Archive for the ‘Social Performance’ Category

CEOs Release “Road Map for the Microfinance Industry”

January 18, 2012

The founding members of the Microfinance CEO Working Group — which includes the CEOs of pioneering microfinance organizations ACCION, FINCA, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation USA, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International and Women’s World Banking — have just released the “Road Map for the Microfinance Industry: Focusing on Responsible and Client-Centered Microfinance.”

This document outlines the Working Group members’ vision for the positive evolution of the microfinance field and underscores their commitment to raising industry standards, starting with their own.  Central to this vision is the Working Group’s support for three ambitious initiatives that are helping to lay the groundwork for a more responsible, client-focused and transformative industry: the Smart Campaign, MicroFinance Transparency and the Social Performance Task Force’s universal standards for social performance management.  Alex Counts first talked about the group and its goals in this blog post.

The CEOs of microfinance-focused organizations have agreed on a common approach to pursue going forward, to ensure that they are serving the poor in the best way.

The Microfinance CEO Working Group members call for their valued peers in the microfinance industry to take action by endorsing these three initiatives, transforming their principles into action, and striving for better ways to provide financial services for the poor.

The full text of the letter can be read here.

The Working Group welcomes your comments and feedback. For more information, please contact Meghan Greene, manager of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, at

Grameen-Jameel Is Strengthening Microfinance in the Middle East

December 20, 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.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the historic city of Istanbul for the first time, on the occasion of the first Grameen-Jameel (GJ) partners meeting, followed by a two-day meeting of GJ’s Board of Directors, on which I serve.  GJ is a joint venture launched five years ago between Grameen Foundation and the Jeddah-based Abdul Latif Jameel Group to advance microfinance and poverty reduction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and now Turkey as well.  (Peter Bladin and Jim Greenberg are the other two Grameen Foundation representatives on the GJ Board, while Fady Jameel is one of the two Jameel Group appointees, in addition to chairman Zaher Al Munajjed.)

The partners meeting was elevated by the presence of not just representatives of 13 of the 15 GJ’s partner microfinance institutions (MFIs), but by Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.  (The only MFIs that did not join were one from Egypt and one from Syria, the latter due to the inability to get a visa, because Turkey has closed its embassy there.)

Prof. Muhammad Yunus speaks to the crowd at the Grameen-Jameel partner meeting, held in Istanbul.

Prof. Muhammad Yunus speaks to the crowd at the Grameen-Jameel partner meeting, held in Istanbul.

The first day of the meeting consisted of an excellent overview by its General Manager, Julia Assaad, of GJ’s accomplishments.  She announced that GJ had surpassed its goal of reaching 1 million poor families with microfinance through its partner MFIs to date, and had in fact crossed the 1.5-million mark in September.  Representatives of five of the partners – the Turkey Grameen Microcredit Program (TGMP)in Turkey, Enda Inter-Arabe in Tunisia, DBACD in Egypt, Tamweelcom in Jordan and FONDEP in Morocco – spoke about their journey of starting and growing their organizations, and how GJ was able to help them in critical ways. (more…)

Prof. Yunus Visits Haiti – an Update from Alex Counts

October 16, 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.

I am about to leave Haiti after four exciting days, and head to Dubai.  I am here in connection with Professor Muhammad Yunus’s first trip to Haiti.  Highlights abound – it is hard to know where to start.

I arrived a day early to do some interviews related to my book on Fonkoze, the country’s leading microfinance institution (MFI). Prof. Yunus’s first stop was a meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly, who was inaugurated earlier this year.  By coincidence, the long process of forming a government (i.e., naming all the ministers who serve under him) had just been completed, so Prof. Yunus was able to meet all the new cabinet members just before they were to be introduced to the country.  President Martelly expressed sincere interest in helping create a positive environment for social business – Prof. Yunus’s main passion now – as well as microfinance.

