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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.

CASHPOR: The Importance of Risk-Management Tools

November 24, 2010

Kimberly Davies is a Program Associate for the Microsavings Initiative, which is part of Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest program. This is part three of Kim’s blog series. If you haven’t yet, we recommend you read part one and part two of her blog post series.

[caption id="attachment_1291" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ranie's sixth loan, equivalent to $218 USD, allowed her to buy buffalo. She sells the milk in her rural village"][/caption]

While I like to plan ahead, one overcast day in Varanasi, India, I quickly learned that you can’t always anticipate what comes your way. Upon leaving the offices of CASHPOR (our microfinance institution partner) with our project manager, we were faced with a drizzle that quickly turned into buckets of pouring water. The busy streets became increasingly chaotic as everyone scurried for shelter, forcing us to pull our motorbike over to wait for the rain to stop. As the road began to flood, we became concerned about the laptops, cameras, and mobile phones in our backpacks, and realized that we needed to get out of the rain quickly to shield our things. We hopped into an auto-rickshaw as our only alternative transportation. Since the rickshaw did not have doors, the rain streamed into the car. The engine began to stall as it flooded with water, but somehow we made it back to my residence. This delay forced us to cancel a call that evening, even though it had been scheduled for weeks. What would have just been considered a heavy rain in Washington, was a flood in Varanasi, and prevented people from necessary travel and daily business.

The unanticipated ordeal opened my eyes just how many unknowns there are in developing areas that prevent the poor from predicting what obstacles will hit them down the road. This uncertainty is why we see a need for the poor to have access to risk-management tools, especially access to savings products, to act as a shield against shocks.

Microsavings for the Poorest

November 09, 2010

Kimberly Davies is a Program Associate for the Microsavings Initiative, which is part of Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest program.

[caption id="attachment_1192" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Women gather at a center meeting just outside Varanasi, India"][/caption]

Last year, Grameen Foundation began a three year journey, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to increase the number of active monetary savers by 1.45 million people, especially the bottom poor living under US$1.25 per day. For this project, we are working with three microfinance institutions, CARD Bank in the Philippines, CASHPOR in India, and ACSI in Ethiopia. I recently had the opportunity to visit all three MFIs over a four week period, to work with our project managers on the ground, learn more about each project, and visit clients in the field. I will be writing several posts over the next few weeks, so I wanted to introduce myself briefly, and give a bit of background on savings and our project:

What is your project?

We are taking a holistic approach to create safe access to formal savings products by focusing on market research and product design, creating a marketing strategy and financial literacy program, using front-end technologies capable of enabling field-based transactions, and building institutional capacity.

Why is savings important?

The poor often have such inconsistent and unpredictable incomes that savings is an important risk management tool. Bad weather affecting agricultural production, family illness, and natural disasters are just some of the tragedies that commonly occur, creating financial hardships for poor families. Savings can be used during these hard times, cutting down on the need for emergency loans, which often come at high interest rates. 

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