Archive for the ‘Human Capital’ Category

Asking the Right Questions Makes All the Difference

September 1, 2012

Sally Salem was an Atlas Corps Fellow at Grameen Foundation, where she worked with the human capital management team for a year learning and designing toolkits to support the strategic adoption of human capital practices at microfinance institutions.  Sally has more than a decade of experience in non-formal education and development and has worked with adults and young people on issues ranging from youth participation, volunteering, intercultural learning and human-rights education.

After working with Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center for a year as an Atlas Fellow, it was time to return to Egypt.  Looking back now on my year-long stay, I realize that I was lucky to have had Grameen Foundation as my host and to have worked with the human capital management team.

Thanks to good timing, one month after my fellowship ended, I had an opportunity to put all the theory I had learned into practice. I was invited to support an engagement with the Lebanese Association for Development-Al Majmoua, a leading microfinance NGO in that country, part of a collaborative effort between Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center and Grameen-Jameel Microfinance Ltd., a joint venture between Grameen Foundation and the ALJ Foundation, a subsidiary of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group.  My task was to help facilitate a human capital management assessment – the starting point for aligning an organization’s people practices with its business strategy.  As a native Arabic speaker with working experience in Lebanon and deep familiarity with the assessment, I was eager to volunteer my services through Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative, Bankers without Borders®.

In Sidon, Lebanon, Sally (right) met Osama – a photographer and Al Majmoua client – who is carving out a niche in her city’s male-dominated photography industry.

In Sidon, Lebanon, Sally (right) met Osama – a photographer and Al Majmoua client – who is carving out a niche in her city’s male-dominated photography industry.

Lebanon has an interesting (and somewhat tragic) modern history that some say sums up the story of the Middle East in the last 60 years or so. It is a country with a strong Phoenician heritage – sea people who made great ships using their mighty cedar trees and who explored the unknown Mediterranean at a very early stage of human history. This is still reflected in the adventurous character of today’s Lebanese people. There are more Lebanese outside of the country than in Lebanon. They are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, and wherever they go they prove to be clever merchants, excellent hosts and good cooks! What a great environment for microfinance to thrive and grow.

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Helping MFIs Make Use of Their Best Asset

April 3, 2012

These days, microfinance institutions (MFIs) face myriad challenges, both from competition within the industry and from increased public scrutiny and government regulation. This is why it is more important than ever for MFIs to invest in their most important asset: their employees. In a new piece for the Microfinance Gateway blog, Peg Ross, Director of Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center, lays out five strategies for MFIs looking to ensure that their workers are mission-focused and successful.

Peg Ross, Director of Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center, joins a loan officer from Ujjivan, an Indian MFI, on her rounds to visit clients.

Peg points to recent studies showing that people issues are at the core of most of the problems that MFIs face, and that progressive HR policies can lead to significant improvements in productivity. An MFI should start, she says, with an internal HR assessment to determine “what works and what doesn’t work, so that the organization can focus on the right levers for change.” From there, the MFI can create a long-term plan and focus on implementing best practices in everything, from hiring to performance evaluations to the professional development of its people.

Read the full post to find out more.

Examining the Potential of Microfinance through a Haitian MFI

July 8, 2011

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.

Grameen Foundation has been working for 14 years to advance a certain approach to microfinance – one that is rooted in the experiences, achievements and philosophy of Grameen Bank.  Though we do not promote any particular methodology (i.e., a certain means of providing financial or human development services to the poor), we do focus on and try to advance a set of principles and standards.  Methodologies are very context-specific, while principles endure and standards are universal.  (We approach our technology-for-development work similarly, but that is beyond the scope of this short post.)

Some of the principles are not particularly controversial or microfinance-specific – things like a commitment to transparency, innovation, being client-centered, investing in the human capital of employees, promoting gender equality and so on.  Others are specific to microfinance, such as bundling financial and human development services wherever possible, measuring and managing social performance on par with financial performance, mobilizing loan capital locally (through savings or local currency borrowings), and local (or indigenous) ownership and governance.  Among the latter, there are some thoughtful people in our movement (or industry, as some prefer to call it) who would disagree with the wisdom of these principles. I say that to emphasize that these are not meaningless slogans that everyone agrees on.

