fragile states

Q&A With Thea Anderson, Director of Financial Inclusion at Mercy Corps

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Two women transacting payments over their phones in Kathmandu, Nepal Source: Mercy Corps

WAM UK hosted a dinner with Thea Anderson, Mercy Corps’ Director for Financial Inclusion, with our members to learn more about the global organisation’s engagement in advancing access to financial services for women. Mercy Corps operates in 42 countries and is a leader in integrating mobile technology in financial inclusion. On the night, Thea shared her experiences working directly in designing and implementing solutions on the ground for Mercy Crops, and for the benefit for those who couldn’t join us, we asked her some questions here:

Thank you Thea for sharing your experiences with WAM, but first things first, could you introduce us to Mercy Corps?

Mercy Corps is an international non-governmental, non-profit agency impacting over 30 million people each year in the world’s most difficult places and emerging markets. We focus on solutions to systemic global poverty through humanitarian relief and long-term development. We recognize that new technology, business models and creative partnerships provide transformational opportunities to overcome poverty. Managing and providing technical assistance to over 40 country offices, with US and European Headquarters (based in Scotland) and a representative office in London U.K. Mercy Corps complies with the U.K. International Aid and Transparency Initiative and is rated each year by the U.S. Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator – the premier American charity evaluator. Consistently, Mercy Corps receives the highest ratings. Mercy Corps ranked in the Top 10 in the 2013 Global Journal list of top 100 NGOs.

As Director of Financial Inclusion you’ve worked on expanding the reach of financial services in some of the world’s most fragile environments. Could you tell us more about Mercy’s Corp’s approach to financial inclusion?

Mercy Corps leads financial inclusion initiatives in over 30 countries partnering with commercial and public banks, MFIs, non-bank financial institutions, community-level financial institutions, and technology providers.  Even as a non-profit, we have launched commercial bank models in the Philippines, Mongolia and Indonesia, and most recently agent banking in Ethiopia which all use digital payments to serve millions of low-income clients without the need of a physical bank branches.

We recognize that traditional foreign aid hand-out programs will not lift and keep the billions of people at the bottom of the pyramid out of poverty. Mercy Corps therefore uses market-based approaches in partnership with commercial actors where feasible. We see technology as the key driver to lower transactions costs and payments as the entry point for other financial services allowing people to access money with the longer-term goal of establishing a place where they can safely save money, access capital and insurance products.

How does Mercy Corp use Technology to achieve financial inclusion, in particular with women?

Globally, Mercy Corps supports technology providers, financial institutions, and mobile network operators (MNOs) to identify and expand access to financial services at scale through the use of mobile and cashless technologies. This includes digital financial services and e-commerce platforms, agent networks, and bundled technology solutions such as the examples below:

  • In Nepal, Mercy Corps works with over 260 community-level financial institutions to access wholesale capital as well as introduce new savings, affordable credit, and remittances. This includes scaling several mobile payment platforms to rural Nepal in partnership with banks and Nepal’s largest branchless banking provider to reach thousands of new clients.

  • In Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, Mercy Corps bundles financial services and farm- and crop-management tools for 170,000 small-holder farmers on affordable, unified mobile phone platforms. Farmers move along a four-step process using access to digital information and payments solutions as an entry point. Through these digital transactions, farmers build a transaction history to develop credit scores that enables them to engage with more formal financial services, including remittances, savings, credit, and insurance.

  • Mercy Corps hosted Tunisia’s first ‘Innovation Challenge for Financial Inclusion’ with financial institutions, crowd- sourcing platforms and angel investors for new mobile financial products for the growing Tunisian market. As a result, Mercy Corps is co-financing new crowdfunding platforms targeting youth entrepreneurs. In 2015, the Tunisian Post Office, which has over 1,000 branches and millions of clients, will launch a micro-savings product via mobile phones and electronic cards across the country with support from Mercy Corps.

Is Technology an effective enabler for financial services? If so, how can we ensure that women are not left out of the digital revolution?

