National Payments System in SomaliaThe Somali government recently secured support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to create a central payments system that will aid in rebuilding Somalia’s economy. Millions of Somalis have suffered for the preceding two decades as a result of insufficient economic infrastructure. The combination of economic distress due to widespread counterfeiting, displacement as a result of climate-related pressures and the ensuing threat of al Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization, has left Somalia decimated. The national payments system in Somalia presents a glimmer of hope in the fight against widespread poverty in Somalia.

National Payments System

A national payments system simply refers to the infrastructure within a specified country or locality that allows for commercial and financial transactions to occur. This includes a network of banks and a messaging and routing system. The system protects the information and transactions of the public, secures their finances and acts as an avenue into the global economy. A national payments system is essential to the efficacy of national economies and their involvement on a global financial scale.

Until recently, Somalia existed without a national payments system. Domestic financial transactions largely used the U.S. dollar given the prevalence of counterfeit currency in the use of Somali shillings and that little to no domestic financial infrastructure was in place. This financial foundation hamstrung the Somali people and economy to the whim of exterior powers that provided such infrastructure in its most rudimentary form. During this period, Somalia has been in civil war, riddled with environmental decay and stifled by the threat of al Shabaab.

All of the aforementioned conditions created an economic situation in which 64% of the population lives in absolute poverty in Somalia. The national payments system presents a monumental step toward economic progress.

What the Future Holds

With the introduction of a national payments system in Somalia, the Central Bank of Somalia Governor Abdirahman M. Abdullahi stated that “the impact on the economy will be unprecedented. It will boost trade and business… and will enable more financial inclusion in a secure and safe manner.”

The Central Bank of Somalia has also issued its first Visa card and its first mobile phone-centered financial system. During this time, the government has additionally increased its regulation and production of the Somali shilling. All these financial advancements have boosted the IMF’s predictions of Somali economic growth to 2.9% in the next year.

Further Humanitarian Developments

In addition to the progress brought by the national payments system in Somalia, the Somali government has recently passed election and healthcare reform bills to increase equity in their political and social infrastructure.

The National Elections Security Committee, a newly founded governmental body, has begun work on a new initiative to guarantee that at least 30% of the electorate consists of Somali women. The committee has additionally begun numerous programs to protect election integrity and voter privacy.

Support from international bodies ranging from the World Bank to the IMF is essential to the efficacy of domestic progress in Somalia. On the other hand, it is important to note from where the motivation for such changes has arisen.

It was not international groups that began the charge for Somali advancement. Rather, the impetus for this progress came from domestic pressure, not foreign assistance. Through the example that Somalia set, one can easily grasp the potential for self-sufficient humanitarian growth. All the changes are recent and will hopefully be immediately impactful in the global and domestic effort to end poverty in Somalia.

– Jonah Issac Stern
Photo: Flickr

Green Financing in Vietnam with a Big Help From France
The French Development Agency (AFD) announced a $100 million concessional credit line to the Bank of Investment and Development in Vietnam (BDIV) and technical assistance to help establish green financing in Vietnam. As Vietnam continues its rapid development while disproportionately dealing with the adverse effects of environmental challenges, it is searching to develop green financing to underpin a sustainable, efficient renewable energy system. The BDIV plays a crucial role in that transition and the assistance from the AFD is a significant first step in the transition to green financing in Vietnam.

Development in Vietnam

In 1986, a set of economic reforms would fundamentally shift the role of markets in Vietnam. By encouraging private ownership, overturning its policy on forced collective farming and recognizing private land rights, the Doi Moi reforms provided a central role for markets as the primary resource allocation mechanism.

The results have been astounding for economic development and poverty reduction in Vietnam. In the last three decades, the poverty rate reduced from 70% to 6%, and the GDP per capita increased by 2.7 times. In total, more than 45 million people were able to leave poverty. Today, Vietnam is the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia.

A component of this development was a shift away from an agriculture-based economy to a more industrial economy. In 1988, agriculture constituted 46% of the GDP. Fast forward to 2014, and agriculture as a share of the GDP had contracted to only 17%, while the service sector and industrial sector accounted for 44% and 39%, respectively.

Economic Consequences

Nevertheless, similar to other nations with experienced industrialization and remarkable growth and in a truncated period, Vietnam struggles to manage the environmental consequences. It logically flows as the more dynamic an economy becomes, the more energy it requires to power it. Likewise, the quicker the development, the more demand for energy will outpace the supply. Vietnam is no exception; on average, its energy demands increase by 10% every year.

