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.
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At Grameen Foundation, our goal is to spur innovation in the global movement to eliminate extreme poverty. Part of that work is to develop better solutions and share them with people like you.
On GF Insights, we share lessons learned from our leaders in the field, news about efforts to expand access to financial and information services for the poor, and how poverty-focused organizations are using data to improve the way they work.
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.
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.
Yolanda Walker is a South African living and working in the US. She is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she studied Economics. During her college career she studied International Business in France and Mandarin in China. Yolanda also lived in Ghana, where she volunteered at an orphanage. Most recently, Yolanda volunteered with Grameen Foundation’s Capital Markets team through our skills-based volunteer initiative, Bankers without Borders®. An associate at Capital Group Companies, an investment management company, Yolanda is based in California.
One of the many perks of being a part of The Associate’s Program (TAP) at Capital Group Companies is having the opportunity to leave our company for four to five months and completely immerse ourselves in a non-profit organization – with the flexibility to choose any organization, in any industry. As I was contemplating my various service opportunities, a manager at Capital Group handed me a book about a group of individuals whose lives were affected by microfinance. As I perused the document, it became clear to me that this emerging form of finance fosters genuine empowerment for marginalized communities. I was hooked.
I grew up in a family of six that, for many years, survived on only $4 a day. My personal experience enabled me to closely relate to the issues that microfinance clients face. Growing up outside of Cape Town, I knew hunger, and remember often having to stand in food lines when my parents couldn’t afford to feed us. I knew about sleeping in the cold and dark. I knew, at age 10, what it meant to have a job, as I swept classrooms after school in exchange for a loaf of bread. I also knew the fear of potentially having to drop out of school – like my brothers – to take on another job that would bring extra money into our household.
These vivid and profoundly life altering elements of poverty were very real for me as a child. So, how did an individual like me end up working at one of the biggest mutual fund companies in the world? My response: hard work, chance encounters and the grace of God.
When I read about the impact of microfinance around the world, I became fascinated and wanted to know more. As I learned more about it, Grameen Foundation quickly became the obvious choice for my non-profit rotation.
Grameen Foundation's Lisa Kienzle, Olga Morawczynski and Ali Ndiwalana recently co-authored a blog post with Ignacio Mas on the blog Mobile Active. Here they introduce and user-test one concept of savings: deferred payments over mobile money. Below is an excerpt, followed by a link to the full post.
Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money believes that mobile money is essentially a liquidity-management platform. Put differently, it could be described as LiFi: Connecting people to an electronic payment system via their mobile phones that provides Liquidity with Fidelity. What does it take to turn mobile money systems into a full-fledged savings platform? A full savings proposition would address these additional key elements:
Our Applab Money initative focuses on researching, prototyping and testing innovative financial products to reach poor people who don't typically have access to these resources. Project Manager Olga Morawczynski and Operations and Strategy Manager Lisa Kienzle recently wrote on the CGAP blog about the need to develop creative products that focus on existing customer desires, use patterns, and needs. One example: using the idea of gaming and gambling to create a helpful product for poor people.
Arthur plays a popular board game called Ludo.
What follows is one example of an interesting insight that emerged on a recent field visit that could be translated into a product that poor customers could find exciting: on our trip, we noticed that everyone loves gambling.