Digital technology can change lives. It provides access to critical information for women. Female farmers can learn to weather costs of agricultural inputs, be linked to financial services such as payments, remittances, and savings, and connect to social media and e-commerce platforms. However, to benefit from technology you must have access to technology. Globally, over a billion women do not have full access to a mobile phone or access to digital financial services even in its most basic form.[1] This is especially acute in South Asia. Recent data shows than more that up to 50% of women in Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia have never used a mobile phone, even for voice calls.[2]

As the world moves forward towards digital, huge numbers of the population are being left behind. Not only is this a missed opportunity for women on the customer-side this is a huge lost for the commercial sector – up to an estimated £111 billion for MNOs alone over the next five years.

Mercy Corps has a major role to play – to connect different segments of women to technology providers, financial institutions, and MNOs to expand their access to and usage of digital financial services. International agencies like Mercy Corps offer valuable insights about potential client demand to governments, multinational corporations and technology firms that don’t have first-hand knowledge of field realities and needs. Development actors like Mercy Corps play a critical partnership role by mitigating risks for other actors, especially in complex and fragile states.

Looking ahead, what are the key priorities for Mercy Corps’ in financial inclusion?

Mercy Corps will continue to prioritize countries in transition from war or natural disaster or in the midst of economic or social transformation. For us, ‘business as usual’ means partnerships with governments and the private sector to solve complex global challenges of both emerging and pre-emerging economies, including financial inclusion.

Please find more on Mercy Corps current work in financial inclusion here.

[1] http://www.gsma.com

[2] Ibid.

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Women for Women Intl: Stronger Women, Stronger Communities

by Kim Croucher, WAM UK Steering Committee

“I never believed that I had rights, but I learned through the programme that I was born with all my rights.  The next time he hit me, I did not apologize to him.”

WfW

Statements like the above had shocked me. However after visiting one of Women for Women International’s programmes three years ago in Rwanda, meeting some of the women attending the programme in-person, and through reading more about women’s experiences around the world– I came to the slow realization that statements like the above revealed a level of violence-endured and discrimination that was not unusual for many women around the world.   The same statement also shows me how Women for Women International, a leading global charity, is changing the lives of the women they work with in conflict-torn countries through knowledge and growing their self-belief.

On a cold evening in late February this year, WAM was proud to host Women for Women International’s Country Director for Nigeria, Ngozi Eze, at one of our signature dinner discussions with our network members. It was certainly a thought-provoking evening.

Ngozi spoke specifically about the programme Women for Women International run in Nigeria, where the organization has been present since 2000. Since then, it has put 52,000 of some of the most marginalized women through a yearlong programme to educate them on health, family planning, financial literacy, legal rights and empowerment.  The women participants are also offered vocational skills training relevant to their local market, so that, upon graduation, they can start earning an independent income and begin to build their self-sufficiency.

To contextualize this achievement, what are some of the challenges that women in Nigeria face?  Approximately 54% of Nigerian women are illiterate[1] and 28% would not have completed primary education. In Northern Nigeria, women have increasingly experienced forced early marriage and there is much skepticism about family planning – overall 20% of Nigerian women are married by the age of 15 and 39% by the age of 18[2], only 18% of women in a union between the ages of 15-49 practice contraception[3], the average woman will give birth to 6 children during her lifetime[4], and a woman will die in childbirth for every 178 live births[5].  According to a 2014 UN report on the State of the World’s Children, 46% of Nigerian women believe that a husband beating his wife is justifiable[6].  The report also confirms relatively widespread practices of female genital mutilation.

Ngozi spoke about the holistic nature of their programme. It is not enough to give the women vocational skills. The women needed help to understand how to look after themselves and their children in terms of sanitation and nutrition, they needed skills in saving and financial planning, but more importantly they needed to understand their rights and the channels through which they can speak out for themselves and their needs.  Only if all these elements fall together could the vocational skills translate into long-term economic stability for the women.

