what they’re asking, address that in real-time and add improvements. We’re helping them qualify for Fairtrade International certification, which will secure minimum prices and sustainable growing practices for them. We’re also exploring how we might be able to incorporate a mobile payment program, as well as address financial literacy.

The best part of my job is going deep into rural communities and seeing other ways of life. I’m able to meet all types of inspiring people – farmers, extension agents, families and a lot of hardworking people who deliver local services to these rural communities.

The hardest part is that we all care so much about our work, but often don’t have all the resources needed, so work can become a little all-consuming at times. There’s also a safety issue, unfortunately. Tibu, one of our program areas, is a conflict zone that’s been the location of a guerilla headquarters. We’re not allowed to go there because it’s so dangerous, so we have to do a lot of our work from the cooperative – and even getting out there is a trip. It’s only about 120 kilometers from the airport, but the road conditions are so bad that it ends up taking three to six hours, and you see military tanks and safety checks the entire way. There’s a bridge that we typically travel over, but recently we had to take a ferry across because the guerillas had destroyed it.

I interviewed one of our CKWs after our training and he talked about it with such nonchalance, telling me that even if you don’t want to be involved with the conflict, you indirectly are. He and his father built boats, and guerillas would buy them. Some of the farmers used to grow coca, but now they’ve switched to food crops to try to get away from the drug trade.

We’re still growing, testing and learning along the way. We currently reach about 350 farmers through a grassroots cocoa-growing cooperative and a large export company that works with banana and plantain growers. Eventually, we plan to expand to other crops and regions, and to take this model to other parts of Latin America. It’s very exciting!

You can help us connect more farmers in Colombia with life-changing information about crops and livestock 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

Day Five: Saving Chocolate from Squirrels in Colombia

November 15, 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.

Eliseo Gonzalez Angel – known as Angel – is a middle-aged farmer in Colombia who grows cacao, the main ingredient in making chocolate. With the help of a Grameen Foundation Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), Angel has been able to get important tips on how to take care of his crops. Grameen Foundation recently expanded our CKW work from Uganda to Colombia, using what we’ve learned previously, as well as tailoring our efforts to the local needs.

Squirrels don’t pester Angel anymore, thanks to advice he got through Grameen Foundation’s efforts in Colombia.

In July, Angel connected with his local CKW, trained by Grameen Foundation and equipped with a smartphone that can access a range of information about crop management, market prices, certification requirements and diversification. The middle-aged cocoa grower is now on track as a member of the Asocati agricultural cooperative in Tibu to become certified by Fairtrade International. Farmers who receive such certification use sustainable growing techniques – including approved methods for controlling squirrels and other pests – and typically get a better price for their harvest.

“I have used the system four times now. Each time the information has been very useful,” he says. “Two years ago, my farm was devastated by the winter flooding and I lost all my crops. Now I’m in the process of reestablishing my cacao crop, so I appreciate knowing that, if I need any information, I can get it immediately instead of having to wait for an expert to come visit me.”

And chocolate lovers appreciate that Angel’s cacao is safe from pesky squirrels!

Angel examines his latest cacao crops.

Angel’s farm is in Campo Dos in the Norte Santander Region, an area with a long history of guerilla violence, which adds to the challenges faced by farmers.  Farmers often worry about protecting their families and property, as well as transporting their crops safely to market and handling the money they earn. The 40 km journey for Angel into the city already takes four hours, due to poor road conditions, and he tries to hitchhike to avoid the additional transportation costs for the weekly trip.

As Grameen Foundation’s  work in Colombia grows, Angel hopes to take advantage of mobile banking services and small loans, as well. With a loan from family members and advice from his CKW, he has expanded to selling chickens and eggs as an additional income source. He earns about $100 a month, which is still $30 less than his expenses.

When we asked him about his willingness to use a mobile payment service should one exist in his community, he replied “Having a bank account creates credibility,” he said. “I would like to know the cost first, but if it is reasonable I would like to adopt the service when it becomes available. It seems like it would be very useful for me.”

As we expand our work in Colombia and Latin America, you can join us in empowering even more farmers 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 Four: Charles Grows Coffee – and Changes Lives

November 14, 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.

Charles Chebet, 45, of Uganda’s northeast Kapchorwa district, was selected by his peers to become one of Grameen Foundation’s trained Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) in 2010. With the training and smartphone provided by Grameen Foundation, he has been able to tremendously improve his coffee harvest and connect hundreds of other farmers to advice, technical assistance and equipment loans. Here is his story, from his perspective , as shared with Bankers without Borders volunteer® Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

Before working as a CKW with Grameen Foundation, I was a farmer and I did some small business where I live. Grameen Foundation has now expanded my agriculture experience. By using the phone, I get advice to treat my animals and grow my foods. And because I am a CKW, I also get a little money for helping other farmers. I am supposed to visit more than 100 farmers every month, but I always do more.