Naturally, when demand rapidly outpaces supply, countries search for cheap, quick options to increase supply. Therefore, fossil fuels, a historically abundant and cheap energy source, have primarily fueled Vietnamese development. As of 2019, 84.7% of Vietnam’s energy came from fossil fuels, primarily in the form of coal (50.25%) but also in oil (25.92%) and gas (8.61%).

This Faustian pact with the cheaper, more abundant resources – along with other trappings of middle-income status – comes with environmental consequences. In 1989, Vietnam contributed 0.26 tons of carbon emissions per capita to the globe. By 2017, this number jumped to 1.93 tons. As a result of the severe air pollution, 50,000 people a year die. Although significant inroads have occurred, access to clean water in Vietnam remains a problem as 9,000 people die a year from polluted water.

Environmental Consequences

In addition to medical costs, environmental deterioration has a profound economic cost. Air pollution causes a financial cost of around 5% of GDP per year.

As with most unintended consequences, the most impoverished bear the brunt of it. The most poverty-stricken members of society are the most exposed, susceptible and resource-poor to adapt to the deteriorating environment. However, as the U.N. noted that it also creates a “…vicious cycle, whereby initial inequality makes disadvantaged groups suffer disproportionate loss of their income and assets, resulting in greater subsequent inequality” that threatens the economic development Vietnam has achieved over the last three decades.

On the flip side then, the poor benefit the most from green financing. For example, some researchers investigated this connection by studying 25 Chinese provinces over 13 years and found a high correlation between the two variables. The group argues that through a strong absorption capacity, long industrial chains and a high degree of relevance, green financing has a “pulling effect on economic development and can effectively alleviate poverty.”

Green Financing

Vietnam has recognized this dynamic and has set out to reverse the trend. The government has made significant inroads in providing cleaner development through creating cleaner transportation infrastructure, safer water and shifting to renewables. However, Vietnam achieved these inroads through government financing. According to the Asian Development Bank Institute, to supply energy demand with renewable energy, 50% of total investment in renewable energy development must come from private green financing. Yet, due to a lack of capacity and infrastructure, Vietnam banks cannot get near the 50% number.

Nevertheless, the AFD concessional loan is a significant first step in establishing green financing in Vietnam. As noted, the AFD provided a $100 million concessional loan to BDIV. BDIV is one of the leading financial institutions in Vietnam. It has over 1,100 banks worldwide and assets totaling VND1.56 quadrillion to promote green financing. The credit line will also mark the first green finance fund AFD has set up in Vietnam. Notably, AFD and BDIV earmarked $366,000 of the loan for technical assistance to support the transition.

AFD is valuable and experienced. It has more than 90 projects worldwide worth over 2.3 billion Euros. In addition, it has experience supporting green development in various sectors such as transport, infrastructure, agriculture and energy.

Taking Action

The CEO of BDIV, Le Ngoc Lam, hinted at three critical takeaways for Vietnam and BDIV in particular. First, it will assist BDIV in improving its operational efficiency in financing Vietnam’s green development. Second, it will establish a partnership between BDIV and AFD for future green development loans or projects. Finally, it signals to international partners Vietnam’s willingness to participate in green development projects or financial partnerships.

Put another way, the loan provides significant financing, technical assistance and establishes a partnership that can lead to other green financing opportunities. Therefore, it is essential to establish green financing in Vietnam and, accordingly, sustaining its development and further alleviating poverty.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

COVID-19 in Cambodia
The IDPoor card is a critical resource in the United Nations’ new COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme. This program aims to support socioeconomically disadvantaged citizens who COVID-19 in Cambodia has impacted. The IDPoor card, which the country implemented in October 2020, is a form of payment to impoverished families and individuals that helps them access essential resources like food, housing, healthcare treatment, education and more.

IDPoor Card in Action

The Cash Transfer Programme provides Cambodians with financial resources for housing security and healthcare access. The Cambodian government registers individuals in need of economic assistance and indicates how much aid they can receive. With financial support from the U.N. and UNICEF, the Cambodian government has significantly improved the daily lives of impoverished Cambodians.

Yom Malai is a Cambodian woman who received the IDPoor card and described her experience in a U.N. News Article: “We collect the money from a money transfer service,” she says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a great help for my family. In addition, if we ever need to go to the hospital, we get medical treatment, care and medicine free of charge.”