From there, Prof. Yunus went to the first part of a two-day conference on social business.  His opening speech – delivered, as always, without notes – covered the theory of social business, as well as practical examples of how it has worked in Bangladesh, especially his joint ventures with the Danone Group and Veolia.  (He mentioned a study of the nutritional impact of Grameen-Danone, which is coming out in a month and shows that the impact of the program – in which poor women sell nutritious, inexpensive yogurt to other poor mothers and their children – was much greater than even he expected!)

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

Prof. Muhammad Yunus talks to a group of borrowers involved in Fonkoze's “Ti Kredi” program.

He also talked about how he was afraid that the aid coming to Haiti after the earthquake would be wasted unless it was used to build up independence, rather than greater dependence on charity.  Finally, he told some stories about Grameen Bank and its history, and marveled at how microfinance has grown globally to almost every country, mentioning Fonkoze and its status as the leading MFI there (eliciting spontaneous applause) and celebrating Grameen Foundation’s important role in supporting Fonkoze.

The conference continued through midday Friday.  Anne Hastings, the director of Fonkoze Financial Services (Fonkoze’s for-profit arm), and I were on a panel with Prof. Yunus, where – alongside two Haitian economists – we responded to questions posed by the moderator and the audience.  In response to a question about my upcoming book on Fonkoze, I said that it was critical features for microfinance and social business to rigorously track social-impact outcomes.  In that context, I explained how the Progress out of Poverty Index® was based on Grameen Bank’s 10 Indicators of Poverty and had been incorporated into Fonkoze’s own social-impact monitoring tool.  In response to another question, I said that there were potentially powerful alliances between MFIs and their most successful clients on the one hand, and the social business movement in Haiti on the other.  Anne added some excellent points that built on those made by Prof. Yunus.

On Saturday, we took a field trip together.  The highlight was the first stop – visiting a Fonkoze “Ti Kredi” center of about 50 women who 10 days earlier had just gotten their first loan of $25.  (They are to make their first payments next Wednesday.)  After long-time Fonkoze employee Gautier Dieudonne introduced him, Prof. Yunus spoke to the group about Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, microfinance, mangos and much else, and asked the women a lot of questions. There was much laughter during some of the lighthearted exchanges, while serious topics were also explored, related to how microfinance can go off course at the village level and nationally – and what can be done about it.  He asked how much local moneylenders charge – the answer was 20% per month – and the women praised Fonkoze for offering a much lower rate.

After the center meeting we had a nice afternoon with representatives from Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health, the organizations founded by Paul Farmer.

I think the most poignant moment came when Prof. Yunus asked whether the women thought they were going to be able to improve their lives with such small loans.  An older woman named Clenie Brisfor stood up and said, “It is not easy, but what else are we going to do?  We can make progress!  Even if we have only 1 gourd [about 5 cents], we can buy a packet of clean water and re-sell it for a small profit, and start the process of changing our lives.  So 1,000 gourdes [$25] is a lot!”

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

Fonkoze borrower Clenie Brisfor tells Prof. Yunus that, with access to small loans through Fonkoze, "We can make progress!"

I wonder how many Americans understand what $25 – or even 5 cents – can do to change someone’s life, as well as their sense of what is possible? As we’ve seen again and again, access to financial services can provide the poor with an opportunity to empower themselves, live up to their potential and realize the human dignity that we all deserve.

The Ultimate (Social) Performance Review: Impact in India

September 30, 2011

Dr. Marcela Gutierrez recently returned from India, where she completed a Bankers without Borders® volunteer assignment for a 10-branch microfinance organization. Dr. Gutierrez used her skills and expertise to help the organization evaluate how their program helps the poor.

My interest in microfinance started when I first heard about Kiva on National Public Radio. Next, my daughter, a sociology student, took a class on microfinance, visited programs in the Dominican Republic and Belize, and taught me a lot about how microfinance institutions (MFIs) operate. I started researching opportunities to work as a consultant in program monitoring and evaluation, but I wasn’t getting much traction. But when I contacted Grameen Foundation, they told me about Bankers without Borders volunteer consulting opportunities and I signed up. I was later approached to help an MFI in West Bengal, India, develop a survey to understand the social impact of their loans to women borrowers.