As a rural farmer and CKW, not only does Charles learn new farming techniques though his mobile phone, but he is also able to share them with hundreds of other farmers nearby.

I have bought some equipment, which helps me have a bigger harvest and teach other farmers about these practices. We want to help farmers get better fertilizers, chemicals, seeds and tools. Maybe a shop can open here that sells those things. Maybe I can do that in the future.

Now I am growing coffee and bananas, cabbage and vegetables. I also have sheep, goats, cows and pigs. I learn many things by using the phone. We had a banana disease, but we learned that we can use ash mixed with urine to treat the plants. So now we don’t have that problem anymore.

We are six people in my house: me, my wife and four children. My 23-year-old daughter has finished university and is working for an agricultural organization to develop some programs for small households. My 18-year-old son is studying agriculture. My 15-year-old daughter is sitting for exams. My 14-year-old son wants to become a priest, and is going to join a seminary.

I like my work, and I like the farmers that I’m helping in my country. Grameen Foundation is good.

Thanks to your support, Charles and hundreds of other rural farmers near him are able to grow more crops and better support their families. You can help empower more rural farmers in Uganda when you support Grameen Foundation today.

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 Three: A Ray of Hope for Rural Farmers in Uganda

November 13, 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.

Sarah Mugisha, of Masaka, Uganda, joined Grameen Foundation in January 2009 to help recruit, train and oversee Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). She is now a network and training manager, overseeing a team of 14 people supporting a network of more than 900 CKWs in 30 districts. This network is expected to grow to 1,200 CKWs in 36 districts by next year.

After 10 years of working with organizations to alleviate rural poverty in Africa, I joined Grameen Foundation because it addressed the missing link: empowering small farmers, who make up 80 percent of Uganda’s population, to improve their livelihoods through effective and scalable innovation. By equipping a local intermediary with up-to-date information and cutting-edge technology, we offer a rural development solution that broadens the knowledge base of poor households.

Sarah believes that the vital information provided to rural farmers by CKWs is a ray of hope, letting them know “they have not been forgotten.”

Our smartphones enable farmers to access information on planting, post-harvest handling and fair market prices. We also have information on animal care, weather, service providers and all sorts of advice to help them make profitable decisions. This technology has given rural farmers a ray of hope that they have not been forgotten, and that someone is seriously thinking about their challenges.

Initially, there were some limitations with using the phone in rural areas, but we’ve found ways to overcome them. One of the major problems we still contend with is sporadic network connectivity. We’ve made much of the information we need permanently available on the phone, so it can be accessed without a network connection. But when the CKWs are submitting surveys or getting more updates, they need to find a place where connectivity is good.

The best part of my job is training CKWs and making a difference in people’s lives. When I see the radiant glow in a farmer’s eyes because a piece of information has helped them, that makes my day. Organizations are now approaching our CKWs because of the skills they have acquired, and many want to help them do community mobilization and promote different activities. We are advising them on whom to engage with and whom to be cautious with.

We would like to have a 50-50 mix of male and female CKWs, but it’s difficult, because not many women out there are literate enough to join our program. In Uganda, we have more than 50 ethnic groups and languages, and we can’t translate everything, so the content on the phones is in English. We need someone who is educated enough to be able to look at the content, understand it and then translate it for the farmer. That’s what limits the participation of women.

The sky is the limit for what we can make available to the unreached masses, via the smartphone. That said, we always keep in mind that though we can still reach out and offer support remotely through technology, it can never replace the impact of human touch.

Thanks to your support, our CKWs have helped more than 100,000 farmers in Uganda. Help us reach even more 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

Day Two: A Ghana Field Officer’s Story

November 12, 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.

Williams Kwarah, 32, comes from Navrongo, Ghana. He joined Grameen Foundation in June 2010 as the Technical Field Officer on our MOTECH (Mobile Technology for Community Health) project, and is now a Field Lead/Coordinator.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that there are simple ways of addressing the causes of most of the health problems that rural communities encounter. In addition to the vicious circle of poverty, some of the true causes are lack of access to information and services. I have always had the passion to help bridge this gap, to make health information more accessible to our rural folks – my people!

Williams (left) helps a pregnant woman register for our Mobile Midwife service so that she’ll receive regular messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy.

