Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

Poverty Waits for No One

July 17, 2012

David Washer is a Bankers without Borders® volunteer who recently returned from a project in Ethiopia. Upon graduating from Yale University, Washer began his career in portfolio management at McKinsey & Company, where he currently works as a financial analyst. During his time at Yale, he was actively involved in human rights advocacy and research, and now looks forward to using his knowledge of finance and international development in the service of colleagues overseas.

I’ve always had a healthy skepticism about short-term volunteer projects abroad. But as a Texas expatriate living in a Manhattan closet that passes for an apartment, I started to go a little stir-crazy as my heart for social justice from my undergraduate days began to beat again. The irony of it all? As an undergraduate, I had plenty of time – but no true, concrete skills to offer to development organizations. Once I began my work career, the opposite initially held true.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

I began to research and critically examine different service opportunities, and eventually came across Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders (BwB) program. Convinced that through this program I could help empower others to lead sustainable, grassroots development in their own communities abroad, I decided to join. I was not disappointed. ‪Once I became a member of the Financial Modeling Blueprint Reserve Corps, BwB provided me with the training, templates and tools I needed to apply my financial analysis and modeling skills in a development context.

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Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 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 post is the third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

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

February 16, 2012

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

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

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

Cover of David Roodman's "Due Diligence"

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

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

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

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

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Tackling the Challenges of Offering Voluntary Savings to the Poor

December 23, 2011

Leo Tobias is Grameen Foundation’s Technology Program Manager of the Solutions for the Poorest Microsavings Initiative.

Offering savings programs for the poor can be challenging. First, the microfinance institutions (MFIs) that want to offer these services are competing with a variety of alternatives, such as home-based savings (under mattresses, in strongboxes, etc.), or keeping money with relatives or neighbors. Second, offering savings products fundamentally changes the relationship between the MFI and its customers.  When clients only want loans, making that the primary purpose for their interactions with the MFI, there is a standard process. Taking voluntary customer deposits radically changes that relationship, to one that is initiated by the customer and that involves varying amounts of deposits or withdrawals. In other words, the customer interaction is less predictable.  At any time of the day or night, the customer can ask for her balance and withdraw from it.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings team has found that poor customers all want to have easy and convenient access to their funds.  The MFIs we work with face common technology challenges involved with providing such access.

In this post on the CGAP Technology Blog, Leo Tobias, our technology program manager for the Grameen Foundation Microsavings Initiative, discusses two of the major technology challenges facing MFIs.