12 February 2015, WASHINGTON, DC – The Microfinance CEO Working Group welcomes two new members to their international collaboration: Lauren Hendricks, Executive Director of CARE’s Access Africa program, and Shameran Abed, Director of BRAC’s microfinance program. Tanzania-based Hendricks and Bangladesh-based Abed join the Working Group’s efforts to support the positive development of the microfinance industry, so the field can reach its full potential of bringing responsible microfinance and related services to those who have been traditionally excluded.
“The Microfinance CEO Working Group has worked hard to foster a diverse, collaborative and honest platform for advancing our industry’s mission to reach the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to the formal financial system. As leaders from BRAC and CARE’s Access Africa program, Shameran and Lauren complement our global perspective and bring innovative approaches to financial inclusion to our group. We’re thrilled to welcome them as new members, and they are already adding value and perspectives,” Mary Ellen Iskenderian, Co-Chair of the Microfinance CEO Working Group and President and CEO of Women’s World Banking.
In early 2011, an informal group of industry leaders met to discuss the state of the microfinance sector as it matures and encounters new challenges. Participants quickly discovered a shared perspective on the future of the microfinance industry – one rooted in high standards, client orientation, transparency and collective action.
That group formalized to create the Microfinance CEO Working Group, which has spent the last four years advocating in support of responsible microfinance and championing promising ideas and solutions for the industry. Today, the Working Group’s networks collectively represent more than 230 microfinance institutions across nearly 75 countries serving more than 57 million clients. The group supports initiatives that are playing a major role in advancing responsible microfinance, including client protection, pricing transparency and the Universal Standards for Social Performance Management. The members of the Microfinance CEO Working Group also provide forums for collaboration and information sharing among like-minded allies, including investors, funders, regulators, researchers and the broader international development community.
Hendricks is the Executive Director of CARE’s Access Africa program. Launched in 2008 to advance financial inclusion across the continent, Access Africa was built on CARE’s nearly 20 years of experience harnessing the ancient practice of savings groups and creating a sustainable system of home-grown microfinance. CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) are built entirely on member savings and interest from loans; they receive no direct capital investment from CARE. However, their members do receive a year of intensive training from CARE in group dynamics and governance and in money management. This training enables the groups to become self-supporting, to flourish and even to establish and train other groups. Today, the Access Africa program is reaching 4.2 million people across 26 countries in Africa.
“The Microfinance CEO Working Group is all about collaboration in a shared commitment to financial inclusion. On behalf of CARE, I’m honored to join this diverse group of leaders to support sustainable and holistic solutions for the world’s poor,” said Hendricks.
Abed is the Director of the BRAC microfinance program, which serves more than five million clients in seven countries in Asia and Africa, and has total assets exceeding USD 1 billion. Starting its work in the early 1970s, BRAC was one of the first organizations to use the modern microfinance model of lending small amounts to groups of women.
Today, BRAC’s microfinance activities are offered through a unique “credit-plus” approach, addressing the special needs of various target populations such as rural women, youth and adolescents, landless poor, marginal farmers, migrant workers and small entrepreneurs. BRAC targets and develops customized financial products and services to best meet the varying needs of the poor.
“BRAC shares the Microfinance CEO Working Group’s commitment to promoting the best practices of our industry. This is an opportunity to collaborate with a group that embraces both the latest innovations and the trusted long-standing practices that bring financial tools and other resources to those who need them most,” said Abed.
Hendricks and Abed join the following leaders from founding member organizations of the Microfinance CEO Working Group: Michael Schlein, President and CEO of Accion; Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of FINCA International; Steve Hollingworth, President of Freedom from Hunger; Co-Chair Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation; David Simms, Global Chief Development Officer and President, Opportunity International, U.S.; Rosario Perez, President and CEO of Pro Mujer; Scott Brown, President and CEO of VisionFund International; and Co-Chair Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking.
This article was orignally posted here: http://microfinanceceoworkinggroup.org/press-release-microfinance-leaders-members-join-working-group/
10 February 2014, Dhaka. Grameenphone, in collaboration with BRAC, is going to provide 2.1 million free internet hours for school children. Inspired by Language Movement Day 21st February this programme will be starting this month.
This was announced today (February 10) in a programme arranged at Ali Hossain Girls High School, situated in West Dhanmondi. Under the initiative of “Internet for All” Grameenphone will provide 2.1 million free Internet hours to 250 schools around the country. Students of these schools will be able to use free internet in the Gonokendras, the multi-purpose community learning centres managed by BRAC at school premises. Grameenphone and BRAC recently signed an agreement under which BRAC will help Grameenphone to implement the programme on field level.