Mobile technology is evolving in my part of the African continent, and it is a promising way of addressing most of our public health issues. The best part of my work is listening to our clients talk about how the Mobile Midwife messages have improved their lives, because they can now access quality health information and services readily at their homes on their mobile phones. Our health workers also tell us how the system helps them easily track their patients and give better care, helping them manage client health data efficiently.

The flip side of this is lack of funds to implement other activities that will enhance our services. Because MOTECH is a single project and budgets are limited, it becomes quite difficult to incorporate auxiliary programs that also help rural families. For example, phone ownership among pregnant women in rural communities is relatively low. But we can expand our reach by equipping a trusted community agent with a mobile phone to help women without phones listen to helpful messages regarding good health practices. In addition, providing portable solar charging devices for charging mobile phones in those communities off the national grid power would help many more women access this life-saving information.

Overall, when I lie down at the close of the working day, and I am able to say I have successfully trained 50 nurses on the use of a phone application, helped register 50 clients into Mobile Midwife, and installed two agents to assist clients get the messages – it’s a wonderful feeling.

We hope that our supporters share this “wonderful feeling,” knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of poor women. Please consider helping us reach more poor women in rural Ghana 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

Day One: A Ghanaian Mother’s Story

November 11, 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.

Mariatu Manafo, of Ofaakor, Ghana, is thankful for Grameen Foundation’s donors and their support for our Mobile Health initiative in Ghana, known as MOTECH. Through its “Mobile Midwife” service, poor pregnant women and new mothers receive vital care information to help them have a healthier pregnancy and to better care for their baby during the first year of the child’s life. Here’s her story, as told to Grameen Foundation staff in Ghana.

I registered for the Mobile Midwife service when I was in my first trimester. Before the introduction of the messages in Ofaakor, I had lost two previous pregnancies. This was partly because I had to rely on recommendations from some friends and extended family members about the use of herbal medication that they felt was helpful. I hardly ate any fruits or drank enough water during my earlier pregnancies.

Mariatu listens to messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy and raise a healthy baby.

Listening to Mobile Midwife messages every week of my third pregnancy really made a big difference, and now I have my beautiful daughter Salamatu. A message that was really helpful was on nutrition. My husband Nuru took interest in the messages and most often listened to the content with me, perhaps because of the previous miscarriages. With both of us listening to the messages, he realized the importance of eating more fruits during pregnancy, and he often brought home fruits for me.

I am a living testimony to how Mobile Midwife has really helped. Previously, I was more susceptible to the complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. I did not have the necessary information to make decisions regarding my unborn child – I simply did not know the right kinds of food to eat, or how I should care for myself. I did not know when – or if! – to go for medical checkups. Before, I took certain symptoms during pregnancy lightly, but Mobile Midwife empowered me with the right information about pregnancy and childbirth.

Mariatu credits our Mobile Midwife service for helping her stay healthy during her pregnancy, and now she has her beautiful baby daughter Salamatu.

Her husband, Nuru Manafo, added:

As a family, we are now able to save some money – we do not have to visit the health center because of malaria and other common childhood diseases. Some of the messages advised us to always use insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. My wife always insisted that we use the nets and she regularly visited the clinic for her malaria drugs when she was pregnant. I am always thankful for Mobile Midwife in our community, especially because, before, my family knew very little about pregnancy and child care.. The messages encouraged my wife to go to the health facility for delivery and now I am a proud father of a beautiful daughter whom I have christened the MOTECH baby!

Thanks to the support of our donors, Mariatu and  Nuru were connected to vital information that helped them theirr healthy baby daughter, Salamatu. You can help more families like theirs 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 Key Lessons about Gender and Mobile Finance

November 7, 2012

The mobile phone is gaining widespread popularity as a means to bridge the “last mile” – a way of bringing information and financial services to hard-to-reach people who don’t have ready access to them.  To get a better picture of how to best deliver mobile services, we conducted a case study with our partner, Cashpor Microcredit, a microfinance institution based in Varanasi, India.

There are 300 million fewer women than men who own mobile phones in developing countries, and high barriers to entry remain for women. This study investigates some of these concerns, specifically whether women have limited access to savings services delivered via the mobile phone.

It finds that, though enthusiasm for the mobile phone as a way to deliver these services is justified, there is evidence that poor women have limited access to and lack literacy with mobile devices, creating a gap in their access to financial and other services delivered this way.

