Blog Archive: April 2012

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The Power of Microbusiness

April 30, 2012

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. 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 federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service. One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.  As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer. I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job. Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work.  Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not. The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.

A Real Education

April 26, 2012

Julia Arnold is a program associate for Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative, and will graduate from American University in May with a master’s degree in international development.

As a graduate student at American University and a Grameen Foundation employee, I have studied international development in the classroom and have seen it in practice through my work with Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative in India, Ethiopia and the Philippines, and our livelihoods work in India. This unique vantage point has given me many opportunities to reflect on the relationship between what is taught in school and what is done in the “real world” of international development. On a recent trip to one of the project sites of our microsavings project, I began to truly appreciate the difference between classroom theories and realities of the lives of the poorest.

[caption id="attachment_2112" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Clients of Indian microfinance institution Cashpor take a break during a group meeting, where poor women like these meet to make payments on microloans and to make deposits in their savings accounts."][/caption]

During our visit to the holy Indian city of Varanasi, my colleagues and I visited the homes of some of the urban and rural clients of Cashpor, a microfinance institution (MFI) we’re working with to deliver microsavings services to their ultra-poor clients. It was a privilege to be welcomed into the homes of the families for whom Cashpor provides access to vital financial services. The women I met were beautiful in their bright saris – and serious about their membership in the self-help groups (SHGs).

Though I was inspired by their resilience and determination, the women also bore the marks of very difficult lives. They were extremely small – a result of malnourishment – and extremely poor. Those in urban areas lived in one- or two-room homes in concrete apartment structures with little more than a bed and a curtain for a door, while those in rural areas shared their small homes with their precious livestock. One urban family lived in a very small room in an apartment that didn’t hold much more than a bed – shared among seven family members. The youngest of the five children was badly scarred from surgery for a broken leg and would never walk properly again.  Though most of the children wore school uniforms and were enrolled, I struggled to imagine where they studied or how long it would be before they would be pulled from school to help earn income for the family.

Several truths jumped out at me as a result of meeting these clients. These truths had been spoken during my classes, but I was not able to fully appreciate them until traveling to India to meet these women.

A 21st Century Trifecta: Two Months at Grameen Foundation

April 25, 2012

Matt Inbusch worked as an intern for Grameen Foundation’s Marketing and Communications team during the spring of 2012.

What a moment to come back from the field! After three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Peru, I briefly returned to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, over the Christmas holiday, and then – probably a little too soon for my mother’s liking – bought a one-way ticket to Washington. I was fortunate to be offered an internship at Grameen Foundation’s headquarters, and jumped right into the day-to-day work of what I believe is one of the most innovative development organizations around.  My eight weeks at Grameen Foundation have given me a good perspective on the incredibly exciting crossroads facing the development “industry” in 2012.

[caption id="attachment_2104" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="In his final year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, Matt worked in Santa Lucia, a small village in the coastal department of Ica. He’s shown here with beneficiaries of the work he did as a rural-sanitation consultant, building eco-latrines and clean cookstoves for poor families as part of an earthquake-recovery project funded by the German government."][/caption]

I was in for more than a few shocks upon my return to the US , but my own cultural readjustment pales in comparison to the changes that non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aid agencies and governments are making in response to new developments in developing countries. Actually that’s not the whole story; it’s really a two-way street, where unprecedented innovation is happening both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The result is a total paradigm shift.

I know I’m not the first to observe some serious flaws in the traditional development model, but I have to say I count myself very much among those who want more than the  “aid” concept, which – for most of the last 60 years – has meant hand-outs and feel-good solutions, rather than a hand up and a focus on organic, sustainable systems. That’s why it’s so exciting to be getting my feet wet in this space right now. Technological innovation, market-based strategies and a growing public consciousness are combining to drive game-changing approaches that I see in three big 2012 headliners: David Roodman, KONY and Occupy.

Why Skills Matter: The Importance of Cross-Sector Collaboration

April 19, 2012

Rhia Bakshi is an international student from India currently living in Washington, DC. She will graduate from American University in May with a double major in international development and business studies. Her interests range from social entrepreneurship and innovation to youth development and the arts. Rhia previously worked with several D.C.-based nonprofits, including Ashoka and the International Labor Rights Forum, and currently serves as a volunteer with Bankers without Borders®, helping the team with communications and social media.