During the programme Sigve Brekke, chairman of Grameenphone Board and head of Telenor Asia discussed about the benefit of using internet with students. He emphasised on the awareness regarding internet and importance of using internet safely especially by the children. Later the students participated in a quiz programme. Asif Saleh, BRAC’s senior director of strategy, communication and capacity was present at the event. He thanked Grameenphone for this initiative and said that these initiatives would open a gateway of knowledge for the students to explore newer opportunities.
Grameenphone’s Head of Corporate Communications, Tahmeed Azizul Huq, Engineer Sajedul Alam, acting Head Master of Ali Hossain Girls School were present on the occasion.
Grameenphone has an ambition to make Internet accessible for all Bangladeshi through its Internet for All initiatives. Objective of this campaign is to create equal opportunity to access educational content, news, information and knowledge for all.
BRAC, the largest development organization in the world, currently has around two and a half thousand Gonokendras functioning in Bangladesh. These multi-purpose learning centers provide an intergenerational meeting space and offer a number of services for adults, children and students. They also preserve local historical items, operate mobile libraries for women and the elderly and run a Children’s Corner.
02 February 2015, Dhaka. In partnership with BRAC, maya.com.bd has launched the first ever one-touch help service app for women in Bangladesh. ‘Maya Apa’ is an android-based mobile application, designed, developed, and implemented by female engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs. It allows women (or any other user) to post questions anonymously, on health, legal and psychosocial issues. Within 48 hours, experts respond with tailor-made answers.
Maya Apa mobile app is based on the hugely successful web application ‘Maya Apa Ki Bole’ on maya.com.bd’s website, the first anonymous question and answer platform in the country. Users can log in via their email address to post questions, allowing them to retain their anonymity. The platform is curated in both English and Bangla, where experts – a team of doctors, lawyers and psychosocial counsellors –respond in the language preferred by the users.
With the service developed for basic smartphones, BRAC Maya team is aiming to reach women and girls in both urban and rural areas of Bangladesh. At the app launch, director of BRAC’s gender, justice and diversity, Sheepa Hafiza stated, “This app will not only create a greater access to information and services for women all over the country but also a nationwide consensus for a supportive society.”
The app sets a precedence in the booming start-up culture whereby two female engineers developed a one-touch service app for women in Bangladesh. Achia Khaleda Nila and Shubrami Moutushy Mou, the developers of the application, believe that this ‘one of a kind’ app is instrumental in empowering women through technology.
Ivy H Russell, founder of Maya, added "We are motivated to continue innovating with the Maya Apa app. Our mission is to connect women to the knowledge they are looking for through technology, and there is a lot more on the roadmap this year”. The app aims to bridge the digital divide by providing information to women, and empowering women of all walks of life in Bangladesh. The Maya Apa app is launching in both Bangla and English on 3 February2015. It can be found on Google Play Store for immediate download and usage.
The education budget for the FY 2015-2016 stands at 1.8 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the last FY which was 2.2 per cent, said experts at a national seminar held today. The net worth of the reduced amount stands BDT 6162 crore. The national seminar titled “Quality Education for Next Generation” was jointly organised by BRAC and Institute for Informatics and Development (IID) at BRAC Centre Inn.
In the keynote presentation, Syeed Ahmed from IID highlighted although the total allocation for the country’s education sector slightly increased in size, but in terms of its share of the GDP, it declined significantly. The allocation has been the lowest since FY 2006-2007.
State minister for Education Mr Nurul Islam Nahid, MP said, “The national education policy has been set in alignment with the national goal of turning Bangladesh into a middle income country by 2021”. He stressed on the fact that Bangladesh is on the right track although the growth might seem slow. “We have worked two years to develop the education curriculum. 10 lacs teachers have been trained to improve the quality of education” he said. Highlighting the gender parity of teachers in the government schools he mentioned, “The ratio of female and male teachers in our primary schools is 51:49 and 53:47 in secondary schools.”
The consultation also highlighted that apart from GDP, the government has proposed 10.7 per cent for education sector for the next fiscal year against 11.7 per cent in the previous budget. This decrease in budget will seriously affect the quality of education stressed experts present at the seminar. More focus on the infrastructure of schools, quality of education in terms of relevance and age appropriateness, putting more resource in school management are the key factors that were emphasized in the discussion.
