Toward the end of last year, Grameen Foundation shared its key lessons and resources for the fight against poverty. Provided below is a summary of those lessons – learnt and affirmed by the organisation and some additional details into the foundation’s work and experiences. More importantly, the foundation is not just providing lessons, but also tools that can actively help organisations find solutions to some challenges. Read on to learn more, and make sure to share your two cents!

1. Nurture Human Networks – They Are Essential when Providing Services

In 2013, Grameen and Enclude jointly published discussion papers on the challenges and solutions to the Business Correspondent model; although it has a lot of potential, the model is riddled with challenges that make it difficult to implement and scale the project at the grassroots level.

The Business Correspondent model, also known popularly as the BC model, was introduced by the Indian government and the national Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to promote financial inclusion of those segments of society that have little or no access to financial services. The model is seen as an innovative way of serving the ‘unbanked’ populace by bringing banking services to these communities through external agents. According to the papers, the BC companies and partnering agencies have played a crucial role in providing mobile financial services – also called the branchless banking sector – to the unbanked throughout India.

Some of the main challenges identified by the participants in the BC model include “lack of appropriate products, a need to focus on customer awareness, streamlining back office operations, defining ownership, and building a business case.” Bringing focus to target groups, in this case, means needing to better educate the customers. People who have had no previous experience of banking need to be informed and educated on the new branchless banking systems that rely on technologies and new structures. One of the ways identified to raise awareness is through direct interaction between the customers and agents. More details of the solutions to the current challenges with the BC model can be found here.

The foundation’s India counterpart also developed a case study on the CASHPOR micro finance institution, where the company used loan officers as banking correspondents that offer access to both credit and savings. In addition, Grameen Foundation also launched the Human Capital Hub; the website is aimed at helping social enterprises to better manage human capital by sharing information on employee commitment and effectiveness as well as knowledge on how to improve client engagement and protection. The organisation’s message – “Strong human networks are critical to solving global poverty; pro-poor organisations need to strategically attract, retain and develop the most capable people to achieve sustainable growth” – on the hub’s website is a reflection of its intention to follow through with one of the key lessons affirmed in 2013: Nurture human networks.

2. Brace Yourselves! The Fight Against Poverty Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

Grameen Foundation, with support from the Gates Foundation, completed its four-year Savings Initiative and opened up more than 922,000 savings accounts through its partners in India, Ethiopia and Philippines; however, this was not the end of it. The organisation reminds us all that a program like opening savings accounts for the poor requires extensive planning and adaptation. Just the mere fact of launching, or opening, these accounts was just the beginning. The organisation soon realised that despite its popularity, many accounts were dormant within a few months of opening and “it took continued effort to address account dormancy by improving organisational processes, building client trust and teaching financial literacy.” An article on its blog titled, “A Dormant Savings Account is a Missed Opportunity – Here are 5 Things You Can Do,” talks about the challenges and the solutions to tackling dormant accounts. Some of these solutions include building client trust, using technology to simplify processes, building staff capacity and creating incentive schemes.

3. Using Accurate, Real-Time Data to Address the Needs of the Poor

The foundation also stresses the need to have accurate and constant data to measure social impact. For this purpose, Grameen Foundation provides various tools to measure poverty levels and track progress, one of which includes the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The tool is also integrated into the TaroWorks, a mobile phone-based platform that provides data management tools. The PPI tool was designed to make poverty mapping an easy exercise by answering 10 answers about a particular household that help establish if a family is living below or above the poverty line(s) (national and international). The PPI set of questions varies from each country and there are PPIs for 45 countries. The website provides a detailed explanation of how to use PPI, stages of its implementation, analysis and case studies of how different organisations have used this to assess performance.

4. The Ubiquity of the Mobile Phone May Just Be an Illusion

Mobile phones have become a popular means of communication and are also now making headway in providing solutions to some development challenges – read our previous blogs on SMS for Disaster Reliefwomen empowermentm-Agriculture and tackling youth unemployment among many others. The story is almost ‘tantalising’, Grameen Foundation says, as their own research (Women, Mobile Phones and Savings Case Study), along with a survey by the GSMA (also written about in our last week’s blog), suggests that it is not as inclusive as we may think it is – women often lack ownership of the mobile phone and may not even have access to it within their households. According to the GSMA report, there is a noted gender gap in the ownership of mobile phones, almost 25% gap between men and women owners.  While some may have mobile phones, the poor often lack awareness and literacy in order to use it effectively. According to the foundation, trusted human networks are essential to ensure that pro-poor services reach their right targets.

While the inclusivity of the mobile phone may be questionable, there is no denying that it has allowed major breakthroughs in providing access to the poor and in turn also much needed pro-poor services. Some of these challenges faced by the socio-technology gaps have been addressed in our previous blogs “Impact of the internet in Africa” and “Mind the socio-technical gap: Implementing M4D initiatives.”

What are some of the socio-technical challenges that you have faced when providing pro-poor services and what solutions did you offer? Be encouraged to share your experiences. We all are here to learn!