Designing the survey strategy

Marcela & the MFI team designing the survey

I agreed to take on the project … and then started to panic. I was skeptical that, in just five days, we could accomplish the goals we had set for ourselves. I had no idea what the evaluation capacity of an MFI based in India would be, and assumed it would not be very strong since their main focus was on making loans. In preparation for the assignment I searched for pre-existing tools we could adapt to the MFI’s needs, and the week before I left for India I found a good match.

With the dedicated participation of the MFI’s executive director, in the first two days of my visit, we drafted a 24-question survey using the template I brought. Next, we took the draft survey to a branch office and tested it with five clients – which involved a five-hour round-trip train ride to the village in the midst of the monsoon season! Once back in the office, we worked on strategy for the next phase – a quasi-experimental study that would ultimately involve 450 clients and non-clients. When I left Kolkata, we had a clear plan for finalizing and translating the survey, training data collectors, drawing randomized samples, and dealing with data entry and analysis. All of this was accomplished in just five days, with a little time left over to wet my feet in the Ganges River!

Marcela in Kolkata

Marcela in Kolkata

After returning home, I reflected on this phase of the project and realized that my original concerns about the MFI’s evaluation capacity had been unfounded.  That said, I had been wise to come prepared rather than re-inventing the wheel in the field. I found my work with the MFI very productive, rewarding and fun. Most important, I learned that people who work in microfinance – with the poorest clients – are dedicated, determined, selfless and will not take “no” for an answer. I am looking forward to finishing the project working with the team in Kolkata now that I know no matter how much I push them on something, their answer will always be, “No problem, Marcela!”

Working Together to Improve the Microfinance Sector

September 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.

One of the most familiar critiques of the social (or not-for-profit) sector by those outside of it – those in business or academia, for example – is that we are a very fragmented community of organizations that don’t talk to each other, much less collaborate as often as we should.  This results in duplication of effort and capacity, as well as unnecessary and unhealthy competition.  While often exaggerated, this criticism has some merit, and the socially-motivated international microfinance networks (as well as the microfinance sector generally) are hardly immune.  (We have our own criticisms of business and academia, but we’ll leave those for another day.)

For microfinance, 2010 was a year of upheaval and taking stock.  When it began, crises of various origins were still being felt in Morocco, Pakistan and Nicaragua.  Twelve days into the year, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, negatively affecting many microfinance institutions (MFIs) there.  Fortunately, Haitian MFIs, including Grameen Foundation’s long-time partner Fonkoze, have bounced back faster than anyone expected, as I have written in a separate blog.

A few months later, a controversial initial public offering by SKS Microfinance, a leading MFI in India, led to a backlash among the media, political leaders and civil society in general – especially in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.  (In the early days of that crisis I debated the founder of SKS, which was quite interesting to say the least!) As the year ended, the Bangladeshi government began to harshly criticize and harass Grameen Bank, the country’s flagship MFI, which led to violence against the bank’s employees and, ultimately, to the forced and premature retirement of its founder, microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus.  (For more on the Bangladesh crisis, click here.)

Debate moderator Niki Armacost, co-founder of Arc Finance, with Alex Counts, at his October 2010 debate with Vikram Akula, chair and founder of SKS, at the Asia Society.

Debate moderator Niki Armacost, co-founder of Arc Finance, with Alex Counts, at his October 2010 debate with Vikram Akula, chair and founder of SKS, at the Asia Society.

This was a far cry from the celebrations of microfinance in 2005, the U.N.’s “International Year of Microcredit,” and 2006, when Grameen Bank and its founder, Prof. Yunus, unexpectedly – and in my mind deservedly – shared the Nobel Peace Prize.  The fact that microfinance in most countries (and even in most states in India, the world’s largest market for microfinance) remained largely unaffected, and in fact continued to grow and contribute to poverty reduction, was rarely noted in the media or even at industry conferences.  There was a lot of soul-searching and hand-wringing, and perhaps a bit of panic.


