Guest post by George Conard 
Executive Director, Technology for Microfinance 
Grameen Foundation

Microfinance has grown tremendously in the last decade, moving from little NGOs working in tiny villages to large institutions providing loans, savings accounts and insurance to hundreds of thousands of poor women and men.  Grameen Bank in Bangladesh alone has more than seven million clients, while institutions like Grameen Koota in India serve more than 300,000.  In fact, according to the Microcredit Summit Campaign there are more than 3,300 microfinance institutions (MFIs) providing services to more than 155 million poor people and their families globally.

As these MFIs have grown, so has their need for technology to help them manage their overall business operations. Technology plays a key role in Grameen Foundation’s mission to alleviate poverty.  From equipping MFIs with the capacity to manage technology to building and delivering industry-wide solutions like the Mifos™ platform, our goal is to advance the use of technology so all MFIs can better serve more of the world’s poor. 

 

We have seen a promising shift in technology use among MFIs over the past five years. Surveys by theConsultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) show that the share of MFIs leveraging technology to manage their operations grew from less than 50 percent in 2004 to roughly 72 percent in 2009.   Still, we believe the spread of technology can be accelerated in two significant ways:

  • Championing an open, collaborative approach that promotes transparency, access, knowledge transfer, and innovation,
  • Investing in flexible solutions, effective technology management capacity and measurable social and business results.

Through this comprehensive approach to technology investment, we hope to unite the entire industry -- including MFIs, industry stakeholders, funders and technology providers -- behind a common vision that technology is a critical enabler and accelerator of effective microfinance.

Aligning with influential global technology leaders like Microsoft is fundamental to creation of a sustainable ecosystem of microfinance practitioners and technology providers, enabling microfinance to continue to grow and provide more vital services to the world’s poor.  That’s why we were thrilled to join with Microsoft in launching the Microfinance Leadership Summit, a series of education and mentorship forums geared towards helping microfinance executives invest in technology more strategically and manage technology more effectively.  

Microsoft’s support is grounded in its commitment to help NGOs use information technology to increase effectiveness, extend services to communities in need and accelerate their impact.  At the first summit, which was held December 2-3 in the Philippines, Microsoft underscored its support for microfinance with a $1 million software donation to participating MFIs.  

The summit, which drew representatives from 50 MFIs and several local IT providers, is a critical stepping off point for this venture. The experience will help us build replicable models to transfer knowledge and empower microfinance executives with the practical skills to use technology effectively and we look forward to extending this model to other regions over the coming year.