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Teaming up with Kiva to Empower the Poor

November 19, 2012

Community Knowledge Worker

We're proud to announce that Kiva lenders can now support our high-impact Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program!

Through our AppLab initiative, we've spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people's lives through information sharing about such areas as healthcare, business opportunities, finances and agriculture. In Uganda, where we're focusing on agriculture, we do this through a network of "farmer leaders" nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers.

Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders® (BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. 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 the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

[caption id="attachment_2210" align="aligncenter" width="283"]David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps. David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.[/caption]

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

Cloudy, Clear and a Chance of Thunderstorms

June 20, 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.

It doesn't matter where you live – people love to talk about the weather.  You may think that citizens of a country like Uganda, which comfortably straddles the equator and where people are generally unfamiliar with terms like “zero visibility” and “whiteout conditions,” would not be fussed whether it is 25 or 28 degrees Celsius on any given day of the year.  However, as we've found out, there is an unmet need for accurate and advanced forecasting of daily and seasonal weather, and extreme weather alerts.

It's taken me the better part of 10 months to figure out that when you wake up, look out the window and see sunny, crystal-clear blue skies that this is a sure sign it will rain the rest of the day.  If it starts off raining then it's most likely going to be a beautiful day.  I used to leave the house in the morning and ask Omara (our gardener, and a highly accurate weather forecaster) what the weather would be like.  He would scan the clear blue horizon, think for a moment and forecast rain. And he was almost always right.  No amount of searching the skies or wind direction would give me any indicator other than the obvious lack of clouds.

Every day, the independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, runs a four-day weather forecast feature on page 2.  In an attempt to understand the secret to Omara's uncanny forecasting ability, I used to try to match the Monitor's forecast to what would actually happen on a given day.  There is no correlation – I might as well have been using a Magic 8 Ball.  I now believe that the Monitor editor knows this and attempts to cover all weather eventualities by having no (or at least an indecipherable) relationship between the weather graphic and the text description of the weather that day.  Here's a pretty typical example:

[caption id="attachment_2172" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of  the Ugandan weather. The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of the Ugandan weather.[/caption]

Why does "Today" have a thunderstorm graphic and a text description of “Day partly cloudy and night clear,” yet Friday is the only graphic that looks like cloudy and no rain, yet says "Thunderstorms in the day, clear at night" – but then that exact same text description is used with the thunderstorm graphic for Saturday?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah ... I don't understand!

Reporting from Hong Kong

June 14, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. 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 the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the first in a four-part series.

The summer after I joined Grameen Foundation to run Bankers without Borders (BwB), I had the pleasure to travel to Shanghai, China, where we had amassed a significant pool of advocates for our work – the “Shanghai Volunteers.” I met with these inaugural members of our BwB community (organized by uber-volunteer Susan Place Everhart) and joined Jennifer Meehan, our Regional CEO for Asia, in meetings with potential corporate partners for Grameen Foundation’s work in the region.  After spending time in Shanghai, I then traveled to Bangalore, India, where BwB was undertaking one of its first corporate collaborations and field-based projects in Asia, with Grameen Koota and a team of volunteers from Accenture, Dow Chemical and Citi.

It’s now three years later, and I am headed to Hong Kong – Grameen Foundation’s regional headquarters for Asia – to spend time with Sharada Ramanathan, the extraordinary woman behind BwB’s presence today in Asia. Working with Grameen Foundation’s regional staff, we’ll brainstorm how to continue to deeply integrate volunteers into the way Grameen Foundation does business – from helping us fundraise and addressing our own capacity gaps, to creating standard roles for volunteers in delivering our programs and services in Asia. We’ll also look at how we continue to share the skills and expertise of volunteers in our database – more than 20% of whom are based in Asia – with other social enterprises that have a market-based approach to improving the lives of the poor.

[caption id="attachment_2153" align="aligncenter" width="300"]BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan, and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong. BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan (left), and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.[/caption]

As I prepare for this trip, I think it’s worth reflecting on some of BwB’s successes, failures and insights from our three-year history in Asia.

Making Progress Through Savings

June 14, 2012

Kimberly Davies is a program officer on Grameen Foundation’s Financial Services team.

Traveling to the field and talking with clients is the favorite part of my job.  I’ve worked in microfinance for five years and think daily about the poor women and families whom we support. Working with partner organizations and meeting clients face-to-face not only reminds me of why I’m in this field – it also helps me better understand the poor’s demand for financial services and the many challenges involved in providing those services.

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.”

[caption id="attachment_2143" align="aligncenter" width="300"]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.[/caption]

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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