Present as a guest of honour, State minister for Ministry of Finance and planning, M A Mannan, MP said, “We need to be literate first before talking about other issues. At this moment we are raising the number of literacy. Focus on quality will come next. But we have brought infrastructural change in primary, secondary schools and madrasas in the last 6 years.” Appreciating the effort put up by BRAC and IID he said, “We will consider adjusting the inflation rate in the budget.”
Director General of directorate of primary and mass education Md Alamgir said, “We have piloted a project in 5 districts to avoid leaking questionnaire. For the first time we are using digital system to develop questionnaire”
Amonsgt the notable guests were senior programme manager of Australian High Commission Meher Nigar Bhuiyan, Founder and CEO of JAAGO foundation Korvi Rakshand and representatives from media. BRAC’s director of Education programme Dr Safiqul Islam chaired the seminar which was jointly moderated by BRAC’s senior director Asif Saleh and the CEO of IID Syeed Ahmed.
01 February 2015, Dhaka. BRAC's research and evaluation division launched its new website research.brac.net today. This new initiative was taken with the aim to disseminate its research publications to a wider audience as well as to bring research more prominently in development discussions. Integrating many features of web 2.0, the new website presents augmented user interactivity and mobile friendliness with clear navigations. The publications can be now read online plus social media tools have been amalgamated for easy sharing of information.
Dr Mahabub Hossain, the advisor to BRAC's executive director and present head of RED, chaired the launching event. It was attended by the senior director of BRAC’s strategy, communications and empowerment Asif Saleh was also present along with representatives from BRAC University, BRAC International and RED programme staff.
21 January 2015, Dhaka. World Toilet Organization (WTO) gave “Hall of Fame Award" to BRAC for significant contribution in Sanitation sector in Bangladesh. Director of BRAC WASH and DECC and TB programme, DrAkramul Islam received the awardat the 14th World Toilet Summit India in Delhi from Dr. Subramanian Swamy, MP & Former Minister of India and Jack Sim, Founder of WTO.
Minister Devendra Chaudhry, Special Secretary, Ministry of Power, India was also present in the occasion along with representatives from governments, donors, development partners, business sectors, NGOs and media.
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in providing basic sanitation services to its people. It is now estimated that throughout Bangladesh, 57% use sanitary latrines. Open defecation has almost ended with only about 3% of the people not using toilets of any kind. The BRAC hygiene and sanitation programme reached more than 66 million people.
BRAC WASH and related programmes have made a substantial contribution to the nation's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for water, sanitation and health and will continue to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over 8 years, the BRAC hygiene and sanitation programme reached more than 66 million people, about half of the rural population of Bangladesh. It has successfully worked to improve household sanitation by creating demand for hygienic latrines  while supporting an extensive supply chain and local businesses. Current coverage with hygienic and adequately maintained toilets is 82% in the 152 districts where BRAC has worked. All these successes have been underpinned by a strong provision of service to the poor and ultra-poor and by a unique hygiene promotion programme focusing on universal use and sustainability of services in communities, households and schools.
16 January 2014, Dhaka. BRAC distributed 20,000 blankets in the coldest districts of northern and southern Bangladesh.
The first cold wave of this year hit the people of northern and southern part of the country the hardest, causing many to suffer. BRAC promptly took the initiative to distribute blankets in 81 upazila under 13 districts. During 12-16 January 2014, 1,000 blankets in Panchagarth; 2,000 in Nilphamari; 1,500 in Thakurgaon; 2,000 in Dinajpur; 1,500 in Joypurhut; 1,000 in Pabna; 1,500 in gaibandha; 1,000 in Lalmonirhat; 2,000 in Kurigram; 2,000 in Rangpur 2,000 in Jessore; 1,500 in Satkhira and 1,000 in Jamalpur have been distributed.
The blankets were distributed by regional managers, regional accounts managers of BRAC, the district BRAC representatives from thirteen districts with support from local government officials. The initiative has been supported by BRAC’s core fund.
14 January 2015, Dhaka. BRAC’s Water, sanitation and Hygiene programme held a dissemination and impact sharing workshop on 14 January 2015 at BRAC Centre to share its experience and future strategy with the stakeholders.
BRAC started its WASH programme in 2006 to tackle contamination issues. The significant achievement of reducing open defecation from 42% to 3% (from 2003-2012) was the major finding of the research. The programme works through an intensive implementation strategy to reach rural population from all walks of life. Starting from individual household visits, cluster meetings, schools, mosque forums, formation of village WASH committees promoting rural sanitation centres and regular advocacy workshops are the key implementation strategies of the programme.
