Posts Tagged ‘sustainable development’

Growth for All: Including the Poor in Strategies for Economic Growth

May 31, 2012

Michael Castellano is a graduate student at The George Washington University, studying International Affairs and Development. He interned with Bankers without Borders® at Grameen Foundation during the spring of 2012.

In the years following the global financial crisis, politicians and policymakers across the globe have harped on one cardinal goal: economic growth. Without a doubt, plans for growing the economy will dominate discussions in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. It seems as though we as a society have collectively determined that if only the economy would turn around, conditions would certainly improve across the board. If only we could enact legislation to spur economic growth, inevitably we would all be better off.

Fortunately, statistics show that the United States has seen steadily climbing annual growth rates since the nadir of the “Great Recession.” Developing countries and emerging economies have, on the whole, experienced average growth rates of more than 5 percent thus far in 2012 and will continue to propel the world’s progress, according to financial forecasts. So – this is good news for everyone, right?

Not necessarily.

Although a country’s national economy may grow, the poorest of the poor often remain completely disconnected from the financial, political and social systems in place. Without active bank accounts, the poor cannot easily save or access other financial services. In rural villages, people may not have easy access to healthcare and can quickly fall victim to external shocks such as disease or natural disaster. Without these services, poor people around the world cannot reap the benefits of overall economic growth.

During my time at Grameen Foundation and through my studies in International Development during this past year, one fundamental lesson has stood out: Though economic growth is certainly important, growth does little to reduce poverty if the poor lack access to essential services. This illustrates a key principle that development practitioners dub “pro-poor growth.”

Michael Castellano served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this spring.

Michael Castellano, shown here during a trip to Australia, served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this spring.

Pro-poor growth involves forming development policies and strategies that target the poorest of the poor and offer new ways of connecting them to financial markets. Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize laureate and founder of Grameen Bank, stated, “The direct elimination of poverty should be the objective of all development aid. Development should be viewed as a human rights issue, not as a question of simply increasing the gross national product.”

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Celebrating 10 Innovative Years Fighting Poverty with Technology

June 1, 2011

Georgina Allen is a marketing and communications intern, based in our Seattle office.

David Edelstein, Director of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, speaks about the poverty-fighting potential of the mobile phone.

It’s been 10 years since Grameen Foundation established its Technology Center in Seattle to empower poor people through information and communication technology. On Tuesday, May 17, we hosted an open house to celebrate this milestone and thank the donors and supporters who help make our work possible. Almost 200 people attended!

Upon arrival, guests were invited to make their way around the space where different “stations” were set up to highlight each of the Tech Center’s projects and demo some of the accompanying mobile phone technology.  Photographs of microfinance clients, farmers and pregnant women who have benefited from our work lined the walls, with a story behind each photo that demonstrates the potential of communications technology in economic development.  Our staff was excited to welcome our supporters to explain more about our work and connect with people in the Seattle community.

Just when the office felt like it was at capacity (or over), Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, took the stage to share some reflections on our work.  After welcoming and thanking supporters, Alex recollected the birth of the Tech Center 10 years ago.  At that time, Craig and Susan McCaw, long-time philanthropists with a background in telecommunications technology, generously partnered with Grameen Foundation to finance a replication of the village-phone program that Grameen Bank had pioneered in Bangladesh.  This seed then grew into the idea to establish an entire technology center devoted to the field of information communications technology for development.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Following Alex,  Susan McCaw briefly discussed her and Craig’s long-time belief in mobile technology as a solution to economic development.  She commented on the importance of dignified solutions like the Village Phone program, where individuals get the opportunity to earn income for themselves while offering a valuable service to individuals in their community.  She also drew on her experience as an ambassador, implying that “micro solutions,” like those supported by Grameen Foundation, actually have the potential to help solve “macro problems” like global security.

