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Technology Innovations at Grameen Foundation USA

By Michael Eber, Program Officer, Grameen Foundation USA

How will easy, affordable and reliable access for a person in a remote village be provided? When will this person have the ability to make a simple one-minute call, send a complaint to the local government, or make a loan payment without undo cost or travel difficulty? The microfinance industry is answering these questions with technological innovations.

With programs like MIS automation, Mifos, and MTN villagePhone Uganda, the Grameen Foundation USA (GFUSA) supports microfinance institutions (MFIs) to improve their overall effectiveness. Microfinance is often considered one of the most effective strategies in the fight against poverty, yet it currently reaches less than five percent of individuals worldwide who could benefit from such services. As microfinance institutions (MFIs) move to scale up their operations, they recognize the need for accurate and comprehensive information for internal planning and a system that will improve their ability to manage funds, sustain their services and maintain accountability to clients and investors. The existing manual and spreadsheet systems widely employed today do not facilitate this information exchange.

GFUSA's approach to automated MIS focuses on installing systems in months rather than years at costs of hundreds of dollars versus thousands of dollars. Prior to automation, a partner's growth was stagnant, with loan officers carrying documents into the field. Often, these were the sole information linking clients' loan information to the MFI. Revision of daily transactions were non-existent, a system of checks and balances could not be completed in less than two weeks, and the executive director did not receive meaningful information to make timely decisions. With an automated MIS, the organization's processes are optimized and efficient, and enable non-sustainable partners to reach self-sufficiency sooner. As a result, each dollar is invested away from administrative tasks and instead, put in the client's hands. The new system is timely and the data is accurate providing easy access to historical data, and providing greater credit monitoring and reporting. These management systems are impacting MFIs and borrowers' lives.

Mifos is a management information system designed to be used by microfinance institutions globally. It is designed to provide a fast and flexible system to better manage large numbers of borrowers. Open Source development offers a credible response to solution development by third party vendors and in-house developers of microfinance operational systems. The grassroots philosophy, low margins, and innovative tendencies of the emerging microfinance industry make it a good match for Open Source Systems development.

For borrowers like Angilina Wandera, these advances are impacting lives. Angilina lives in Buumulimba where she owns a dressmaking shop. When FOCCAS, a villagePhone Uganda partner, provided the opportunity for Angilina to purchase a village phone kit with a microfinance loan under the MTN villagePhone Uganda Project, the entrepreneur accepted. The village phone has turned her dressmaking shop into the height of social activity and increased sales, allowing Angilina to provide for eleven children. Launched in July 2003, MTN villagePhone Uganda currently has 1,500 phones and plans to have 5, 000 phones within the next five years. For a flat rate per minute, villagePhone users are allowed to call anywhere in the world and receive incoming telephone calls for free. The villagePhone saves time, money, and reduces travel costs. The program is now being piloted in Rwanda.

With initiatives like MIS automation, Mifos, and MTN villagePhone Uganda, GFUSA is answering the call of the future.

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The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is a UN organization mandated by the UN General Assembly and its Executive Board to provide capital assistance first and foremost to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). UNCDF invests in LDCs in order to support their efforts to reduce poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially in its two main product lines - Micro finance and Local Development. UNCDF is part of the UNDP-group and hosts the UN Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors.
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