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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.

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04/16/2010 by

Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation.

Wednesday’s front-page article in the New York Times by Neil MacFarquhar raised some important issues facing the microfinance industry, but, unfortunately presented a distorted picture.  I had the opportunity to challenge the author about his assertions on the Takeaway radio program.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="270" caption="Ibu Yusnaini is a beneficiary of microfinance"]Ibu Yusnaini[/caption]

His sweeping generalizations about interest rates, while focusing on just two countries, could lead the average reader to believe that rates above 80 percent are the norm.  This is far from the truth, as evidenced by a recent report by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor that found that, on average, sustainable microlenders were charging 26 percent. (Grameen Bank, our model for microfinance efficiency, charges rates from 8% to 20%, and gives interest-free loans to the ultra-poor as a transitional strategy to get them ready for regular borrowing.)  The same report also noted that rates have been falling by 2.3 percent annually and that less than one percent of microfinance clients worldwide actually pay rates as high as those cited in the article. Moreover, in most of the 36 countries studied, microfinance interest rates were below the rates charged on consumer credit cards, which is an appropriate benchmark.

Most microfinance involves substantial direct contact with clients in remote locations and this can be costly.  However, we believe that interest rates will continue to fall, getting closer to the rates charged by the Grameen Bank and other efficient lenders, as more institutions are able to lower their operating costs. These costs are largely driven by local factors, and this is something the article didn’t adequately address.  For example, in taking aim at LAPO (full disclosure: Grameen Foundation has worked with LAPO  for nearly a decade), the article ignored the high costs of doing business in Nigeria and omitted the fact that it actually charges the one of the lowest interest rates among Nigerian MFIs (something that was acknowledged by the client that was interviewed).

04/14/2010 by

Maddie Brandenburger is a former development intern with Grameen Foundation and is involved with MFI Connect and the Nyanya Project. She recently reconnected with friends from GF at the Microcredit Summit in Nairobi.

[caption id="attachment_573" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="A highlight was meeting Muhammad Yunus"]Maddie with Muhammad Yunus[/caption]

I’ve just returned back to Wake Forest University, where I am a junior studying economics and international development, after spending a week at the Africa - Middle East Microcredit Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.  I feel more than ever, extremely enthusiastic about the pivotal role students are playing in the microfinance industry.  We are in a time of economic uncertainty, but it is a very important point in modern history for young people to step up, as the entire world reevaluates the definitions and parameters of success and service. I was given an incredible opportunity and provided with a grant to attend the conference in large part because of the knowledge and skills I gained interning at the Grameen Foundation last summer. MFI Connect and Wake Forest examined my experiences with Grameen Foundation and had the confidence in me to fund the conference costs.

MFI Connect was created by former Grameen America interns who identified the growing need of a resource for students wanting to engage in microfinance opportunities. Just one year old, MFI Connect boasts membership of 1000 members in over 60 countries and across 120 universities. It was MFI Connect who created the student delegation of 50 students from all over the world to attend the conference.

My week in Nairobi proved to be an invaluable exercise in harnessing the combined power of intelligence and experience of microfinance professionals. The spirit of collaboration, the passion for progress, and palpable excitement in the conference tent is something I will take with me always, and try to call upon if I ever feel overwhelmed or unsure in such an evolving industry.  I was surrounded by the best and the brightest in the world, and in a continent riddled with so much poverty and sadness, I felt nothing but hope.  MFI Connect arranged for private sessions with Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, Fazle Abed of BRAC, Ingrid Munro of Jamii Bora, Sam Daley-Harris of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and Hans Reitz of Grameen Creative Labs. Throughout the week I was able to reconnect with many of the GF staff members who I worked with last summer.

04/07/2010 by

Edward Cable is Community Manager for GF's Mifos Initiative.

This blog you're reading and the computer you're using right now run on millions of lines of code. Computers and software have changed the world. And we're looking for more "student hackers" who want to continue doing so.

