Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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…

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 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

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.

The Time to Defend Grameen Bank is Now

August 4, 2012

Todd Bernhardt is Director of Marketing and Communications at Grameen Foundation.

As you might have read in the news this week, the Bangladeshi government seems to be moving into the end game in its longtime effort to take over Grameen Bank, a move that has been widely criticized within Bangladesh and around the world.  To briefly summarize, the cabinet – presided over by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina – voted on Thursday to amend the Grameen Bank Ordinance of 1983, effectively removing the Board of Directors’ right to choose the Bank’s Managing Director, and vesting that power instead in the Board’s government-appointed (and aligned) chairman.

As troubling as that disenfranchisement of the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners is (more than 8 million of these owners are poor women), equally troubling is a directive from the cabinet to the Finance Ministry to examine and report on the salaries and benefits that Grameen Bank founder Professor Muhammad Yunus received after he turned 60, which is the official age of retirement from the Bank. It also asked the Ministry to examine whether he earned foreign currency that was tax-exempt during his time as Managing Director.

(Prof. Yunus, who is 72 and going stronger than ever, was exempted from the retirement age by the Grameen Bank Board, whose decision was reviewed and accepted by the government for more than a decade before it suddenly decided that he was too old for the job; the post of Deputy Managing Director was also exempted. For more information on the government’s 21-month campaign against Prof. Yunus and the Bank, see this Fact Sheet developed by the Friends of Grameen organization. Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts also recently blogged about this issue.)

The women on Grameen Bank's Board of Directors, who represent the Bank's 8.3 million borrower-owners and are shown here with Prof. Yunus at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, are in danger of losing their ability to choose the Bank's Managing Director.

The women on Grameen Bank’s Board of Directors, who represent the Bank’s 8.3 million borrower-owners and are shown here with Prof. Yunus at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, are in danger of losing their ability to choose the Bank’s Managing Director.

Let’s look at the second part of the cabinet’s actions first.  The idea that Prof. Yunus would benefit financially from any of his activities advocating for the poor is patently absurd.  Throughout his career, he has had multiple opportunities to join corporate boards as a paid advisor or even to lead for-profit organizations, for great personal gain – yet he has declined.  He has consistently donated whatever money he has earned as a public speaker to social businesses dedicated to serving the poor or to other charitable causes – including Grameen Foundation, which began with $6,000 that he earned from one such speaking engagement.  He lives in a small apartment on the Grameen Bank campus.  All of his activities – either as leader of Grameen Bank or as leader of the Yunus Centre, which focuses on fostering social businesses – have been other-focused, rather than focused on personal gain.

As for the government’s moves to give the Bank’s chairman almost unlimited power to choose a new Managing Director and to sideline the poor women who own this successful, innovative, Nobel Prize-winning microfinance institution – well, to many, it smacks of pure desperation, and an attempt to shift public attention away from a number of public policy failures.  The government of Sheikh Hasina is facing a host of challenges and embarrassments at home, including the recent cancellation by the World Bank of a loan to fund the $1.2 billion Padma Bridge project – a huge infrastructure initiative that was going to be a hallmark of her administration – because of corruption within the government and contractors involved.  She herself has become more autocratic and combative, as noted by The Economist in several articles, and as demonstrated by a recent appearance on the BBC’s “Hard Talk” interview show, where – among other things – she argued with the presenter about accusing Prof. Yunus of “sucking blood from the poor in the name of poverty alleviation” (a well-documented quote from her referring to him) and misrepresented Grameen Bank’s interest rates, saying that it charges between 30 and 45%, when her own administration has confirmed studies showing that the Bank’s highest charge is roughly 20%, seven points below the maximum rate set by the government.

Professor Yunus, who was a surprised and disappointed as the rest of us by the cabinet decisions and directives, released the following statement on Friday:

I was very apprehensive about it for some time. Now my fear is becoming a reality. I am disappointed that we were not successful in stopping this process. It  makes me immensely sad to see the poor women being deprived of their rightful ownership and their rights as owners to exercise their power over the bank. I am so shocked by the turn of events that I am left without words. I request my fellow citizens who are as shocked as I am, to try to  persuade our government to realise that this is a very wrong step they are taking; they should refrain from proceeding with this. The decision of the government would destroy this well known bank for the poor, the bank that has made the country proud.  I urge our fellow countrymen to come forward and save this successful national enterprise owned by the poor women. I am also urging the poor owners of Grameen Bank to appeal to the government and the citizens  to come forward to help them safeguard  their rightful ownership of the Bank.