Malai also explained the review process necessary to receive a card. It includes interviewing applicants and recording details about each household. By doing this, the government gains a holistic picture of each family’s financial resources and needs. Malai’s experience demonstrates the necessity of the IDPoor card in reducing global poverty, particularly in regions that are suffering economically due to COVID-19.

Poverty on the Rise

Even before COVID-19, Cambodians faced a disproportionately high amount of poverty. The U.N. calculated the hypothetical rise of poverty in this region in 2019, predicting that the impoverished population would increase to 17.6%, more than two times the impoverished count in 2019. Moreover, COVID-19 exacerbated many Cambodians’ financial disadvantages as the country’s economy limited jobs and healthcare needs increased. Specifically, the unemployment rate in Cambodia in 2020 was 3.2%, much higher than the 2019 rate of 0.7%.

The Cash Transfer Programme provides financial assistance to citizens registered with an IDPoor card. Each monthly payment depends on a household’s specific situation and needs. The already existing Cash Transfer Programme received further funding and spread to include as many impoverished Cambodians as possible. This act is a ray of hope amid the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia.

For individuals who qualify, the card also acts as a form of medical insurance. It allows registered Cambodians to receive healthcare treatments or consultations without being charged. This healthcare coverage is extremely helpful to families as medical bills and incurred costs are large components of poverty.

In a UNICEF article, a young woman named Leont Yong Phin conveyed how her IDPoor card has helped her. “I’m still paying back a loan from when I got bad typhoid,” she says. “This money means I can repay and afford food. We’ve never had help like this before, it’s so reassuring.”

Encouraging Equity

In addition to providing necessary economic support and medical access, the IDPoor card program is essential for encouraging equity in Cambodia and reducing the disadvantages that come with certain socioeconomic conditions. By reviewing applicants’ economic history and family situation, the government can adequately provide the support necessary to address all citizens’ needs. In this way, the Cash Transfer Programme helps Cambodians with daily expenses and works to end inequity across the country.

Although the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia has been significant, the IDPoor card and Cash Transfer Programme are greatly improving life for many Cambodians. With more support from international organizations like the United Nations, nonprofit organizations and even individuals, the program can provide even more resources to impoverished Cambodians.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Algbra is Bridging the Gap Algbra is a “global digital program” for the “unbanked and underserved.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion by bringing financial security to developing countries. The emergence of cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology has spawned endless opportunities within the financial industry. Although these accomplishments are impressive, a shocking 1.7 billion people worldwide are still without access to bank accounts. Banking services offer a convenient and secure money management method, a luxury unattainable for many of the world’s impoverished. Millions of people in developing markets are excluded from the financial system due to “insufficient income levels and market discrimination.” Exclusion from financial services prevents an accumulation of savings, investable funds and asset growth. New World Group vows to bridge the financial inclusion gap in developing countries with the innovative global digital platform, Algbra.

The Algbra Fintech Platform

Algbra is the new London-based fintech platform designed to create a multi-faceted, fair and viable banking experience that fulfills the needs of low-income consumers. The company raised £3.75 million in funds for the Algbra platform, with the aim of educating and uplifting underserved and minority populations so that people can move toward financial freedom.

Algbra is also the first platform of its kind to offer services in consideration of faith-based values. This is a more appealing option for those following the Islamic faith, an unbanked demographic of nearly 800 million people. Some of the products offered by Algbra include “current accounts, foreign exchange, remittances and rewards, with lending products to follow shortly thereafter.”

Algbra’s Impact on Global Poverty

In a study involving 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers looked at the impact of financial inclusion on poverty levels among low-income households. Using data from 2011, it was concluded that financial inclusion significantly decreased poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by “providing net wealth and larger welfare benefits” for impoverished people.

On May 19, 2021, Algbra announced its partnership with the Patchwork Foundation, a British organization dedicated to advocating for underprivileged and minority communities to partake in issues of democracy and civil society. Through this partnership, Algbra and the Patchwork Foundation will empower promising young leaders with financial literacy skills and other essential skills. These skills will help the youth become informed policymakers capable of establishing practices that promote social and economic inclusion.

It is important for Muslim women to have a share in financial resources and the opportunity to participate in society’s advancement, all while adhering to Islamic teachings. This is instrumental to economic prosperity for developing countries with large Muslim populations.

