Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Mobility and Microfinance in Kenya

August 11, 2011

Kim Kerry-Tyerman is a volunteer for Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® initiative who was based in Ghana and Kenya for eight weeks to help the BwB team develop relationships with local organizations (companies, associations, microfinance clubs and institutions of higher education) there.  She recently posted a blog about her experience working in Kenya; an excerpt from that post is below, with a link to the full post.  If you’d like to read her first two postings about her BwB experience in Ghana, you can read Part 1 and Part 2.

Many find it difficult not to be condescending about Africa. Some might argue that referring to 54 diverse countries with thousands of cultures as “Africa” alone is demeaning, and yet it happens every day (just look at my blog address). Footage of kids with big bellies and stories of corruption seem to be the only stories to travel across the ocean, and they are typically only salvaged by some agency telling the world not to worry, they’re working on it. No, I am not immune. I’ve been known to lament the inefficiency of “Africa” while sitting in Nairobi’s unbearable congestion or one of Accra’s power outages. At the same time, I feel fortunate to tell a story that I hope will travel across these borders and demonstrate that “Africa” is indeed a place of innovation and hope.

Exhibit at the National Museum in Nairobi.

Nairobi is one of the continent’s star children: the one who may place third in the spelling bee but won’t mind because she has a good shot at winning the science fair competition. The region serves as a lab for innovative ideas, and the microfinance sector here is a great example. Like Ghana, each MFI in this region has varying models of delivery and a unique portfolio of products. Unlike Ghana, every MFI in this region has a website. Is this a key indicator of success? Surely not, but it indicates that microfinance is a visible and competitive industry here. Microfinance institutions here are not asking “what can we do?”, but “how can we do more?” For them, it’s not just about lending money. It’s about finding ways for that money to create things that generate a larger return for the community. Two trends have emerged here to ensure that microfinance is doing just that: mobile services and partnerships.

>> Read Kim’s full blog post

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.

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 >>

Through the Eyes of a Child: A Visit to the Dominican Republic

November 10, 2010

Along with several Grameen Foundation staff, the McCall Family – Jordan, Sarah, Ben, and Molly – flew to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to visit one of Grameen Foundation’s local Microfinance Institutions, Esperanza. This is an excerpt from Molly’s journal she wrote for school about her experience in the Dominican Republic.

Molly’s school journal describing her experiences in Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic

October 5, 2010
At 1:30 pm our friends picked us up to go to the airport. First we flew to Dallas, Texas. We landed in Dallas at 9:30 pm. We spent the night at a Holiday Inn.

October 6, 2010

We had to wake up at 2:30 am! We drove to the airport with some funny old ladies who laughed and snorted. Our plan got to Miami, Florida at 9:45 am. At 10:45 am we left for Santo Domingo. We touched down at Santo Domingo at 1:45 pm. Then we went to our hotel and ate lunch. Factoid: every day in Santo Domingo it rains around 3 pm. Then we took some nice long naps. Next, we watched TV. Finally we went out to dinner with a group of people.

October 7, 2010

First we went on a bus to a bank meeting. Then we saw pigs. The owner of the pigs sells them for pesos. Next, we went to a clinic where people get help when they are sick. After that we went to a bank office and ate lunch. I liked the rice. After lunch, we went to a colmado which is like a little convenience store. Women borrow money from Esperanza to open them. Later we went to another colmado and a place that sold fried chicken. Then we went home. Then we went to dinner at an old colonial restaurant.

 

Molly and her brother, Ben, in front of a home in Santo Domingo

 

October 8, 2010

First we had breakfast at our hotel. Next we went to a bank meeting where people talked about how they came to Esperanza. It took place in someone’s front yard at a coastal town. People deposit money at the bank meeting for their businesses. One woman sold shoes, another sold coffee and tea. Then we went to lunch because we were a half hour off schedule. That took place at an Esperanza office. I had rice and a salad. After that we went on a cool water purifying tour. It was very fun although very hot. In the afternoon we went on a tour of the colonial district in downtown Santo Domingo. There were a lot of pigeons there. We visited the place where heroes are buried. Finally we went to dinner at a magical place on the water.  (more…)

From Bottom Billion to Next Billion

June 11, 2010

Luckshmi Sivalingam is a Program Officer for Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest program.

Before joining GF, I interviewed fifty clients of a Nepal savings and credit cooperative as part of an impact assessment. I saw that particularly for those living in extreme poverty, the solution to changing their situations can’t be limited to providing access to microfinance’s traditional product: an enterprise loan.

Indian woman in the field

THP client on her new farm in West Bengal

Nearly all the clients I spoke with said that if they’d undergone appropriate skills development or received training on value addition for the goods and services they were selling, then their microenterprises could have generated the additional income required for them to progress out of poverty.

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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!

Day Six: Old Friends and Off to the Airport

December 21, 2009

My last day in the country was the beginning of the Bangladeshi weekend – Friday.  That meant somewhat less traffic, a blessing to be sure.  I spent three hours, starting at 10am, with my former research assistant, Abdul Mannan Talukdar.  He is the first Area Manager in the history of Grameen who started as a loan officer (a position now called “center manager”).  He is immensely proud of that, as he should be.  An area manager oversees 8-10 branches, each of which are staffed by about seven staff (almost always including a university-educated branch manager) and serves several thousand clients.  He told me about his journey, culminating in that historic promotion, dating from when I last saw him, in 2006.

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Day Five: Back in the Grameen Headquarters

December 21, 2009

I arrived at the Grameen Complex at 10:30am on Thursday, after having visited my old dentist (who does quality work for a fraction of the price charged back home).  Before I began my first meeting, I noticed the almost frenetic activity around me in each office I entered.  My good friend Mir Akhtar Hossain, who heads Dr. Yunus’ person staff, was so busy he could barely catch up with me – much less indulge in our traditional lunch of chicken biryani down the road in Mirpur One.  Even after thirty-three years in existence, complacency has hardly taken root in the Grameen family of companies.

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Day Two: Grameen Power and Moving to the Field

December 16, 2009
Muhammad Yunus and Royston Braganza

Muhammad Yunus and Royston Braganza

Royston and I spent the first few hours on Monday back in the Grameen Complex in Dhaka.  The most exciting meeting was with two retired Grameen Bank officials — Fazley Rabbi and, briefly, Abser Kamal – both of whom now work with Grameen Shakti (Energy).  Shakti, a sister company of Grameen Bank set up by Dr. Yunus in the early 1990s and that had been led until recently by Dipal Barua, has become a world leader in bringing renewable energy to rural households.  We heard how they had passed 300,000 solar home systems installed, and how they do it profitably and at a rate of 13,000 per month at present.  (The second most successful program of this kind has reached just over 100,000 installations.)

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