A key to the success of Women for Women’s programmes, both in Nigeria and other countries where they work, is the emphasis on the networks women build during the programme, something they come to rely on time and time again.

Ngozi gave an example of how a woman, who was being beaten by her husband, experienced the power of her network when her classmates came to her house one morning, stood outside and began publicly berating her husband for his behaviour.  The women report many instances when such a network has been critical, from when one of them experience poor health and needs help with childcare, or requires assistance with her business.  Women are encouraged after the programme to form co-operatives since many of them would have learnt similar vocational skills and would benefit from pooling their labour and skills together, providing each other support and assistance beyond the initial year long programme.

What about the role of men?  Ngozi’s office was one of the first in Women for Women International’s network of offices to start a men’s engagement programme.  This involved speaking to and engaging with men from diverse backgrounds across the country, but mainly men who had an influence on communities, such as traditional rulers in local communities, religious leaders to men in the military.  Religious and community leaders have tremendous sway over group behaviour and cultural views.  Ngozi told us that in their experience, many men they’ve engaged with understand the benefits of economically stronger women and the related positive impacts on children’s welfare, education and the wider community.

During our dinner, we asked about the threat from Boko Haram and how this might be affecting women on the programmes.  My sense from the discussion was that while organisations like Boko Haram are definitely a threat to the safety of many women in the regions where Women for Women International operates and was certainly making the international headlines – the challenges faced by women in Nigeria are so much wider.  As alluded to through statistics quoted at the start of this blog many women will be trapped in a quagmire of chronic poverty, lack of education, discriminatory customs and norms, and gender-based violence is more pervasive than headline grabbing terrorism.

Leading on from the discussion, we heard about the peace-building capacity of the programme.  Christian and Muslim women are often brought together during the training and while there can often be mutual suspicion at the outset, fueled by societal divisions, many of the women quickly come to realize how similar their experiences were and that they faced the same issues. One of the charity’s beliefs is that when they empower women in post-conflict societies, they are much more likely to work to build bridges between previously opposing groups – and this has been borne out in some situations.

A member of the Women for Women’s International UK team was also present to discuss the organizations global operations.  Development work like this and its effects on societies may take years to make itself visible to the outside world, but there are now clear signs of impact that they can point to.  In terms of enhancing income generation capabilities amongst women – in the case of Nigeria, upon entering the programme the average earnings of attendees was £0.19 per day and two years after graduating this has risen to £1.90.  In terms of their health and well-being, 10% of women report practicing family planning upon enrollment compared with 60% two years after graduating.   The ripple effects of the programme are also evident as 87% of women report educating other women about her rights two years after graduating compared with 7% on enrollment.  The impact results that can be measured in other countries where the organization work have proven similar, places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo.

The support networks that Women for Women International emphasizes for their graduates aren’t limited to the networks that form between women who’ve graduated together or women in the same local communities (although these groups clearly have a unique ability to help each other).  The charity encourages women and men from all over the world to sign up to be a sister (or sponsor) to the women in the programme – and this doesn’t mean just donating the money for them to take part in the course, but also writing to the women to show moral support and understanding.

Learning about this initiative, I have personally sponsored women on the programme in various countries. I always find it interesting to make a connection with a woman in another country. A woman who is probably going through very different experiences to myself and yet, many of her concerns and challenges will be similar to those of many women around the world – to look after her family, to do the best for her children, to stand up for her rights and in sadly too many cases, to stand-up to violence. My current sister has eight children and lives in Afghanistan; she has told me how the programme has helped her to help her children and it has been a real pleasure to correspond with her and hear about her life and to tell her about mine, as part of the wider Women for Women International network.

Sponsoring a woman on the programme costs £22 a month. To sponsor a sister and support the programme please click here.