BRAC’s vice chairperson and interim executive director Dr Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury chaired the workshop where director of BRAC’s WASH programme gave the keynote presentation on the future strategy for BRAC’s WASH programme. Ms Martine van Hoogstraten, deputy head of mission, head of economic affairs and development cooperation, Embassy of the kingdom of the Netherlands in Dhaka and additional secretary of ministry of LGRD ms Zuena Aziz were present as guests of honour.
7 January 2015, Sierra Leone.
Interventions include cash transfers, radios and safe spaces for girls; efforts will help recovery efforts by providing livelihood assistance for affected families and support for adolescent girls
BRAC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children Affair (MSWGCA), has started distributing cash grants to young Ebola survivors with the aim of starting small livelihood activities, while also supporting adolescent girls in Ebola recovery efforts.
Distributed in the districts of Port Loko, Kambia, Moyamba and Pujehun, the cash grants have been given to orphans below the age of 22, sexually abused children, and families with children affected by Ebola. The grant amounts consist of two disbursements of 200,000 leones ($47) each, paid one month apart. BRAC is targeting 1,050 beneficiaries within the four districts, with 96 having receiving payments as of January 7. The initiative is funded by UNICEF Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, BRAC is also working to close the gaps created by schools closures in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Its Empowerment and Livelihood of Adolescents (ELA) project is providing 840 radio sets (four for each of 210 communities), along with textbooks, exercise books, pens and pencils to boost the learning capacity of non-school goers. This promotes the Ministry of Education’s Emergency Radio Teaching programme which has immensely helped adolescents and children stay focused. The BRAC intervention targets 24 chiefdoms in Port Loko, Kambia, Moyamba, and Pujehun.
With schools and most recreational centres closed amidst the economic crisis, girls have been limited in movement and confined to their homes. This creates a stressful situation in families and communities while exposing adolescent girls to abuse, violence, and exploitation. BRAC has synced its Ebola-related activities to existing efforts to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, as these issues are all closely related.
Funded by UNICEF, BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) programme provides safe spaces for adolescent girls, life-skills and livelihood training, microloans and community mobilization for reduction of teenage pregnancy and child marriage. It is a part of a network of girls’ clubs in five African countries with 77,000 members as of November 2014.
The existing ELA clubs’ spaces have also been used as social centres for the communities, supporting mentors to provide sexual and reproductive health training for adolescent boys and girls in smaller groups of five. The mentors, well-trained on key Ebola messages, in turn conduct door-to-door Ebola sensitization meetings and soap distribution near the clubs. Educational materials are also offered, turning the clubs into community libraries.
Owing to the fear of Ebola survivors being stigmatized, staffs and mentors have been trained on how to counsel and give support, such as psychosocial and psychological training, to people affected by the disease, helping them integrate back in their communities after treatment.
26 December 2014, New York.
“From Aid to Enterprise,” a case study released by BRAC on the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, suggests a path from grant-based aid to sustainable interventions and for-profit enterprise.
Mangalika and her husband, K.G. Sirisena, recall the wall of water that swept over their home in coastal Sri Lanka ten years ago. “Eight feet of water came into the house,” she says. “The only things left were the clothes we were wearing. We were lucky to escape with our lives.”
Dec. 26 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. An estimated 230,000 people in 14 countries lost their lives in the disaster and immediate aftermath.
To mark the anniversary and highlight the possibilities for renewal in areas hit by wars, epidemics and natural disasters, BRAC, the development organization based in Bangladesh, has released a case study on its experience in Sri Lanka, “From Aid to Enterprise: BRAC’s Evolution from Relief to Sustainable Financial Services in Sri Lanka.”
Mangalika and her husband, featured in the report, were running a home-based business servicing Singer-branded and other electronic appliances, employing 12 part-time employees and making a profit of roughly $750 a month. The tsunami laid waste to their business along with countless others.
Mangalika with her husband and three sons in front of the family's new repair center.
"Crises of historic magnitude can lead to equally historic gains if women have the tools they need to seize control of their lives and wellbeing." – Susan Davis
Mangalika rebuilt her business with microfinance loans from BRAC, using small loans to purchase spare parts such as motors, compressors and fans and power. “We were determined to re-build what we had, no matter what,” she says. “BRAC’s loans allowed us to do that.”
In “From Aid to Enterprise,” officials at BRAC discuss the challenges of transitioning an initially grant-funded nonprofit development organization into a sustainable microfinance institution, and in this case a for-profit microfinance provider eventually sold to the private sector in 2014.