Talking about principles and standards, and about our work to champion innovation that spreads them throughout the microfinance sector, can seem abstract at times, even though we are clearer than ever that this is how Grameen Foundation can have the greatest impact.  Sometimes we find it helpful to focus on individual organizations that embody these principles and meet these standards, however imperfectly, to deepen our own understanding of how microfinance can evolve, and also further the understanding of people who support our organization in various ways.  With microfinance coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators, the media and politicians, holding up pace-setting institutions is an important part of educating stakeholders about what microfinance can be, and arguably should be.

During his recent trip to Haiti, Alex met extensively with the borrowers and staff of Fonkoze, including founder Father Joseph Philippe (left).

During his recent trip to Haiti, Alex met extensively with the borrowers and staff of Fonkoze, including founder Father Joseph Philippe (left).

With my second sabbatical approaching (at Grameen Foundation we get one every seven years), I decided to pick one such organization and write a book about it for a general audience.  It was not that hard to decide which one – I chose Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest MFI.  It is a dynamic, innovative, risk-taking organization led by fascinating people – mostly Haitians and Haitian-Americans, but also a few Americans and Europeans – in a country that has been in the news in recently (for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately).  It has also been a beneficiary of Grameen Foundation’s products and services for more than a decade.

I began my sabbatical on June 16 and a few days later was down in Haiti – my fifth and longest trip yet to that sad and surprising country.  Shortly before going, I began a blog that would chronicle the process of researching and writing the book, and invited people around the world to participate in the creative process.  I have been posting short written reflections, photos and videos (most under two minutes) ever since.

My goals for this project are aggressive. I want it to be a New York Times best-seller!  (Why the heck not?)  I also want it to generate significant new partners and funders for Grameen Foundation, Fonkoze and organizations that operate along similar lines.  (All the royalties from the book will go to Grameen Foundation.)  And I want it to change the narrative in the mainstream media from simplistic answers to the “what’s wrong with microfinance” question to more interesting analyses of how it is evolving in some places to be an even more potent poverty-fighting strategy than earlier models.  I plan to have the book in stores by the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake (January 12, 2013).

Ambitious?  Yes!  But with new “friends” of this project coming forward every day – consider yourself invited! – it just might be achievable.

Bankers without Borders Now Serving U.S. Microenterprises

May 2, 2011

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Bankers without Borders, Grameen Foundation’s skills-based volunteer program.

Today, Bankers without Borders (BwB) has joined with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) to announce a new collaboration to support microfinance and microenterprise development organizations in the United States.  This alliance will enable more than 400 organizations to benefit from the skills and experience of our more than 6,300 highly skilled active and retired business professionals in BwB’s global volunteer reserve corps.

We are currently recruiting for our first project to support AEO and its members.  BwB is seeking a team of volunteers to refine and develop a toolkit that will enable microfinance and microenterprise organizations to better meet the needs of their existing clients and reach individuals presently not served.  For more details or to apply, please visit the Bankers without Borders website.

Once the toolkit is developed and piloted, we anticipate opportunities for other volunteers to work with microenterprise organizations to conduct a market assessment using the framework designed through this first volunteer project.

AEO's new report talks about the job-creating power of microenterprises.

AEO's new report talks about the job-creating power of microenterprises.

In conjunction with today’s announcement, AEO released a report on the state of the microenterprise sector in the United States.  The report, “The Power of One in Three,” frames the powerful role that the microenterprise sector can play in helping the American economy recover and create jobs. As suggested by the study’s title, the findings demonstrate that if one in three microenterprises hired just one employee, the U.S. economy could reach full employment. For more information on AEO, please visit www.aeoworks.org.

We believe BwB’s volunteers are some of the best and brightest minds in the corporate sector. For those of you who are U.S. residents, this partnership presents a unique opportunity to help make a difference, both locally and globally.  Stay tuned as we keep you informed of opportunities to engage through this new alliance.

