Archive for the ‘Mobile Agriculture’ Category

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 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

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 Change.org, 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.

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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Cloudy, Clear and a Chance of Thunderstorms

June 20, 2012

Chris Smith and Gillian Evans are a husband-and-wife team volunteering in Uganda with Grameen Foundation through our Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative. As Strategy Manager, Chris is responsible for business planning and Grameen Foundation’s relationship with MTN Uganda.  Gillian is an Education Specialist, responsible for developing and applying training best practices in the field and helping build the training center of excellence in Uganda.  Chris and Gillian live in Kampala with their two children and will complete their one-year volunteer term on July 31.  You can read about their experience as a family living and working for Grameen Foundation in Uganda on their blog at www.smithsinuganda.com.

It doesn’t matter where you live – people love to talk about the weather.  You may think that citizens of a country like Uganda, which comfortably straddles the equator and where people are generally unfamiliar with terms like “zero visibility” and “whiteout conditions,” would not be fussed whether it is 25 or 28 degrees Celsius on any given day of the year.  However, as we’ve found out, there is an unmet need for accurate and advanced forecasting of daily and seasonal weather, and extreme weather alerts.

It’s taken me the better part of 10 months to figure out that when you wake up, look out the window and see sunny, crystal-clear blue skies that this is a sure sign it will rain the rest of the day.  If it starts off raining then it’s most likely going to be a beautiful day.  I used to leave the house in the morning and ask Omara (our gardener, and a highly accurate weather forecaster) what the weather would be like.  He would scan the clear blue horizon, think for a moment and forecast rain. And he was almost always right.  No amount of searching the skies or wind direction would give me any indicator other than the obvious lack of clouds.

Every day, the independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, runs a four-day weather forecast feature on page 2.  In an attempt to understand the secret to Omara’s uncanny forecasting ability, I used to try to match the Monitor’s forecast to what would actually happen on a given day.  There is no correlation – I might as well have been using a Magic 8 Ball.  I now believe that the Monitor editor knows this and attempts to cover all weather eventualities by having no (or at least an indecipherable) relationship between the weather graphic and the text description of the weather that day.  Here’s a pretty typical example:

The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of  the Ugandan weather.

The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting — and inconsistent — way of showing its predictions of the Ugandan weather.

Why does “Today” have a thunderstorm graphic and a text description of “Day partly cloudy and night clear,” yet Friday is the only graphic that looks like cloudy and no rain, yet says “Thunderstorms in the day, clear at night” – but then that exact same text description is used with the thunderstorm graphic for Saturday?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah … I don’t understand!

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