Money & Meaning: Manage What Matters

August 31, 2011

Steve Wright is Director of Grameen Foundation’s Social Performance Management Center. He is a keynote speaker for the upcoming SOCAP11 conference. This is the 2nd of a series of blog posts focusing on money and meaning (You may also want read Part 1). We’ve excerpted a section of the post below, with a link to the full post afterwards.

Maximize Impact

Markets : Capitalism :: Physics : Ideology

Markets have natural laws, like physics. Capitalism is an ideology. Ideologies can be changed.

All social enterprises want to know if they are producing positive social outcomes. They closely monitor their financial performance to maintain sustainability and closely monitor their social performance to see if they are achieving their mission of doing good. This blog focuses on the questions “Am I any good?” and “What is the good I am producing?”

There is no quantifiable unit of good

I have always found it strange that social performance is predominantly perceived as a measurement problem. The reality is that great social enterprises don’t focus on measuring what matters; their priority ismanaging what matters. Measurement is an artifact of good management. To a large extent the obsession with measurement is a problem unique to socially-funded entities (by that I mean organizations with capital provided at a rate of return between -100% and about 6%.) Because the money is not earning as much as it might otherwise, it needs additional justification to be invested. An investor/funder wants to ensure that their money is well spent, that it earns a valuable return that includes both money and social impact. The social impact or non-monetary component of the return on the investment comes in the form of social metrics or measurement.

However, as Kevin Jones, Co-Founder SoCap Conference, said to me recently, “Understanding the specific impact of a specific dollar invested is a pipe dream.” Even if it were possible to track a specific dollar’s impact, the overhead to do it would be significant and would subtract from the resources needed to achieve the impact. With this as a given, how do we build a marketplace when a marketplace requires comparability to understand relative value?

For a for-profit entity this is easy. An investor gives an entrepreneur a dollar and sometime later gets $1.25 and rejoices at the 25% return on investment (ROI). The math is easy because the input and the output are the same thing: money. In a social enterprise, money is an input but it is not an output. Money is important because it dictates sustainability but profit is not the purpose of the enterprise; social impact is. A massive amount of work has gone in to replicating this math to calculate an SROI (social return on investment). The work of REDF, Jed Emerson, Social Venture Technology Group and others have taught us a tremendous amount about what is possible. A primary lesson from this SROI work is that there is no monetary equivalent to a universalunit of good. Moreover, it is not rational to equate a specific social outcome to the amount of money that was spent to produce that outcome. We cannot use a financial balance sheet to compare the relative goodness of a homeless advocacy group in Brooklyn and a fair trade cooperative in Peru. The Beatles said it best: Money can’t buy you love.

>> Read Steve’s entire post at the SOCAP11 Blog.

Money & Meaning: Return Value

August 18, 2011

Steve Wright is Director of Grameen Foundation’s Social Performance Management Center. He is a keynote speaker for the upcoming SOCAP11 conference. This is the first of a series of blog posts focusing on the intersection of money and meaning. We’ve excerpted a section of the post below, with a link to the full post afterwards.

Recently, a lot of great thinking has happened around the idea that business – and by extension the economy – should return value, in addition to generating profit. For example, Mark Kramer and Michael Porter wrote a very interesting piece on creating shared value that was also discussed in this New York Times article, “First make money. Also, do good.Nestle Corporation is one of a growing number of companies that see shared value as an evolved form of corporate social responsibility. Customer capitalism (which focuses on providing value to the customer before the shareholder) is described in the Harvard Business Review as the third stage in the evolution of capitalism. (Professional management and shareholder capitalism are the first two.) And Umair Haque’s book, the New Capitalist Manifesto, describes “thick or authentic value” as the subtraction of total or real cost from the price a product can demand.

This is a good thing; however, it is still within a largely amoral paradigm, where the mythology centers on the primacy of profit while – potentially, maybe, hopefully – “doing good”. This can also be seen in how we (social enterprises and investors) use the words “sustainable” and “profitable” interchangeably, depending on who we are talking to. “Sustainable” implies a primary focus on doing good, while “profitable” implies a focus on profit.