Click here for a video on Women for Women International’s Work

[1] “The Demographic and Health Surveys Program: Nigeria.” USAID.

http://dhsprogram.com/Where-We-Work/Country-Main.cfm?ctry_id=30&c=Nigeria&Country=Nigeria&cn=&r=1

[2] “Table 9: Child Protection.” The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers. UNICEF. Page 81. http://www.unicef.org/sowc2014/numbers/documents/english/SOWC2014_In%20Numbers_28%20Jan.pdf

[3] “Contraceptive Prevalence (percent of women ages 15-49).” The World Bank Data. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.CONU.ZS

[4] “Maternal Mortality Ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births).” The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT

[5] “Maternal Mortality Ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births).” The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT

[6] “The State of the World’s Children 2014.” United Nations Children’s Fund. http://www.unicef.org/sowc2014/numbers/documents/english/SOWC2014_In%20Numbers_28%20Jan.pdf

Empowering Women in Fragile States With Progressio

by Monika Jonusauskiene, WAM UK Steering Committee Member

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Hot off the heels of International Woman’s Day, on March 17th, WAM UK held a joint workshop with Progressio, a leading international development charity, on women empowerment in fragile post-conflict states, such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Progressio supports poor and marginalised people, especially women, to empower themselves in some of the world’s most challenging situations, with over 70 years of experience. If you missed the event, fear not – we have summarised the workshop in this blog.

Hosted by Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett, the senior leadership of Progressio showcased their most impactful work  to a  wide ranging audience, including WAM members, in the illustrious settings of the House of Lords in London. The event was designed to welcome active participation and suggestion for Progressio on its strategic focus and to highlight development solutions, reflective of the charity’s inclusive approach to development and knowledge sharing.

The event was the first of many to mark the 75th year of Progressio’s important work in some of the world’s most fragile and challenging areas. On the evening, Mark Lister, the CEO of Progressio, shared several impactful stories and case studies of women in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Inspiring examples of women in vulnerable settings working with Progressio to influence local policy were told. He shared the example of a group of women who, against the odds, successfully organised themselves to lobby local municipalities to cover a well known hazard of dangerous well-holes. Lister’s account not only highlighted a practical solution to a community problem, it also showcased an example that, with the right support, even some of the most marginalised women’s’ voices can be heard, and bring about meaningful change.

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Presentation by Progressio, photo courtesy of WAM UK

As Progressio highlights, 50% of the world’s poor already live in fragile states and fragile states can make people poor – reinforcing a negative cycle. Moreover, women living in fragile states are some of the most disempowered and poorest of the poor and hence Progressio believes that supporting women in fragile states tackles poverty where it is most needed. Supporting women can help achieve deep-seated social change, transforming fragile states into stronger societies via active civil participation.

The event also discussed some of the key barriers to empowering women in fragile states drawing upon audience experience. WAM members and other members of the audience shared their perception of issues facing women empowerment, globally and at home. In small groups, attendees also discussed how they could individually use their experience and knowledge to help design and implement women empowerment solutions. Bernie Morgan of Progressio described her observation that women often refer to their family members when asked to give an example of a role-model and explained that Progressio was using that knowledge to build development solutions that draw upon the strength of women’s social and familial networks. On the night we also brainstormed various social enterprise ideas to help fundraising at Progressio.

On the night we covered a lot of ground in terms of pressing topics in women’s international development and also how attendees can help support Progressio’s efforts. We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the WAM Members that joined us for this hands-on workshop– it is your very enthusiasm and brain-power that made this event such a success! We invite those who couldn’t attend to learn more about Progressio’s ground breaking work via their website particularly on promoting women’s rights and participation in fragile states.

More about the people behind the event

Mark Lister is CEO of Progressio, having been appointed in 2012. He worked for the charity previously some 20 years ago as a fundraiser. His passion is grass roots international development and ensuring that the voices of the most marginalized are heard at the highest level.

Bernie Morgan is Progressio’s Business Development Manager. When she was CEO of the Community Development Finance Association she was involved in the early days of WAM. Her passion is working for a fairer society for all.

Baroness Ruth Lister is a supporter of Progressio. She was appointed to the Lords in 2011. She is Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University specializing in poverty, social security and women’s citizenship.