Interviews

Latino Television Series with a Message Sees Early Success

November 3, 2011
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Editor’s Note: Recently, Chris Cuellar spoke with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, one of the thought influencers and industry leaders in microfinance with a focus on female entrepreneurs and customers in 27 countries. As WWB notes, the organization not only provides women access to financial services but “also control over their assets.”

With popular sitcom / dramas like Modern Family and Parenthood achieving major success in the United States, the Dominican Republic is about to receive their own television series with a positive and serious message.

Cue Contracorriente. 

Contracorriente is a television series created by the Women’s World Banking, in partnership with Banco ADOPEM, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Reach Global, and Puntos de Encuentro.  The series is a part of WWB’s initiative “Safe Places to Save” sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and aims to help microfinance institutions introduce savings accounts to low income clients.

After its first airing, the episode garnered over 130,000 views, which, according the Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, was “about double what we were expecting.  Based on the ratings, it was the most watched show in that 11 AM – 12 PM timeslot.”

This “off the charts viewership” is a major win for the team, but they still has a long way to go to validate their hypothesis that financial education can be effectively communicated and actions can be changed through a television series. Read more »

Interview with Ted London (Part 2 of 2)

July 5, 2011
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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ted London, a Senior Research Fellow at the William Davidson Institute and faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He recently co-authored the book Next Generation Business Strategies for Businesses for the Bottom of the Pyramid which collaborates with a handful of major players in the social enterprise industry to move the discussion forward from simply finding a fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) to creating a fortune with the BoP. This is part two of a two part interview

RP: You speak of risk: the risk that you bear, but also the risk that you share with others, whether it’s your consumer or your partner. On the flip side there’s also the risk to the investors as well. We have seen and learned from Acumen this concept of ‘patient capital’. What are your thoughts on mixing investors with different success metrics? If your goal is to prove that there is a market based solution, the profit may come in different shapes and forms as compared to your traditional multinational for-profit organizations. When you’re starting up, should you focus purely on patient capital vs. traditional investors or mixing the two?

TL: The simple answer is ‘it depends’, but I think there are two big aspects to this issue. One is the need for better transparency across different sectors. In some sense we’re using a venture capital model or applying the power of markets and free enterprise in the patient capital world often without the explicit recognition that this is subsidized capital. We’re providing subsidized capital to help catalyze these enterprises which I think is a fantastic idea that makes a lot of sense.
Read more »

Interview with Ted London (Part 1 of 2)

June 27, 2011
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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ted London, a Senior Research Fellow at the William Davidson Institute and faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He recently co-authored the book Next Generation Business Strategies for Businesses for the Bottom of the Pyramid which collaborates with a handful of major players in the social enterprise industry to move the discussion forward from simply finding a fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) to creating a fortune with the BoP. This is part one of a two part interview

Rising Pyramid: In your first chapter you outline six key principles that BoP venture leadership teams should apply to increase their chance of success. They are based around the stages of design, pilot, and scale. I agree with you, and to me it makes sense, but in your opinion, how or is this fundamentally different from how you would organize a traditional for profit business?

Ted London: It’s a good question. Obviously the three stages are pretty natural in venture development in that you want to design first, then pilot followed by sustainability and scale. In some respects the principles that underlie these stages are relevant to traditional business, but their application is quite different in the BoP context.
Read more »

Mobilizing Savings Through Insurance

May 19, 2011
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Editor’s Note: Recently, I spoke with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, one of the thought influencers and industry leaders in microfinance with a focus on female entrepreneurs and customers in 27 countries. As WWB notes, the organization not only provides women access to financial services but “also control over their assets.” This post is the among of several topical discussions centered on the many financial, cultural and societal issues facing women in developing markets. (Earlier posts can be found herehere and here.).

Rising Pyramid: Let’s talk about savings incentives and methods to encourage asset accumulation. What is your opinion of match-savings programs to encourage savings amongst the poor?

Another asset accumulation method, conditional cash transfers, has been successfully implemented (most notably in Brazil); is there the potential to couple conditional cash transfers with a savings program, in which the cumulative amount of cash transferred goes up as the frequency of withdrawls goes down?

Mary Ellen Iskenderian: I think this is some of the cutting edge stuff that people are talking about. There is huge value in both matched savings and in tying savings to conditional cash transfers. There is a conversation going on in the financial inclusion work that the UN is doing about making savings behavior one of the behaviors that is encouraged through the conditional cash transfers. The way it works is that if you save a certain amount, you will get a cash transfer, which is in effect a matched savings deposit. There is a lot of possibility here.

That being said, we’re not seeing a real dearth of savings amongst the very poor.  In the Women’s World Banking network we see households saving 15 to 20 percent of their monthly income.

The issue that we’re seeing is that the savings aren’t being mobilized. Savings tend to be held in order to prevent against that catastrophic illness or that crop failure that could just wipe them out. This leads us to an interesting question: If you could take care of that problem, through a much much smaller monthly insurance premium payment, what would happen to that other capital that is being saved? Read more »

Moving Beyond Microcredit – While Keeping Lending Costs In Check

April 21, 2011
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Editor’s Note: Recently, Bryan Farris spoke with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, one of thought influencers and industry leaders in microfinance with a focus on female entrepreneurs and customers in 27 countries. As WWB notes, the organization not only provides women access to financial services but “also control over their assets.” This post is the second of several topical discussions centered on the many financial, cultural and societal issues facing women in developing markets (earlier posts can be found on NextBillion.net here and here).