[caption id="attachment_2086" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Rhia Bakshi, a Bankers without Borders volunteer, believes in the power of cross-sector collaboration."][/caption]

Imagine a world without clearly defined roles -- a world where we are able to contribute our time and skills outside of the traditional structure of industry, a world where there is ample opportunity to expand our perspectives, interests and, most important, exchange ideas and skills in an open, unrestrained environment.

I believe this is the type of world we need to achieve progress and alleviate poverty. The world has changed rapidly over the past decade. We have witnessed unprecedented growth in technology and innovation, contributing to the creation of a global village -- a trend that has fostered a culture of shared benefits and responsibilities. The scale and complexity of the problems we face as a global society cannot be tackled unless we revamp our course of action and work together.

The concept of collaboration has altered the way we pursue social change. Whether through formal partnerships or by simply exchanging ideas, organizations are beginning to realize the value of engaging with one another, both within and across different sectors. We are learning that isolated action is no longer a feasible strategy to create change. To truly serve the needs of the poor, we must combine our areas of expertise and think creatively about the issues they face every day.

Falling in Love ... with Microfinance

April 17, 2012

Tânia Sousa works in the Microcredit unit within the Portuguese banking firm Millennium BCP, where she is responsible for marketing. A Portuguese native with more than 10 years of experience in the financial-services industry, Tânia studied economics, and has an advanced degree in marketing. She joined Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation's skills-based volunteer initiative, in February 2012 and recently completed her first field project in Varanasi, India, with Grameen Foundation's Microsavings team. Tânia, who currently lives and works in Lisbon, hopes to continue volunteering with Bankers without Borders.

[caption id="attachment_2077" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Tânia volunteering in Varanasi, India."][/caption]

When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said that I would like to be a medical doctor. I didn’t imagine myself in a traditional hospital or office. I always imagined myself in a distant country, helping the kids that I saw on TV who were living in extremely poor conditions, with no food, no healthcare and no opportunity to just be ... well, kids.

Life carried me away from medicine -- my soul wasn’t really there -- and I eventually studied economics, later graduating with a master’s degree in marketing. After graduation, I started working in a small investment bank called Activobank, which is owned by the largest private Portuguese bank, Millennium BCP. I remained at ActivoBank for 11 years, until March 2011.

Then something amazing happened: I was invited to lead the Marketing department at Microcredit Millennium BCP. I didn’t know much about microfinance, so the challenge was huge. I immediately started to do a lot of research and, to my surprise, I fell hopelessly in love with microfinance.

Helping MFIs Make Use of Their Best Asset

April 03, 2012

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

Power for CKWs in Uganda

April 03, 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.

As part of its Mobile Agriculture initiative, which leverages the power of the mobile phone to help fight “information poverty” among poor, rural farmers, Grameen Foundation has deployed more than 800 Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) across Uganda in 20 districts, serving almost 62,000 farmers. Our CKWs use simple Huawei IDEOS smart phones that cost about $80 and run the Android software platform. This is a cost-effective and easy-to-use solution to get agriculture tips, market prices, weather forecasts and lots of other information to poor farmers deep in rural villages.

A problem we encountered early in the development and deployment of the program was the lack of reliable electricity in those rural villages to charge the smartphones. When we launched the CKW program two years ago, we gave car batteries to the CKWs as a means of charging their phones – but this worked out about as well as you might imagine. We then found a partner in a San Francisco based startup called Fenix, which was designing and building solar-charging solutions for use by the rural poor. We've developed an excellent relationship with the Fenix team over the last year, and we are deploying the Fenix ReadySet solar-charging solution to all of our CKWs.

[caption id="attachment_2064" align="aligncenter" width="247"] The Fenix ReadySet allows our CKWs to charge their phones using a solar panel.[/caption]

The ReadySet is very easy to use and provides an additional income stream to the CKW, on top of enabling them to do their job delivering information to farmers and conducting surveys. With the ReadySet, the CKW can now build a side business by charging their neighbors and friends a small amount of money to recharge their phones, to run a haircutting service with electric hair clippers or enable a multitude of other micro-business opportunities that need reliable electricity. It also helps the CKWs personally, because now they can run a light bulb in their house, to enable their kids to read and do homework after the sun sets, to ensure greater security, and to reduce the use of kerosene and other fuels they typically burn for light.

Watch this video to see CKW Annette talk about how she is using the ReadySet to help her deliver information to farmers, recharge her neighbors’ mobile phones, and create a better and more secure home life for her family.

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