What can non-Bangladeshis do about these injustices?  You can take action by speaking up – Grameen Foundation has a petition that we plan to give soon to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to reiterate the U.S. government’s strong support for the continued independence of Grameen Bank and the rights of the poor women who own it.  Microcredit Summit has its own petition on, also in support of the continued independence of the Bank, that it plans to give to Sheikh Hasina.  Please sign both petitions, and urge your friends, family and those on your social networks to do the same.

We would also ask that you contact your legislative representatives, and the media, no matter where you live, and let them know how important it is to you that the world’s flagship microfinance institution remain independent and able to continue its effective, innovative role in the ongoing battle against poverty. Time is short. The Bangladeshi government’s commission reviewing the Bank and the other Grameen social businesses is moving ahead quickly, and new actions against the Bank may be announced soon, so it’s essential that you act now to defend the rights of – and opportunities for – the world’s poorest.

In the meantime, we will keep you informed about developments as they occur.  Of course, with your support, we will continue our work around the world to provide the poor with access to appropriate financial services like microsavings and loans, as well as access to life-changing, real-time information about their health, crops, animals and finances. Working together, in the spirit of innovators like Grameen Bank, we can begin to realize Prof. Yunus’s vision of putting poverty where it belongs – in a museum.

Overcoming the Barriers to Fighting Poverty

July 27, 2012

Ananya Mukkavilli is a Bankers without Borders® (BwB) volunteer who served as an institutional relations intern for Grameen Foundation’s External Affairs team in 2012. She is a rising junior at Haverford College, majoring in political science, with a minor in economics. Ananya will spend the next academic year studying international relations at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

When I first learned about microfinance, I was a freshman in high school in Bangkok, Thailand. Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, had just won the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, and by happy coincidence I was representing Bangladesh in the Economic and Social Council of our Model United Nations Conference. The subject of microfinance could not be more relevant. I found the idea of microfinance revolutionary. It wasn’t about charity or donations; it was about giving people opportunities to economically sustain themselves, as part of an overall effort to address the ever-increasing global income gap. Cutting poverty in half by 2015 was a big part of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and the actors involved were always striving to look at bigger-picture, long-term solutions to poverty. Prof. Yunus had created an effective and simultaneously empowering means of doing just that.

Bankers without Borders volunteer Ananya Mukkavilli, pictured here during a trip to Dubai’s Old Town, discovered some essential truths about fighting poverty when she served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this summer.

Having grown up in Vietnam, Thailand and India, I am no stranger to the realities of absolute poverty and the importance of “giving back” to one’s community. What drew me to the subject of microfinance was that it challenged the “us versus them” mentality that often differentiates givers from receivers. Microfinance opened my eyes to what is now a widely accepted idea of creating shared value among everyone.

But the more I have been exposed to  microfinance and international development through my academic, cultural and extracurricular experiences, the more I have realized that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of poverty. When the Andhra Pradesh crisis was unraveling in 2010, I saw for the first time how microfinance can fail when practitioners don’t put the poor at the center of their efforts. Working at Grameen Foundation this summer, I have seen the benefits of approaches to microfinance that innovate and cater to the needs of the poor, rather than those that follow a cookie-cutter, formulaic approach.


Connecting the Dots – From Seraphina to Prime Minister Odinga

July 26, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®(BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This is the final post in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, her second post here, and her third post here.

BwB Director Shannon Maynard (left) presents Seraphina (right), a women’s group leader and entrepreneur, with a cook stove that the other group leaders purchased as a thank-you for her wisdom and leadership to them.

