The following is a guest post by Jessica Elisberg from Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX).
Interested in learning about microfinance? Follow our biweekly Twitter discussion group #mifimon (because Microfinance Mondays was too long for Twitter’s 140-character limit!) The aim is to host an exchange of ideas about issues relevant to the microfinance industry. You’re welcome to lend your voice, whether you’re a practitioner in the field or a newbie just learning the basics. Just end your messages with the hashtag #mifimon!
We had a great turn-out for this week’s discussion:@BRAC_USA, @mix_market, @sonjkelly,@SeaMoMicro, @sprungpr, @ibl, @davidcabanban,@zyozyfounder, @smrtblondg, @scotteverett,@Unitus_Steve, @ACCION_USA, @AJRenold, @amycarolwolff, @CFI_ACCION, @CIPEglobal,@OptINnow, @laurakummer.
This week’s #Mifimon featured guest panelist @BRAC_USA and a discussion about “Microfinance Plus” approaches.
BRAC, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, began as a relief agency in 1972. Since then it has expanded its approaches to community development, and is frequently touted as a prime example of integrating financial and non-financial services – “Microfinance Plus.” BRAC is now comprised of a bank, a technological institute, and a university in Bangladesh, and has spread its operations to six countries outside of Bangladesh: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan. BRAC also has branches in the US and the UK, which work together to support the organization’s regional programs.
For more information about BRAC’s “Microfinance Plus” approaches, visit BRAC USA’s homepage. You can also learn more about BRAC’s microfinance operations by visiting theirprofile on MIX Market.
Microfinance + Health
In BRAC’s integrated model of microfinance and health services, members of microfinance groups are trained to be health promoters. Each woman receives two weeks of health training and then visits 150-200 families per month to provide health information and basic health services. These services include health products (basic medicines, soap, etc.) which the health promoters can sell to supplement their income. The topics for health promoter training are determined by surveys that identify regional health risks; common topics include tuberculosis, malaria, maternal health, and child health. BRAC also partners with third party providers to increase their clients’ access to health services. For example, they are currently working with Visionspring in Bangladesh to distribute reading glasses. Through this model, BRAC has 80,000 health promoters reaching nearly 100 million people. The organization has an activeresearch and evaluation division which works to evaluate its programs beyond traditional monitoring and evaluation. Since beginning this health promotion program, BRAC has seen notable declines in maternal and child mortality, as well as lower fertility rates, in Bangladesh.
A number of organizations have been working on integrated microfinance and health service provision, including ProMujer, Opportunity International (MicroEnsure program), Freedom From Hunger (Microfinance and Health Protection Initiative), and Leapfrog Investments’Microinsurance Fund.
Microfinance + Agriculture
In addition to integrating health and financial services, BRAC also integrates agricultural and financial services. The organization trains model farmers from its microfinance groups, who are then responsible for teaching best farming practices to 20+ farmers in their community. They also conduct research to develop higher quality seeds, and in Bangladesh currently operate a seed distribution social enterprise. The best practices that are promoted through BRAC’s agricultural service provision focus on sustainability as well as making use of organic techniques. They also focus on local agriculture markets because these service programs operate in areas that are not food self-sufficient. Overall, increased use of information and communications technology is having a major impact for rural areas and can continue to aid the integration of microfinance and agriculture.
Microfinance + Human Rights
Though data are lacking for showing a causal relationship, the general belief is that access to microfinance can help promote human rights – particularly when organizations focus on outreach to women (as BRAC does). The availability of financial services can reduce the potential for poor women to turn to human trafficking as a means of obtaining money. BRAC also provides legal education to its microfinance clients, teaching them about their rights and offering arbitration and legal aid services.
Integration of microfinance with other services is critical for addressing the many facets of development. As the guest panelist from BRAC USA stated, microfinance won’t end poverty alone, but it does provide a platform to deliver services that give poor people the tools to climb out of poverty. In order to provide these tools effectively, it is necessary to build strong partnerships with service provision organizations.