However, the World Bank found that the Middle East and North Africa, which are predominantly Muslim regions, have the most significant gender gap in bank account ownership. In these regions, a whole 65% of women are without a bank account compared to 48% of men. Zeiad Idris, CEO of Algbra, believes empowering women by facilitating access to financial services is instrumental to increased economic growth.

How Algbra is Bridging the Gap

The financial industry lacks services that meet the faith-based needs of consumers. As a result, many Muslims limit their usage of financial services. A 2018 Thomson Reuters report indicates that religious considerations prohibited 34% of Afghan individuals and 27% of people in Iraq and Tunisia from utilizing financial services. However in Muslim-majority nations like Jordan, providing Shariah-compliant lending products (loans aligned with religious principles) raised application rates from 18% to 22%, according to a study by Professor Dean Karlan of Yale University.

Shariah compliance prohibits profiting from items or services with the potential to cause harm to people or the environment. Additionally, investors must avoid enterprises that deal with “weapons, alcohol and gambling.” Algbra provides solutions for Muslim consumers who seek Shariah-compliant banking services and solutions. The solutions are also beneficial for environmentally conscientious consumers who are mindful of financial imprints.

The Future of the Financial Industry

Adam Sadiq, CEO of New World Group, explains that a significant amount of people in impoverished nations “face financial exclusion because they cannot open an account at a traditional brick and mortar bank. As a result, they are unable to enjoy the opportunities made possible by economic growth, and in many cases, remain stuck in the poverty trap.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion as the latest financial technology innovation aimed at resolving these difficulties through faith-based and inclusive banking services.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Women in AngolaAccording to the World Bank, Angola has a ranking of 0.36 on the Human Capital Index, which is below the sub-Saharan average. This means that the earning potential of a child born in Angola today is 36% of what it “could have been with complete education and full health.” Research indicates that girls and women are often disproportionately affected by poverty. In April 2021, the World Bank agreed to a $250 million Investment Project Financing in order to support Angola. This project aims to empower girls and women in Angola and address educational poverty in order to increase Angola’s human capital.

Women and Poverty in Angola

Data indicates that more than 30% of Angolan women were married or in a union before the age of 18. Furthermore, in 2016, for women 15-49 years old, almost 26% reported violence by a current or previous intimate partner within the last year. In addition, less than half of impoverished women older than 15 are employed. Moreover, 4.8% more adult women than men are severely food insecure. While women have made some strides in politics, making up nearly 30% of the seats in national parliament, less than 30% of women hold managerial positions. The contribution made by the World Bank will assist Angola to rectify the gender disparities between male and female citizens and empower girls and women to rise out of poverty.

Action From Angola

The National Development Plan that Angola implemented in 2015 set out to ensure equality between men and women in economic, social, cultural and political aspects. Further, the primary goals of the plan focused on addressing occupational segregation and rectifying the lack of representation of women in positions of power. So far, several national campaigns have been launched to promote gender equality and women’s rights. These campaigns include violence prevention and breaking down misogynistic traditions like child marriages.

Angola also implemented several policies to achieve gender equality and empower women. The National Development Plan 2018-2022 continues these commitments, with a significant focus on raising awareness of the importance of gender equality and preventing gender-based violence. The support of the World Bank will help to further the work that has already begun.

The World Bank strongly believes in keeping young girls in school. The organization supports the empowerment of young women to improve health conditions and end cycles of poverty. By ensuring the education of girls, the likelihood of child marriages and adolescent pregnancies reduces. This is a critical goal during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many schools to shut down and accelerated the dropout rates of young girls.

Components of the Project

The project consists of three components. The first aspect centers on improving sexual and reproductive health services and increasing community knowledge in this regard in order to encourage the use of these services. The second component will finance 3,000 new classrooms and offer support “to improve teaching and learning outcomes.” Finally, the last component relates to “efficient monitoring and management of the project and supports research to inform education policy development.”

One of the keys to the success of any major project is proper financing and the World Bank has just helped Angola take a critical step in the right direction. The $250 million worth of financing will improve the lives of many women in Angola by focusing on education and empowerment.

Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Branch App The world of financial technology has a lot to offer low- and middle-income countries. Financial technology is essential to accelerate poverty reduction and enhance the growth and development of developing nations. One such innovation in financial technology is a mobile lending app called Branch. The Branch app has tapped into Africa’s emerging markets and the results are inspiring.

The Branch App

Branch offers mobile financial services that are accessible via smartphone. The advantage of this technology is that the app bypasses some of the restrictions that come with traditional institutions. Branch’s goal is to make money lending and credit building opportunities accessible to all people, which the company believes will “open new channels for personal empowerment and financial growth.”