Increasing Support for Strategic Human Capital Practices at Indian MFIs

March 22, 2011

People are at the heart of microfinance — both as clients and as frontline workers. Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center (HCC) helps to ensure that the people really making microfinance happen in the field get the support and guidance they need to work to the best of their abilities. In a guest piece for the Center for Financial Inclusion’s blog, Peg Ross, HCC’s director, discusses the challenges facing front-line workers and our plans to work with socially-focused microfinance institutions in India to help that sector rebuild.

Read more >>

Creating Client-Focused Microfinance on the Frontlines

December 16, 2010

Discussions of the microfinance crisis in Andhra Pradesh, India, have, so far, overlooked one area that might have a played a contributing role: human capital management practices.

Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center focuses on improving these “people practices” at microfinance institutions (MFIs).  In this piece for CGAP’s Microfinance Blog, Peg Ross, director of the Human Capital Center, discusses the critical role frontline staff can play in improving MFIs’ overall social and financial impact.

Read more at the CGAP blog.

 

Engendering Our Work in Uganda

December 14, 2010

Jason Hahn is the Information and Communication Technology Innovation (ICTI) Development Manager at Grameen Foundation. The ICTI team develops, tests and advances mobile phone products and services in Uganda, Indonesia, and Ghana to improve healthcare, farming, banking, and more.

After we launched our Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) network in Uganda, I was reviewing a budget report and came across a “babysitting” entry. Thinking this must be an obvious mistake, I contacted our local finance person for an explanation. I discovered that we did pay for babysitting as some of the CKWs we were training were mothers who would not have been able to participate unless we paid for child care. It makes perfect sense now and is a good example of a practical step you can take to ensure that women and men access your programs.

Hosea Sempa from our training team holds a baby so the father (in picture) and mother (out of picture) can participate in the training.

At Grameen Foundation, we’ve learned first-hand the importance of doing what it takes to strive for gender equity in our work. Ensuring that women have equal access to the actionable agricultural information we provide through our CKW network is not just a “feel good” action for us. It is also one of the most practical steps we can take to achieve our goal of improving farmers’ livelihoods through access to information.

In Uganda, women do 85% of the planting, 85% of the weeding, 55% of the land preparation, and 98% of all food processing. This may explain why 90% of rural women in Uganda work in agriculture, compared to 53% of men. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women in rural areas produce at least 50% of the world’s food. While women are hard at work on farms, we also know that many women do not have access to mobile phones. According to the Women and Mobile Report by the GSMA and Cherie Blair Foundation, women are 24% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in sub-Saharan Africa, and women in rural areas and lower income brackets stand to benefit the most from closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership.

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Developing Leaders: Training is not enough

November 17, 2010

This year’s SEEP Network conference featured Peg Ross, Director of the Human Capital Center on a panel titled “Meeting a Critical Need: Leadership for the 21st Century MFI.”

At their SEEP panel, Peg Ross, along with Kathryn Mayer, Director for the Center for Microfinance Leadership at Women’s World Banking and Glynis Rankin, founding Director of Creative Metier Limited attempted to answer a key question for the industry: How can MFIs develop skilled leaders focused on the double bottom line and build meritocratic organizations [where everyone is promoted and rewarded according to their ability] in a fast changing and increasingly commercialized and competitive marketplace?

As organizations grow, transform, and add additional product offerings to better serve their clients they are adding “increasing complexity at all levels of the organization.” Specifically, Peg explained, “there’s tremendous complexity that occurs at the field level – with the leaders from the field. As an organization grows and scales this issue of complexity needs to be dealt with.” For example, decision making must be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level within the organization and accordingly, individuals should be not only held accountable for business results, but also given the support necessary to deliver.

These field leaders are the backbone of microfinance institutions around the world. They can inspire the loan officers and branch managers they work with and when they are empowered with the proper level of decision making capability, they can drive the growth and impact of their institutions.