My intent here is to make arguments that err on the side of doing good, arguing that we should focus on meaning before money.

>> Read Steve’s entire post at the SOCAP11 Blog.

You Can Support Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia with Your Vote

July 26, 2011

Susana Escudero is an intern for Grameen Foundation, based in our Washington, DC, office.

Grameen Foundation has been selected as a semi-finalist for the Ashoka Changemakers Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works competition, for our initiative to provide mobile phone-based services and business opportunities for the poorest in Indonesia. We were selected as one of 15 semi-finalists from 873 innovations in 83 countries around the world!

The 10 projects that receive the most votes from July 20 through August 10 will proceed to the final judging round, where five organizations will be chosen to each receive a $50,000 grant to further their work. Your vote today will help us become one of those finalists, enabling us to help improve the life of Halimah and more women like her in Indonesia.

Halimah, who lives on the island of West Java, owns and operates a small shop with her husband. Though he tries to find day labor whenever possible to help supplement their income, his work is not steady, so their income is not consistent. Like most of us, Halimah’s dream is to provide a better life for her children, aged 9, 13 and 15. Despite all her hard work, for many years her family’s combined income averaged only $1.80/day.

But that was before Grameen Foundation offered her new income-generating opportunities. For the last four years, we have worked with our collaborators – Qualcomm Wireless Reach, PT Ruma, and Bakrie Telecom – to help people like Halimah to lift themselves out of poverty.  Through our Village Phone initiative and AppLab program, we offer poor entrepreneurs profitable mobile phone-related business opportunities that can help improve their lives.

When Halimah was approached by a Ruma field officer about starting a new line of business selling airtime, she was excited about the possibilities and agreed to do it, because of the existing demand and the potential of a steady cash flow for her shop. Today, Halimah is able to provide an additional income of $1.10/day for her family through her mobile phone business.

Ibu Halimah has been able to increase the income from her small store -- and provide a better life for her children -- by selling airtime for mobile phones to others in her village.

AppLab Indonesia provides the working poor with an innovative and sustainable way of meeting growing demand for affordable access to information through a microfranchising model that is easy for them to use and benefit from. To find out more about the initiative, watch a video about the project on the Grameen Foundation website.

You can be part of the team working to help poor women like Halimah – with the click of a mouse! Please visit the Changemakers competition website to learn more about our innovative project and vote for our Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia initiative, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

You can vote once during the three-week period for each email address you use (so, for example, if you have a personal email address and a work email address, you can vote once from each account). The Changemakers site will ask you to either create a username and password linked to your email address, or log in through your Facebook account. With enough votes – and a $50,000 grant – we can continue expanding our efforts to create opportunities for women like Halimah.

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.

Tracking The Fight Against Poverty In the Cloud

May 31, 2011

Steve Wright is Director of the Social Performance Management Center at Grameen Foundation.

The team at the Grameen Foundation Social Performance Management Center (SPMC) is trying to solve a problem fundamental to poverty alleviation: how to accurately measure who is reaching the poor and to what extent. The Progress out of Poverty Index® (PPI®)  is the necessary first step toward addressing those questions. An easy-to-use tool, it enables microfinance institutions (MFIs) to obtain consistent, measurable and reliable data, as well as giving them the ability to use the results to improve their services to the poor. The PPI is currently the industry-standard poverty measurement tool used by MFIs globally.

Over the last four years, Grameen Foundation staff has heard from MFIs, as well as from MFI networks and associations, that they need to integrate PPI data with their management information systems to gain critical business intelligence (for example, to learn how a particular loan product is performing at a particular level). We have worked closely with these organizations to understand their requirements and prototype the tools that they need.

Today, we’re delighted to announce that we will be creating a PPI management tool that users will access via the Internet. This new, cloud-based PPI application – made possible by generous funding from The Moody’s Foundation and built on the platform from – will make the PPI even more dynamic and easier to use, enabling more organizations to use it to collect, analyze and report social performance data.



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