Currently, Branch serves Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and India. Its user demographic targets members of the middle class in areas with emerging markets. Branch recognizes that people in these areas are often underserved and is dedicated to servicing them with customer-first products.

The People Behind the Project

Matt Flannery and Daniel Jung co-founded Branch in 2015. Flannery, the CEO, previously developed and led Kiva, a nonprofit microfinancing company. Flannery then set out to create a “branchless bank” for Africa, resulting in a financial app that would provide accessible services to low- and middle-income customers. Flannery is a Skoll Awardee and Ashoka Fellow, making him a highly acclaimed social entrepreneur. He was also part of Fortune magazine’s “Top 40 under 40” list in 2009.

Recently, in March 2021, Branch added a new member to its team: Dayo Ademola, who will oversee Branch’s Nigeria operations. Ademola has more than 15 years of experience working with consumer-centric companies and banking institutions. She has former experience with global fintech and much of her efforts in the field have been toward improving financial inclusion in Nigeria. Ademola is particularly excited about continuing this mission and working with Branch to help Nigerians simplify their relationship with finances. Fortunately, Branch provides a successful avenue to do that.

Branch’s Success

Since its launch in 2015, Branch has made significant advancements toward improving banking accessibility in Africa. Since its establishment, Branch has facilitated $350 million in loans. This is a significant accomplishment since Branch operates in countries with new markets and limited resources. Fintech investments in Nigeria have grown nearly 200% in the past three years, showing that these emerging markets are increasingly recognized as valuable.

Flannery and others see the African markets for the significant opportunities they present. Fintechs, especially those with a background in social entrepreneurship, have the power to transform African markets and improve social and economic stability in these countries. As it stands, Branch has more than four million customers and has issued more than 21 million loans in the countries it operates in. If the  Branch app continues to spread across Africa and other developing nations, Branch has the potential to vastly improve financial inclusivity and lift millions of people out of poverty by providing financial solutions that cater to those with minimal resources.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Financial inclusion can fight povertyRoughly 1.7 billion adults around the world are unbanked and most unbanked adults live in developing countries. Unbanked people have limited political, economic and social power and influence. For roughly half of the world’s unbanked who come from the most impoverished 40% of households in their economies, inaccessible financial services compound problems of poverty. Financial inclusion can fight poverty as it opens doors for people to improve their lives. The pace of technological advancement around the world is bringing universal access to financial services closer to fruition.

The Global Unbanked

Unbanked people are not connected to any type of financial institution. The most commonly cited reasons for being unbanked are not having enough money, account expenses, the distance of financial services and insufficient documentation. Nearly half of the unbanked population falls into just seven economies. The highest numbers of unbanked people are in China and India. It can be clearly noted that banking and poverty are closely related.

“Financial tools for savings, insurance, payments and credit are a vital need for poor people, especially women, and can help families and whole communities lift themselves out of poverty,” says Melinda Gates. Without a bank account, people cannot sufficiently save and the cash is not well protected. The digital economy also has the benefit of keeping a clear record of financial activities, which banks can use when underwriting loans. Loans are among the financial tools that are essential to financial growth and stability.

The Gender Gap

Women make up the majority of the unbanked population in most developing countries. Women may face deepened or additional gender-based barriers to account ownership, rooted in financial institutions, governments or society.

Financial institutions often lack products and policies that are gender-inclusive. For instance, women may find it difficult to obtain the identification or the assets needed to open and maintain an account, sometimes due to government-enforced barriers. Additionally, banking-related expenses are also a burden for women looking to enter the formal economy. Finally, the responsibility of unpaid household labor, along with barriers to education, keep many women from earning enough money to access financial services.

The Societal Roles of Women

Women may earn sufficient money but could be part of society that does not allow for them to connect to a financial institution.

For instance, the tradition of men being the head of household and in control of the finances leaves some women with little to no influence in matters of money. Approximately one in 10 women in developing countries are not involved in spending decisions involving their own earnings.

Women’s Empowerment for Poverty Reduction

Women must be part of financial inclusion efforts as they are integral to fighting poverty. Bill Gates explains that women are most likely to be behind the decisions that benefit the family. More women-led businesses and reduced inequalities are ways that an emphasis on financial inclusion for women can further a nation’s development.