“At BRAC, our objective is not to create a surplus for investors, or to perpetually use donor funds,” says S.N. Kairy, group CFO of BRAC and BRAC International. “It is to sustainably serve poor people. We prefer to start with subsidy and donor funds, and then gradually move to sustainability. That movement has to be driven by clients and their own ability to borrow greater amounts in their own time.”
A path forward
“From Aid to Enterprise” suggests a path for other countries in a post-conflict or post-disaster stage.
January marks the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed large parts of Haiti, for instance. BRAC entered Haiti shortly after the earthquake and now runs a center that provides artificial limbs and orthotic devices for those in need. Modeled on a similar BRAC center in Bangladesh, the BRAC Limb and Brace Center in Haiti is on a path toward full cost recovery.
The experience of BRAC in Sri Lanka also offers hope for recovery from the Ebola epidemic currently devastating parts of West Africa, according to Susan Davis, president and CEO of BRAC USA.
“Despite the situation we find ourselves in today with the rapidly unfolding crisis in West Africa due to the spread of the Ebola virus, it's worth looking at trends from recent decades to understand how philanthropic capital can build models of sustainability,” Davis wrote in The Huffington Post recently. “Crises of historic magnitude can lead to equally historic gains if women have the tools they need to seize control of their lives and wellbeing.”
BRAC operates microfinance, agriculture, girls’ empowerment and education programs in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and is part of the Ebola Survival Fund, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations determined to crush Ebola.
“From Aid to Enterprise” documents the rare trajectory of BRAC’s operations in Sri Lanka, evolving from philanthropically funded relief operations to a commercial financial services company serving the poor.
Livelihoods lost and regained
More than 35,000 people lost their lives in Sri Lanka during the Indian Ocean tsunami. More than 800,000 were displaced, and according to official estimates, more than 150,000 people lost their livelihoods. About 90% of those affected lost productive assets, including their dwellings.
BRAC’s initial post-tsunami relief interventions in Sri Lanka were geared towards recovery and rehabilitation efforts, including the cleaning and disinfesting of contaminated water wells, constructing latrines to prevent health hazards, and replacing lost and damaged school materials. Beginning in 2006, as the need for immediate disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts subsided, BRAC moved towards providing micro-loans and facilitating economic development at the community level.
BRAC took a phased approach to entering the sustainable microfinance sector. Within a year of operations, it had reached more than 26,000 clients, making it a significant microfinance provider in Sri Lanka. Starting in 2007, selected clients – mostly women heads of households, widows, and those without other assistance – began receiving training on poultry and livestock rearing, agriculture, and enterprise development. Women were trained in basic business planning, assessing the market, locating wholesale options, handling day-to-day bookkeeping, and interacting with customers. A capacity development program also helped strengthen other local organizations.
Regulatory hurdles for microfinance
A local microfinance expert quoted in “From Aid to Enterprise” credited BRAC’s robust growth with “well established management practices, systems, and a ready methodology largely replicated from Bangladesh.”
By 2007, the company had evolved to a fully-fledged microfinance operation, and a near replication of BRAC’s microcredit model in Bangladesh BRAC scaled its operations to a portfolio of over USD 11.2 million, serving 74,000 borrowers at its peak in 2011.
After 2011, BRAC loan portfolio began to contract as a result of capital constraints that resulting partly from Sri Lanka’s lack of regulatory framework. There were ambiguities and restrictions on how microfinance organizations could fund their operations. BRAC’s legal structure effectively prohibited it from borrowing funds on a commercial basis from international sources, and its ability to finance operations through savings deposits was constrained by government directives, resulting on a squeeze on access to capital.
In June 2013, BRAC partnered with Lanka Orix Leasing Group (LOLC), a longstanding provider of leasing and insurance and other financial products in Sri Lanka with its own existing microfinance practice (LOLC Micro Investment Ltd), to acquire a majority stake in a regulated financial services company, the for-profit Nanda Investment and Finance PLC (NIFL). In 2014, in response to new changes to the Sir Lankan central bank’s capitalization requirements, the board of BRAC International sold its 59.33% stake in the jointly held company, BRAC Lanka Finance PLC, to Commercial Leasing and Finance PLC, a subsidiary of its partner, LOLC.
The sale was completed in September 2014, marking BRAC’s exit from Sri Lanka and ending a successful transition from aid to enterprise.
“Sri Lanka is successful because we started with grant funding,” says Kairy. “This is the best way to set up, as it allows you to really reach the poor, and then allows a path for sustainability to emerge. If there is no grant, then in effect, you are serving a higher income portion of the population, perhaps the moderate poor. But to eventually get to a place of sustainability while serving the poorest, an organization needs some level of subsidy at the start.”