Mifos is our open source information management platform currently serving 10 Microfinance Institutions and 550,000 clients worldwide. These people have access to capital that is transforming their lives and empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

03/31/2010 by

Sean DeWitt works closely with our partner RUMA as a  Program Manager at the Grameen Foundation.

We at Grameen Foundation congratulate our implementing partner in Indonesia, RUMA on its first prize in the Harvard Social Enterprise “Pitch for Change” competition!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="350" caption="Nearly 1,400 people participated in the 11th Annual Social Enterprise Conference"]Harvard Social Enterprise Conference[/caption]

The Harvard Social Enterprise Conference

Harvard University hosted its annual Social Enterprise conference on February 27-28, 2010.  This year’s event attracted more than 1,300 attendees.  The vibe was refreshing and dynamic, reflecting the infectious energy of the students in attendance but also the momentum that the concept of social enterprise has gained in the 2-3 years.

As part of its core activities, Harvard included a “Pitch for Change” competition to help expose exciting new social business ideas to the audience.  More than a hundred entries were pre-screened and 16 semi-finalists were chosen to pitch in front of the judging panel.

RUMA:  Delivering Business Solutions to the Poor & Poorest in Indonesia

One of the semi-finalists chosen was a startup social enterprise in Indonesia called RUMA (an acronym that translates to “Your Micro Business Partner”).  The concept was submitted by Aldi Haryopratomo, who co-founded the RUMA social enterprise along with Budiman Wikarsa, both leaving the comfortable world of strategy consulting to build their dream in Indonesia.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="129" caption="Aldi Haryopratomo won first prize with RUMA"]Aldi Haryopratomo[/caption]

Their dream is to invest the dollars and energy necessary to build a network of entrepreneurs among poor women in Indonesia who will retail valuable products and services to their communities.  RUMA is determined to focus this energy to help the poor and poorest to pull themselves out of poverty.  As such, RUMA is utilizing a poverty scorecard developed by Grameen Foundation to measure the baseline level of poverty of its entrepreneurs and to measure this level of poverty over time to ensure their initiative is achieving its intended outcomes in poverty alleviation.

To deliver on this promise, RUMA develops “business in a box” solutions that deliver on all three key success factors of starting any new business:  (1) the idea, (2) the capital and (3) the skills. And the same way small businesses are powered by computers, these micro-businesses are powered by mobile phones.  Mobile phones on the RUMA network are no longer used only for chatting, but are business devices with computing power and built-in connectivity.

03/25/2010 by

Alex Counts is the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation.

I didn’t know what to expect when my plane approached Port au Prince, Haiti, a little more than one week ago.  Like many people around the world, I had been working hard to help Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, since it was devastated by the January 12 earthquake.  I acted in my capacities as President of Grameen Foundation, which has a long-standing relationship with Fonkoze, and as the volunteer Chairman of Fonkoze USA.

Some of the reports I’d received from Fonkoze after the earthquake were depressing: food and fuel shortages, growing death tolls of Fonkoze staff and clients, homes and businesses destroyed, survivors enduring maddeningly slow recovery from injuries (their progress often stunted due to intensive work against doctor’s orders).  Others reports were inspirational: the U.S. military’s heroic, James Bond-esque effort in the dead of night to transport $2 million in cash from the US to Fonkoze’s 40 branches via helicopters (so that clients could withdraw savings and remittances), the successful pilot of a “mobile branch in a van,” and, above all, the tower of strength that Anne Hastings and her team displayed to me and millions of others once communications were restored and a plan for recovery could be developed and shared.

With your generous support, our first priority was to provide small grants for transitional housing for Fonkoze staff that had lost their homes. Without such support, it was understandably difficult for Fonkoze’s staff (many of whom were left homeless)  to focus on the work at hand.  Grameen Foundation’s Regional CEO Alberto Solano  led our efforts to finalize how your dollars can make the greatest impact on Haiti’s rebuilding process. Although your quick response to our call to help Haiti was gratifying, I know one thing for sure: we have more good ideas than we have funds available to implement them.