Financial Inclusion Using Fintech

An emerging industry is making strides in financial inclusion. Financial technology (fintech) can be described as technological innovations in the processes and products of financial services. Fintech offers solutions to many of the problems at the root of financial exclusion. A fundamental problem is the lack of time or money to travel to distant financial institutions. Fintech has given users the convenience of accessing their accounts and financial services on a mobile device.

Fintech development has been gaining momentum since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Touchless transactions and banking reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and have led many to embrace digital payment, in business and in personal practice. Fintech leaders are proving that underserved communities can be reached through financial technologies. Significantly, this helps foster financial stability for the formerly excluded.

Female-led fintech, Oraan, is working toward financial equality in Pakistan because women make up 48% of the population but only 6.3% of the formal economy. Oraan developed a platform that allows for digital savings groups. Savings groups can help empower women and ensure financial equity as they are well-established financial tools.

The Road to Universal Access

Because financial inclusion can fight poverty, digitized financial services are an effective way to improve access and inclusion. Online banking communities are empowering individuals and opening up opportunities for economic growth. By facilitating conversations about finances, informing underserved groups on the best financial practices and ensuring digital finance infrastructure is accessible, the world can make greater strides toward financial inclusion.

Payton Unger
Photo: Flickr

The World BankThe World Bank Group has announced a $12 billion initiative that would allow COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatments to be readily available for low-income countries. This plan will positively affect up to a billion people and signals the World Bank’s initiative to ensure that developing countries are equipped to distribute vaccines and testing to citizens. The plan is a part of the overall $160 billion package by the World Bank Group, which aims to support developing countries in the fight against the pandemic.

A Multitude of Goals

Since early March and April, the World Bank Group has provided grants to low-income countries to help with the distribution of health care equipment. Recognizing that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the poor and has the potential to push up to 115 million into poverty, the World Bank Group has been active in financing an early, timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic in low-income areas. As of November 2020, the World Bank Group has consequently assisted over 100 developing countries in the allocation of medical supplies and technologies.

With the spread worsening all across the globe, the next step is to administer vaccinations. This new initiative hopes to strengthen health care operatives while also providing economic opportunities within those communities. Other expectations are increasing awareness of public health, training health care workers and focusing on community engagement. As a result, the four primary goals of the World Bank Group’s Crisis Response are to save lives that are endangered by the COVID-19 virus, protect the poor and vulnerable, retain economic stability and facilitate a resilient recovery to the pandemic.

Moreover, the World Bank Group has extensive experience with dispersing vaccines, specifically with combating infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Through these experiences, the World Bank Group understands the importance of quick, tailored distribution based on individual country needs. As a result, countries will have flexibility in how they want to receive and administer vaccines — for example, through the improvement of health care infrastructure, procurement with the support from varying, multilateral mechanisms or reshaping policy and regulatory frameworks.

Partnerships and Funding

Funding for this project will consist of “$2.7 billion new financing from IBRD; $1.3 billion from IDA, complemented by reprioritization of $2 billion of the Bank’s existing portfolio; and $6 billion from IFC, including $2 billion from existing trade facilities.”

The IDA will provide grants to low-income countries while the IBRD will be supplying them to middle-income countries. The World Bank’s private sector arm, the IFC, will be the main donor for continued economic stability within its clientele. The IFC’s support will specifically aid in the continuation of operating and sustaining jobs. The total funding will cover a broad scope to strengthen the health care sector. These solutions hope to reduce the harmful economic and social impacts of COVID-19.

World Bank Group president, David Malpass, has been working extensively with these institutions on this project. Malpass pointed out that the need for economic backing is drastically important when it comes to receiving this vaccine. Manufacturers might not deem these low-income communities as important as those in more advanced economies. Hence, it’s extremely important to provide this funding to ensure global equity and distribution.

Moving Forward

Many countries have been able to discover viable vaccine treatments. It’s important that future doses be distributed globally and equitably, as more and more people are being pushed into extreme poverty. Malpass wrote, “The pandemic is hitting developing countries hard, and the inequality of that impact is clear … The negative impact on health and education may last decades — 80 million children are missing out on essential vaccinations and over a billion are out of school.”

As the number of global cases increases each day, it is becoming even more important to provide relief to all countries. Low-income countries and communities are at the most vulnerable. This is why the World Bank Group has made it transparent that their main mission is to provide extended relief to these countries during the pandemic.

Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr

Microfinancing Partners in Africa
Microfinancing Partners in Africa is a nonprofit that provides microfinance opportunities to people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its current programs vary in nature. Some examples include giving loans to subsistence farmers to purchase a cow, providing water filtration systems and educating students on microfinance.