Figuring out how best to develop these mid-level leaders is key as organizations seek to expand their operations and delve deeper into the markets they serve. Peg also emphasized how “it’s important to deliver learning opportunities that are not just classroom based. Learning is about getting information in a just-in-time manner and then having the opportunity to apply that in your every-day job.”  (more…)

In the Shoes of a Microfinance Loan Officer

November 2, 2010

Stephanie Denzer is Program Associate for Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center (HCC). This is her second blog from a recent trip to Peru where she participated in a Human Capital Management Assessment of an MFI in the process of transforming into a regulated institution.  Her last blog post focused on Cultivating Leaders and Empowering Organizations, and in this post she follows a loan officer to a group meeting of several microfinance borrowers.

When I arrived in Pucallpa, Peru, I had worked in the microfinance sector for over a year without having seen in practice what I support daily from our DC-based offices. I was soon heading out on the back of a motorcycle taxi to a village bank meeting for clients of Microfinanzas Prisma. Bouncing down a dusty dirt road to the home of one of the clients where the monthly repayment meeting was being held, we followed Ramiro, one of Prisma’s loan officers, on his motorcycle as we traveled out of the central part of this city of about 300,000 in the country’s Amazon region.

I was in Peru to assist with the implementation of Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Management Assessment tool. See my previous blog post for more information on how we are working to help MFIs better meet their missions of serving the poor. We were accompanying Ramiro to the field because we wanted to see what it’s truly like to walk in the shoes of one of Prisma’s more than 100 dedicated loan officers.

 

Dacia, the president of this village bank group of 18 local women in Peru

 

We arrived at the home of Dacia, who serves as president of this village bank group of 18 local women. Our visit came just a few days after her group had celebrated its fifth anniversary. Dacia herself has gone through 10 different loans since the group began on July 12, 2005. She has used her credit from Prisma to purchase a small boat in which she transports timber from family land further upstream on the Ucayali River. She sells this timber for a profit and with a bit of bashful pride, told us that because of the profit she’s made, she was able to move from a small wooden house into the larger, sturdier concrete structure where the group was meeting.

Her eyes lit up when I asked about how her life had been most affected by the access to the credit Prisma provides. She took down a framed picture from the wall that hung next to her wedding portrait. It was one of only three photographs in the house and it showed a team of smiling teenage girls. Dacia pointed to one of the girls and told us how her oldest daughter was now in university and was playing volleyball on a team in Lima. In fact, all four of Dacia’s daughters are enrolled in school and seem to be thriving. (more…)

Cultivating Leaders & Empowering Organizations

October 28, 2010

Stephanie Denzer is Program Associate for Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center (HCC). This is her first blog post from a recent trip to Peru where she participated in a Human Capital Management Assessment of a Microfinance Institution (MFI) in the process of transforming into a regulated institution.

 

Human Capital Center (HCC) team with the Loan Officers from Microfinanzas Prisma

 


On a day when the humidity made it clear that rain was imminent, in the rear of a small branch office in Aguaytía, a rural town in Peru’s Amazon, we spoke with John, a branch manager for Microfinanzas Prisma, about a concept that would be just as familiar in an air-conditioned high rise of corporate America – the importance of having an inspiring mentor as a supervisor. John told us about how his former boss, the previous branch manager, had cultivated a group of highly dedicated and engaged loan officers by constantly discussing their performance with them and making sure they had the necessary support to accomplish their daily work. Now that he has been promoted to this same position, he works hard to maintain the team camaraderie his predecessor built and ensures that each loan officer receives special recognition when going the extra mile to support the branch office’s goals.

I was in Peru to assist with the implementation of Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Management Assessment tool, intended to be the starting point for aligning an organization’s human capital management practices (leadership, culture, talent acquisition, learning & development, rewards/recognition, etc.) with its overall business strategy. We believe that MFIs who are smart about managing their human capital will be more successful in achieving growth, maximizing the value of their workforce, and ultimately, reach greater numbers of the world’s poorest people. (more…)