The microfinance sector has realized the need to move beyond microcredit, however new services are expensive to offer.  And yet, critics often cite high interest rates when claiming that microcredit exploits the poor.  In this discussion, Mary Ellen Iskenderian and I grapple with these issues and more.  How can the MFI sector reduce costs and expand offerings? How will MFIs encourage the poor to save for the long run? Can subsidized programs, like match savings and financial education programs, have an impact on behavior?

Rising Pyramid: There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether high interest rates in microfinance are ethical.  I’m more concerned with whether they are effective.  From the point of view of a CFO, any debt that a business takes on should be put to use in an activity that earns a return higher than the cost of debt.  The cost of microfinance debt is extremely high, which makes it very challenging for small businesses to earn a sufficient return to actually climb out of debt using the loan.  The business may be able to pay off the loan, but may not be retaining any earnings or accumulating capital.

There are several stories, like the one you described in your interview with Dowser, in which a woman takes out and repays several successive loans and is successful in growing a business.  Clearly the loans have been beneficial to some, but it seems to me that the high cost of debt will make it challenging for most businesses to deploy that capital in a way offers a return sufficiently high enough that the financial instrument is accretive to capital.

How do you solve the problem of high interest rates? Should we be looking for a way to provide subsidies to high rates?  Or, is it better to encourage transition to savings as a vehicle for asset accumulation? Read more »

Overcoming Gender Bias in Mobile Money

April 7, 2011
By

Recently I had the chance to speak with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, one of the thought influencers and industry leaders in microfinance with a focus on female entrepreneurs and customers in 27 countries. As WWB notes, the organization not only provides women access to financial services but “also control over their assets.” This post is the first of several topical discussions centered on the many financial, cultural and societal issues facing women in developing markets.

Rising Pyramid: Let’s discuss the mobile money savings solution; in Kenya M-Pesa partnered with Equity Bank to provide savings and they take deposits. This leads me to ask-who should be partnering with mobile money providers: microfinance organizations, or a larger organization, like Women’s World Bank, that could provide the same savings program across multiple mobile money providers? Read more »

Micro Home Solutions: Ensuring a Lasting Impact (Part 7)

March 23, 2011
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The following is part 7 of 7 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on Micro Home Solutions in New Delhi.  Please refer to part 1, part 2part 3part 4, part 5, and part 6.  Josiah had a chance to sit down with with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions, based in New Delhi and here is what transpired:

Josiah, RP:  So what is the number one thing you need to have to be successful in social enterprise? Is there one thing that stands out to you?

Aden, MHS:  This is kind of cliché and maybe too typical but for me it’s all about the people. You have to have the right people in play in order for things to fall into place.
Read more »

Micro Home Solutions: How to Get More Involved (Part 6)

March 22, 2011
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The following is part 6 of 7 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on Micro Home Solutions in New Delhi.  Please refer to part 1, part 2part 3part 4, and part 5.  Josiah had a chance to sit down with with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions, based in New Delhi and here is what transpired:

Josiah, RP:  In terms of identifying and recruiting talent, or on the flip side, from the perspective of professionals interested in going into this space [social enterprise], any words of advice for how people can best position themselves?

Aden, MHS:  I think that one of the main characteristics of this sector is that it’s really meant to combine the skills and mechanisms that are used in the private sector and apply to the goals of the social sector. Because of that, having a combination of experiences is really important. For example, try to get the perspective of what’s happening on the ground, but also gain that professionalism and hard skills that comes from working in the private sector.
Read more »

Micro Home Solutions: Scaling Impact through Collaboration (Part 3)

March 17, 2011
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The following is part 3 of 7 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on Micro Home Solutions in New Delhi.  Please refer to part 1 and part 2. Josiah had a chance to sit down with with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions, based in New Delhi and here is what transpired:

Josiah, RP:  So it seems that MHS plays a very central role in bringing multiple parties together?

Aden, MHS:  Yes, there are multiple projects housed under MHS’s roof and the idea is that we can be a catalyst/facilitator for the sector by bringing together the partners who aren’t coming together otherwise. In most cases that would include government, private sector and NGOs. The NGOs really have the community relationships that are important to bring into the equation. Aside from that we are doing some straight policy advocacy along with smaller projects.

Josiah, RP:  What kind of smaller projects?

Aden, MHS:  For example, we’ve built a semi-permanent homeless shelter for migrant men. The government of India has been talking a lot recently about the homeless and shelters. We feel there are much better ways to build and manage these shelters, including a business model that makes it more sustainable for all parties involved. We partnered with an NGO to build a shelter with a different kind of design.
Read more »

Micro Home Solutions: Design, Affordability and Community (Part 2)

March 16, 2011
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The following is part 2 of 7 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on Micro Home Solutions in New Delhi.  Please refer to part 1. Josiah had a chance to sit down with with Aden Van Noppen of Micro Home Solutions, based in New Delhi and here is what transpired:

Josiah, RP:  So let’s talk a little about Micro Home Solutions. I’ve browsed through the website and thought it looked really interesting. If you were to summarize the objectives and goals of the organization for our readers at home, what would they be?

Aden, MHS:  Our overall goal is building inclusive cities in developing countries around the world, starting with India. We’re trying to do that primarily through the platform of housing, which ends up also being tied to related areas like infrastructure development, access to basic services like water, sanitation, etc. We develop projects based on three major principles of design, affordability and community. We saw that typically the affordable housing sector in India is very siloed and you don’t often see the financial partners, the real estate partners and the affordable design people, and community groups coming together.

Josiah, RP:  What is the biggest gap MHS is trying to address? Read more »

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