To conclude, Peter Bladin and David Edelstein, founding and current directors of the Tech Center, went through a list of the Center’s major accomplishments over the years, including proving the value of technology to microfinance institutions, delivering relevant and actionable agricultural and health information through the mobile phone, and creating microbusinessses.  Both acknowledged that Grameen Foundation’s mobile phone-related work would not be possible without the ability to partner with private mobile phone companies – whose work is the reason why 4 billion phones are in the hands of individuals in the developing world.  Both Peter and David also attributed our success to enduring core values – empowerment, sustainability, scalability and collaboration.

After nearly three and a half hours, the last of the guests trickled out, full of cheese, donated wine (courtesy of Vehrs Domestic and Imported Beverages) and interesting Grameen Foundation tidbits.  If the success of this event is an indication of how the rest of our anniversary-event series will go, be sure not to miss the next one!

Be sure to check out our photo album as well as a video of the program.

It’s Gonna Be Ghana: Out in the Field

May 9, 2011

Lynda Barton is spending six months volunteering with MOTECH Ghana through Grameen Foundation’s global volunteer corps, Bankers without Borders. This is Part II of a two-part series. If you haven’t yet, you can read part 1.

I’m in my fourth week now and have had the opportunity to visit our field sites in the Upper East Region of Ghana to see Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative in action.  These are some of the most remote areas in Ghana, where MOTECH really makes a difference for expecting mothers.  We visited 12 facilities during my three days in the field, interviewing nurses and midwives at each location to collect their feedback regarding “Mobile Midwife,” the MOTECH mobile application that they have been using.

I was absolutely humbled by the dedication of these nurses and midwives and how they manage to work with so few resources available to them.  One of their greatest concerns is their fuel allotment for the month.  If they have too many follow-ups at patients’ homes for that month they run out of fuel and can’t afford to do more visits — not to mention the long hours they must put in to finish the paperwork that is required at the end of each month.  Most of these nurses and midwives work very long hours and weekends. MOTECH and the efficiencies it provides should help them in the future, if all of their client data can be uploaded electronically via the mobile phone application, because their paper registers will no longer be needed.

Woman in office

Lynda working in Grameen Foundation's Ghana office.

This project is amazing since no two days are the same and I’m able to contribute to so many different things. Day two in the field was mostly devoted to shooting video footage of expectant mothers who are using the Mobile Midwife application, asking them about their experience and how it has helped them so far during their pregnancy.  We interviewed one mother’s husband, who was impressed with the program and often listens to the voice messages his wife receives as part of the program. He especially likes the messages that tell her to eat meat and eggs, those that tell her not to carry heavy things, and the reminders for vaccinations and check-up appointments; he ensures that she never misses an appointment (for some, the distances to the clinic are significant, so this is not always an easy task).  It was so interesting to meet some of these ladies and their families and listen to them speaking in their local dialect.

Volunteering is not only an opportunity to broaden my horizons on a professional level.  It has also given me an opportunity to meet new people, see new places and learn about different cultures.  I’ve tried to do as much as possible — in and out of the office — and Ghana has impressed me with its welcoming people and interesting places to visit.  So far, I’ve managed to join a book club, meet new volunteers, make friends with other locals and expats, visit the Aburi Botanical Gardens, get to know a few restaurants and bars in Accra, and visit the Cape Coast and Kakum National Forest, to do the canopy walk.  I know there’s a lot more exciting work to come – stay tuned!

It’s Gonna Be Ghana: First Steps to Living the Dream

May 4, 2011

Lynda Barton is spending six months volunteering with MOTECH Ghana through Grameen Foundation’s global volunteer corps, Bankers without Borders.  This is Part I of a two-part series. 

It’s amazing to realize that you can completely change your life in fewer than 30 days when you have the passion and motivation to do so.  We often set our own limitations and roadblocks, but I think we can achieve anything we set our mind to.  We might just need some patience and flexibility along the way, but once you take that first brave step, a whole new world opens up to you.  Perhaps like many other volunteers, I found the first step difficult, but I have not looked back since.