Microfinance is an innovative approach to growing the economies of impoverished nations by giving its citizens access to small loans, usually under $200. It is a way for those in poverty to develop a stable income because they do not have access to traditional loans.

Historically, companies have used high-interest rates to take advantage of impoverished people seeking loans. However, agencies like Microfinancing Partners in Africa counter that practice. It offers options that often require recipients to take financial literacy courses and give them loans without requiring collateral. In this way, Microfinancing Partners in Africa works to actively combat poverty within Sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some of its success stories:

Jane Nalwadda

Jane Nalwadda is a woman from Uganda born with an obstetric fistula. Her condition left her unable to have a child with her husband who consequently left her after three years of marriage. The abandonment left Nalwadda without a reliable source of income. She fell into utter despair until a friend recommended the Kitovu hospital to her. There she would be eligible for a free fistula repair surgery program. Here is where Microfinancing Partners in Africa stepped in.

The nonprofit established the microfinance program The Piglet Project. The program helps women make money post-fistula repair by helping them raise and breed pigs, eventually creating a sustainable business. Jane was able to raise $29 with her first litter of pigs, which enabled her to build a better pen. She now has a steady means of making a living and can build a promising future.

Bujugo Village

Bujugo is a tiny village in Tunisia that has clean water accessibility problems. The village received seven water filters from Microfinancing Partners in Africa in 2019. Villagers then received training to use the filters and developed a time table to maximize the amount of village usage. Now, 49 families receive clean drinking water because of this microfinancing program.

Florence Mbaziira and Joseph Mbaziira

Florence and Joseph Mbaziira are an older couple from Uganda who works on a farm with mostly unproductive land. They tirelessly worked on their farm to support themselves and their four grandchildren. By 2014, the family was still living off a small income that came from selling the produce that they grew. Afterward, they turned to the Cow Project.

Microfinancing Partners in Africa created the Cow Project to support farmers through a “living loan.” The Mbaziiras took full advantage of the program and bought a cow for their land. Microfinancing Partners in Africa trained them to use the cow’s manure to increase crop yields. The couple now grows coffee, bananas and seasonal foods. Thanks to microfinancing, the Mbaziiras are able to support their family through their own farming business.

Saida Juma

Saida Juma is a divorced woman with two children living in Tanzania. Previously, she worked as a maid for $5 a month. However, her passions were elsewhere. She had the desire to start selling fish. Juma worked with Microfinancing Partners in Africa to obtain a microloan of $50. With the money, she was able to go into business for a local fisherman by selling fish. Her earnings are enough to support her children as well as send them to school. Her goal is for her children to be well-educated and take over her business when she retires. She also plans to take out another $100 loan soon to buy a fridge to store unsold fish.

All of these people were struggling to survive. Microfinancing Partners in Africa’s varied programs were able to help inspire and empower them to gain a livable income. Microfinancing Partners in Africa helped increase the quality of life for these people and many others, proving that microfinancing is an effective way of fighting poverty.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Microlending Model
The international development community has both praised and vilified microlending as a means of poverty alleviation. Although the microlending model is not the apodictic poverty solution that some once believed, research on its impacts has shown that one should not easily dismiss or affirm it.

The History of Microlending

The modern-day microlending model comes from the Grameen Bank model that Muhammad Yunus created. Yunus won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2006 for his microcredit operations.

While teaching at Chittagong University in Bangladesh, Yunus would visit the impoverished households in Jobra, a neighboring village. Yunus found that those suffering in poverty often could not gain access to even $1 in credit except under unfair terms.

Jonathan Wight, a professor of international economics at the University of Richmond, explained in an interview with The Borgen Project that this barrier to traditional credit markets often pushed the poor into borrowing on the black market or from payday lenders with astronomical interest rates.

Financial markets work through financial intermediaries that loan savings out to investors, such as banks. Investors is a loose term here – it could refer to someone taking out a loan to buy a car. To get access to credit, one must have collateral – assets to forfeit if the debtor becomes unable to pay off the loan.

The poor have little in the way of financial collateral making them unfit as borrowers in the eyes of traditional banks, so Yunus decided to create the Grameen Bank. This bank would require those in poverty to join the bank in self-formed groups. The bank would then give the group a loan with no collateral requirement.

By lending to a group, Yunus capitalized on social capital relying on the groups’ links and relationships as a form of collateral: if one member of the group did not pay the loan back, they risked the loans of the entire group.