You can download the full report here, but we’ll share with you here the three key lessons:

1. Promoting mobile phone ownership among women is critical to ensure their access to services.

Women who own phones make more frequent savings deposits than women who borrow a phone. In addition, half of the women who borrow a phone reported that there are times when their access is limited, due chiefly to the primary user taking it with him for work during the day. These women’s ability to make a deposit depends on whether the phone is available to them during their weekly Cashpor meeting. Women who do not have access to a phone cannot save with Cashpor, which effectively excludes them from access to a safe and reliable place to save their own and their family’s money.

2. Providing mobile phone literacy training is essential among these women.

Of the 65 women we spoke with, only 23 were able to use the phone independently; of those women, 13 own a phone. The women who cannot use a phone independently reported asking their husbands, sons, daughters and neighbors for help to answer, hang up or dial the phone. Mobile phone literacy training would 1) ensure that women are empowered and feel a sense of ownership over the product; 2) demystify the mobile phone; and 3) enable knowledge transfer to children and grandchildren, ensuring that they are also able to take advantage of mobile phone-delivered financial services in the future.

3. The children of Cashpor clients know much more about mobile phones than their parents.

Women reported that their children – both boys and girls – knew how to use mobile phones and reported asking their children how to use a feature on the phone, typically how to make a call. Interestingly, only a few women reported that their children have classes in school with computers or cell phones. Most children are teaching themselves how to use the phone and are passing that knowledge along to their mothers.

Download the full report

Lessons from Medicine for Poverty Alleviation

October 31, 2012

This post by Alex Counts was originally published on his blog, where he describes the process of writing a book on Haitian microfinance pioneer Fonkoze.

It has been a few weeks since I have posted on this blog, but I have continued to study and to work inside Fonkoze all along.  Now I feel like I finally have a juicy topic to write about and time to do so.

In response to my post on outcomes and impact (as opposed to inputs) in poverty reduction programs, Meredith Kimbell, a top-notch management consultant in the Washington, DC area whom I have known for years, mentioned the book Better by a physician named Atul Gawande, and in particular a chapter towards the end titled “The Bell Curve.”  I read the entire book, which is basically about how the practice of medicine has been and can be improved (with lessons for other disciplines).  I found that the book had some important lessons for the effort to end poverty through holistic approaches to microfinance such as those employed by Fonkoze
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The Rise of Mobile Microentrepreneurs

September 14, 2012

A simple and widely available tool – the mobile phone – is creating substantial impact in the developing world, changing the lives of low-income individuals, especially in rural communities. Today, 6 billion mobile phones are being used throughout the world, with approximately 75 percent of users living in developing countries.

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.

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

Recognizing the opportunity offered by this technology, Grameen Foundation and eBay Foundation began working together this summer to build solutions that address market challenges facing microentrepreneurs in Indonesia. Our joint effort will support Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchise initiative, which currently works with a network of more than 10,000 women microentrepreneurs, heavily concentrated in the West Java region.

This network, which is managed by Ruma – a social enterprise that Grameen Foundation helped to incubate and grow – currently reaches more than 1 million customers.

In this piece on The Huffington Post, Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and Lauren Moore, Head of Global Social Innovation for eBay Inc., and President of eBay Foundation, discuss our new collaboration.

Are You Really Getting Your Share? Revenue Protection in Mobile Money

September 13, 2012

Ali Ndiwalana is Research Lead for Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money Incubator and Lee-Anne Pitcaithly is Program Director for Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Financial Services Accelerator initiative. Both are based in our Uganda office. This blog post originally appeared on the CGAP Technology Blog. We’ve included an excerpt here with a link to the full post below.

Mobile money has had bad press lately for fraud-related cases. Most of the reported cases were either the result of internal employees misusing the system to cause operator losses or fraudsters trying to scam unsuspecting users. There is another angle that rarely gets any press—when users or agents abuse the platform and use it in rogue ways that it was never intended.

Across East Africa, most mobile money transactions are primarily between registered users. Registered users get free cash-in (convert cash into mobile money, steps 1), pay fees to make transfers to other registered users (step 2) and registered recipients pay fees to cash-out (convert mobile money into cash, step 3). Most transactions are single loop (from sender to receiver and then converted into cash) and the operator automatically deducts and shares fees with agents as summarized in the standard scenario.

Agents are critical for success of any mobile money platform, but they may also offer its weakest link. Let us consider a few examples. Agents may charge additional fees to customers, they may bypass the platform for withdrawals, they may perform over the counter transfers for customers to other agents if they have ability for P2P amongst agents or they may split transactions to take advantage of the pricing model. I am sure others can easily add to this list.

Continue reading the full post >>


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