Lynda in ghana

Lynda Barton is volunteering with MOTECH through Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders program.

For years I’ve been interested in healthcare and microfinance, and the potential benefits that such initiatives can bring to the developing world.  I’ve researched a number of organizations, in the hope of someday gaining first-hand knowledge by working with them in the field. Grameen Foundation really impressed me with its healthcare-related initiatives around the globe.

Given an incredible opportunity to help with one of Grameen Foundation’s projects in Ghana, I took a courageous step in January and requested a nine-month leave of absence from the pharmaceutical company I had worked for in Switzerland since 2000.  I was excited and terrified to take such a risk professionally, but I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing for me.  I also knew that that the experience I’d gain clearly outweighed the perceived risks.

I was in the Ghana office by March 9th learning about Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative, which uses innovative mobile phone-based solutions to help provide healthcare access to pregnant and new mothers in rural communities in Ghana. It’s an exciting project and the team is very busy planning an expansion of  its pilot program, to eventually scale up to the national level (pending funding).

I’m still getting up to speed with the details, but have been learning about the applications they use to capture client health data, as well as learning about the system for alerting clients about upcoming vaccinations and check-ups.  The application/tool also delivers tips and useful health information to registered users. I feel very privileged to be helping this unique and talented group of people to accomplish such a sizeable task.  I was expecting the pace to be slower than the office environment I left in Basel, but people here are really motivated by the project, and are often in the office beyond their scheduled workday.

Only two weeks into the assignment, I had the privilege of meeting the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, Alex Counts, who visited our site to see our work first-hand.  He was accompanied by David Edelstein, Director of the Grameen Foundation Technology Center, and Robyn MacIntire, Grameen Foundation’s Regional Director of Development.   It was a wonderful opportunity for our entire team to meet these individuals and to learn more about the vision and passion that drives the company.  We were all very inspired by their visit.

Read Part II >>

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.

Witnessing Our Impact in Nairobi, Kenya

April 21, 2010

Sandra Adams is Grameen Foundation’s Vice President of External Affairs.

During the first week of April several Grameen Foundation board members, other staff and I traveled to Kiambu, Kenya—about 45 minutes outside Nairobi—to see how local organizations are making a difference in the lives of poor families. Staff at the microfinance institution Kenya Entrepreneurship Empowerment Foundation (KEEF) and some of the MFIs ambitious borrowers welcomed us and shared their triumphs and challenges in the fight against poverty in their communities.

Upon arrival, we had the pleasure of meeting the “Bright Vision” borrower’s circle. What a perfect name for a group on their way up out of poverty! They told us that they began as a small, informal borrowers circle (called a “merry-go-round” in Kenya) that provided loans and a place to put savings.

Two female microfinance borrowers: Rose, right, with Bright Vision’s treasurer Elizabeth

Rose, right, with Bright Vision’s treasurer Elizabeth

The group then decided to join KEEF because they felt they could trust the MFI with their money. They can drop by the KEEF office anytime and staff there will show them their records.

In the past year, Bright Vision has grown from 11 to 22 members. Their loans have funded a variety of businesses: a day care, a pub, a fruit and vegetable stand, a couple of cows, supplies for a storefront chemist’s shop, a breakfast porridge stand, and others.

I was really impressed with KEEF’s loan officer Rosaline “Rose” Myra who services 35 groups. Rose is on the road constantly, usually traveling from group to group by matatu (the informal van service that links towns together). She loves Mifos because she no longer has to keep track of hundreds of loans on ledger sheets—the pre-printed loan/savings forms save her 30 minutes of work per group!

After saying goodbye to Rose and Bright Vision, we were off to visit borrowers Lucy and her niece, Teresia.  Lucy’s home is a two-room wooden building with cement floors, a screened porch for cooking, and a yard for her goats and chickens. She is Member #1 of her group, “Manchester Banana”— “Manchester” after a popular sports team and “Banana” for the name of her town. Lucy bought goats with her first loan of 15,000 shillings (about $200), and she sells their milk, and sometimes their kids, for traditional Easter dinners. With her first profits, she bought chickens and sells their eggs. She was proud to show us the corn crib on stilts that houses the maize she also sells.