This microlending model became fad-like in its popularity in the economic development field. By the 1990s, it became the most highly lauded and generously funded poverty alleviation policy in the international development community.

Critiques of Microlending

In theory, microcredit should boost income-generating activities, but the industry has seen a move toward the support of consumption spending. Rodrigo Peláez, who worked at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation in Spain for six years, explained to The Borgen Project that a lot of harm can occur when MFIs support consumption rather than productivity. Instead of generating income, MFIs can end up making people poorer.

The intention of loans is for people to invest them so that their investment can fund the repayment. For example, when a person takes out a car loan, they are investing in that car with the expectation that they will gain a return. Buying that car may mean that they now have the ability to get a higher paying job in a city where they need to commute.

If a person were to instead spend that loan on a television, they would not get any returns on that expenditure. They would then have to pay back a loan principal that they could not pay before purchase, in addition to interest. This would make the person poorer than when they started out.

This phenomenon has deteriorated the efficacy of the microlending model as a development tool and has caused some to go as far as labeling it an “”anti-developmental” intervention.” Another critique is that even when microcredits create productive investment, the business activities those investments support are not sustainable development drivers nor are they geared toward poverty reduction.

Studies by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the 2019 Nobel Prize winners in economics, have found that microlending is not, in fact, a tool for creating transformative social or economic change in impoverished communities. Furthermore, in some cases, borrowers from MFIs end up saddled with too much debt having taken a loan without the income to sustain repayment or with the expectation of using the loan to create income. These borrowers then have to sell personal property or go further into debt to pay their loans.

Ben Blevins, the director of a developmental organization based in Latin America called the Highland Support Project, described first-hand accounts of exploitative microfinance to The Borgen Project. The microlending model, Blevins said, is a perpetuation of white settler colonialism policies. “The purpose of microlending is about a move to innocence for people in the Global North,” Blevins said. “It is also about extending and conditioning the entire world to the neoliberal model of debt servitude to the capital class.”

The Impact of Microlending

Some have believed that microcredit has numerous positive social, educational and economic outcomes, but empirical studies have shown mixed results. In a study by Banerjee with facilitation from Duflo, researchers found results suggesting that although microcredit does not necessarily lift communities from poverty, it can foster more freedom of choice and the capability for self-reliance. The study did not find sufficient evidence to support either the proponents of microcredit or the adversaries, although, this study and more targeted studies have shown the marginally positive impacts of microcredit in niche scenarios.

A 2019 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, with authors Banerjee and Duflo, found that “For talented but low-wealth entrepreneurs, short-term access to credit can indeed facilitate escape from a poverty trap.” Meanwhile, a study published in 2019 found that Haitian women who received health education training as part of the microfinance loan program, “were over 50% more likely to use condoms, over 50% more likely to have a recent HIV test, and over 60% less likely to report recent STI symptoms.” The degree of positive impacts from the model seems to depend largely upon the MFI itself and its priorities.

Some MFIs will remain in a village for years nurturing human development through financial management or other training programs, Alejandro Cañadas, associate professor of economics at Mount St. Mary’s University, explained in an interview with The Borgen Project. These institutions aim to create financially savvy citizens, foster economic growth and break poverty traps.

“These microfinance organizations, they have a different way: they go, they train, they show. They bring the training and education, and then they give the money to see it in practice,” Cañadas said. “And then people use what they learn, and they make mistakes and they fix those mistakes.” However, Peláez noted that not all MFIs have a social impact in mind. A lot hinges on the management of the institution and whether that institution cares about its social responsibility and staying true to its mission of poverty alleviation.

There is a thin line to walk between productive and nonproductive loans in the finance sector in general, Peláez said, “But microfinance is much more dangerous because it’s vulnerable people we’re talking about.”

Concluding Thoughts

The microcredit industry has proven over time, with large scandals erupting across the industry, that it holds great potential for exploitative practices.

“We wouldn’t expect that any solution as big as this one ­– microlending – as momentous as this is going to be all beautiful, all perfect,” Wight said. “There are bad apples who get in there and say ‘Hey, this is a chance to make some money. I’m going to prey on the ignorance, lack of education of a poor person. I’m going to get them to sign some contract.’”

The microcredit poverty solution is not all bad or all good. It has proven to have some positive impacts, but there are large failings in this microlending model that people need to address if they are to continue to use it in any form of development work.

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Flickr