As a U.S.-based employee of a global NGO, the small amount of time I spend in the field is incredibly helpful in checking assumptions around what’s possible and what’s needed with our work in particular places, and in gaining a better understanding the realities of my employees based there. Of course, being surrounded by abject poverty on a daily basis, combined with getting to see – in person – the hope and progress that takes root in poor people’s lives when they gain access to credit or savings, redoubles my own personal commitment to the work of Grameen Foundation and Bankers without Borders (BwB).

In addition to gaining such perspective during the two weeks I spent in Kenya, I was able to help better position BwB to benefit Kenya-based social enterprises such as the Visionary Empowerment Program (VEP), Paradigm Kenya and Paddy Micro Investment, among others. I also had the chance to shake hands with two very important people: Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and self-identified industrialist Seraphina, an elderly woman who lives in a rural village outside Thika town and makes soap to support herself and her family.

What do these three social enterprises and these two people have in common? Let me connect the dots – because that really is what Grameen Foundation is all about. We bring together the people and facilitate the collaboration required to foster significant, scalable financial- and information-related solutions for the world’s poorest.


Building Our Strength One CKW at a Time

July 5, 2012

Fiona Byarugaba, is Program Management and Communications Officer at Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Uganda office, and MTN/Grameen Foundation Relationship Manager. We have included a excerpt of her blog post followed by a link to the full post.

Samson Sabiiti Olet’s goat was suffering from a disease unknown to him. In a state of panic, Samson met his village Community Knowledge Worker, or CKW, telling him that the goat’s body was covered in “white dots.” After the CKW looked at the goat, he opened his phone, and within seven minutes had discovered that Samson’s goat was affected by ticks. Once Samson – a farmer from Oyam district, Adagayella village – started following the CKW’s advice about how to treat the goat for ticks, all was well, and the goat has gotten its healthy appetite back again.

Community Knowledge Worker Simon Obwoya from Gulu with a farmer

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single footstep. Grameen Foundation helps the world’s poorest people to take those footsteps and lift themselves out of poverty by providing mobile phone-based solutions that address “information poverty” in the fields of agriculture, financial services, health and livelihoods.

Continue reading this post on our Applab blog >>

Risk Management: It’s a Mindset, Not a Budget Line Item!

July 3, 2012

Michelle Katics, CEO of BankersLabTM, supports the MFI sector by providing pro-bono risk-management technical assistance to microfinance institutions (MFIs). BankersLab, through its corporate social responsibility program, supports Bankers without Borders®Bankers with VisionMFIOpenSource and Kiva. We have excerpted a portion of her blog post, followed by a link to the full post.

I recently returned from a Bankers without Borders (BwB) volunteer engagement in West Bengal, India, with Society for Model Gram Bikash Kendra (GBK), a small non-profit microfinance company. As many BwB skilled volunteer-corps members can attest, volunteers typically feel they gain as much or more than the recipients of the services they provide. In this case, the experience for me highlighted important factors for success in risk management, some of which we forget from time to time in the traditional banking sector. Much of what I learned came from observing the energetic and curious discovery process of the GBK staff as they tackled typical risk management challenges.

When working with partners around the world, BwB (a Grameen Foundation initiative) recognizes that MFIs have a common need: risk management. MFIs face similar risk management challenges across the board, including how much risk to accept, how to mitigate the risk that cannot be avoided, and how to manage the real risks that are part of their day-to-day business and operations.

It’s free to change your mindset and habits.  The GBK staff expressed concern about how they could improve their risk management while remaining in control of their budget. They worried that IT systems and additional staff were the main (and costly) requirements for successful risk management, yet were delighted to discover simple and easy ways to improve their operations, with minimal cost. Many of these ways don’t apply to the traditional banking sector, which already has strong systems, but some of the simple ”mindset” changes are a relevant reminder for us all.  For example, GBK decided to research and implement new best practices in areas such as accounting and audit. Taking a step back to examine and improve the process can be the key to success. By doing this, they also realized the need to create contingency plans and other methods of dealing with crisis before facing one.

Another observation was the impact of GBK’s collegial and open collaboration among departments to jointly tackle risk management. In other words:

Cost of coffee and snacks for the meeting:  $20

Value:  Priceless

Continue reading the full blog post at the BankersLab blog >>