Children in the neighborhood: the Obama hat made me feel right at home!

Children in the neighborhood: the Obama hat made me feel right at home!

A huge proponent of microfinance, Lucy recruited almost all of the 28 women in her group! “I was really poor and I want to help other women so they can get out of their houses and so they don’t have to try to make a living being farmhands,” she told us. She helps new group members figure out good businesses to start.  Lucy suggested Teresia begin selling detergent door-to-door because people can only afford to buy a small amount at a time. Teresia makes a profit of about $63 for each enormous pail she sells. Her goal is to bank some savings and start a small curio shop selling crafts from Uganda, her home country. Lucy has a big dream, too.  She wants to buy the land next to her house and, with the help of her three sons, build 10 one-room houses to rent out for guaranteed income. I’m positive that with the work ethic and determination these women share, their dreams will come true in no time!

SEAMO holds benefit for Fonkoze

February 5, 2010

Charlene Balick is a Technical Program Officer for Grameen Foundation based in Seattle, Washington.  She has spent considerable time in Haiti working with Fonkoze.

On Thursday, 27 January, my co-worker in the Grameen Technology Center, Scott Everett , organized with some other members of SEAMO (Seattle Microfinance Organization) a benefit to raise funds for Fonkoze.  The event was promoted by other Seattle organizations including Seattle Greendrinks, Re-Vision Labs and Seattle Works.   I was thrilled to have a chance to be a part of the lineup and share stories and photos of clients I had taken during visits to Fonkoze over the past year and half. (more…)

GF & Fonkoze Relief Efforts in Haiti featured in Huffington Post

February 4, 2010
Haitian woman with child

Fonkoze client with her child in Haiti

The Huffington Post’s Vivian Norris de Montaigu recaps on a Haiti-filled day in Paris, including learning about Grameen Foundation Fonkoze client with her child in Haiti and Fonkoze’s unique recovery and relief efforts in Haiti.

The full story is available here.

Update: Economic Recovery in Haiti and the Americas

January 29, 2010

Alberto Solano joined Grameen Foundation in October 2009 and provides leadership and management oversight for our portfolio and activities across the Americas.  He is leading our economic recovery efforts in Haiti.

Today, Leigh Carter (Executive Director of Fonkoze USA) and I gave a briefing about the current situation and role of microfinance in economic recovery efforts in Haiti.  I also spoke about the role that microfinance plays in relief and recovery efforts after natural disasters and Grameen Foundation’s work in the Americas region.

Leigh currently serves as Executive Director and CFO of Fonkoze USA, which is the US-based support partner of FONKOZE.  Leigh provided an overview of Fonkoze, the current situation in Haiti and its long relationship with Grameen Foundation. (more…)

Devastation in Haiti

January 14, 2010

By Kay Hixson, Director of Marketing and Communications, Grameen Foundation

A woman squeezes out of a collapsed house in Narette zone of  Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Ben Depp 1/12/2010

Photo by Ben Depp.

As the hours wear on, we see more and more of the destruction. We just got these photos in today from our partners on the ground in Haiti. It is unimaginable that so many people have perished, but our spirits are lifted when we see heroic acts, people helping each other, and many risking their lives to help save their neighbors. We give a small sigh of relief every time we get a short text message saying “we found someone and they are OK.”

Photo by Ben Depp.

There’s much to be done, short and long term. One way to start is by adding your comment to this blog. We’ll send them to the people of Haiti through our partners and friends in Haiti. You will probably never see the smiles you generate on the face of some weary, displaced Haitian or an exhausted relief worker. But it just might be the boost they need to keep going. I hope you will join us with a comment, and donate if you can.

men carry a body

Photo by Ben Depp.