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Despite the numerous challenges we faced in 2021, our financial institutions in all six countries have emerged stronger, more resilient, and ready for growth. It was possible due to the courage and commitment of BRAC staff members on the ground who stood by the people and the communities we serve.
2021 can be summed up in three words for BRAC International Microfinance – determination, resilience, and growth.
We have directly witnessed the acute impact of COVID-19 on communities living in poverty. Yet, in the same year, we also witnessed the extraordinary creativity, resolve, and resilience of our clients and communities to face the economic brunt of the pandemic and rebuild their lives.
Operationally, it was a challenging year for us. We had to navigate through situations that were often beyond our control. Yet, we launched new products, made bold decisions, and unlocked new achievements in 2021.
We stayed close to our clients. We listened to their expectations and demands and took steps to meet their needs. We developed new strategies and plans, and implemented them. The following highlights capture key moments and accomplishments of BRAC International Microfinance in 2021:
1. Promoting responsible inclusive finance: We published our first Impact report on 1 September 2021, as part of our continued effort to measure and demonstrate the impact of client-centric microfinance. The report is based on the key results from 2019 and 2020 Lean DataSM Impact Surveys conducted by 60 Decibels, covering 5,000 microfinance clients across seven countries, including Bangladesh.
2. Access to finance for smallholder farmers: Following human-centred design approaches, we developed unique agrifinance products, specifically targeting women smallholder farmers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. The products cover typical agricultural value chains of each country and are tailored to offer convenience for farmers, such as flexible loan repayment modalities based on their harvesting cycle. We are documenting lessons from the pilots through regular monitoring exercises to inform future improvements.
3. Digitisation: The client value proposition is at the core of our digital transformation efforts, with a particular emphasis on reducing the gap in women’s digital financial inclusion. Through piloting alternative repayment channels and digitising core field operations, we intend to provide greater convenience and protection to our clients and improve the quality of our services.
A key highlight of 2021 is the piloting of loan repayments using mobile money among group loan clients in Tanzania. To our staff members, the primary value driver for using mobile loan repayments is the reduction in security risks due to minimised cash handling. Our clients appreciate greater time savings and the convenience of repaying instalments from anywhere, anytime.
4. Expanding our reach: We opened 15 new branches in 2021, across our six microfinance companies combined, further expanding the umbrella of financial inclusion for populations left out from the formal financial system. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, our companies surpassed their loan disbursement figures from the previous year, taking the cumulative disbursement in 2021, to USD 315 million – 30% more than the previous year. By the end of 2021, we reached 684,746 borrowers, 96% of whom are women.
5. Collaborating with BRAC’s development programmes: We continued to work closely with BRAC’s social development programmes to amplify the impact of our services. For instance, the new agrifinance products in Liberia and Sierra Leone were developed and launched in partnership with our agriculture, food security, and livelihoods (AFSL) programmes. These synergies are an integral part of BRAC’s holistic approach to development that enables us to stand by our clients as they bring lasting positive change in their lives.
“Despite the numerous challenges we faced in 2021, our financial institutions in all countries have emerged stronger, more resilient, and ready for growth. It was possible due to the courage and commitment of BRAC colleagues on the ground who stood by the people and the communities we serve at all times” said Shameran Abed, Executive Director of BRAC International, in his first letter to employees of BRAC in the new year.
So let this be our mantra in 2022, in the 50th year of BRAC’s existence, to never stop listening to the people we serve, and never stop learning. No matter how impossible the challenge is, we will always find a way.
Tahjib Shamsuddin is the communications and partnerships manager at BRAC International Holdings B.V.
To know more about BRAC International Microfinance and its entities in Myanmar, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, please visit our website – https://bracinternational.org/microfinance/