The integration of mobile money into microfinance operations is one of the most exciting yet challenging prospects facing microfinance providers today. Mobile money presents a fast, cost-efficient and flexible alternative delivery channel through which money can be transferred, loans can be repaid and savings can be deposited.
You’d be forgiven for thinking microfinance has gone wildly out of fashion. The “development caravan”—defined as the wagon train of poverty interventions that excite donors—has pulled away from micro-lending, drawn to more powerful things like BRAC-style graduation programmes (which aim to “graduate” people from extreme poverty into a sustainable livelihood) and bKash-like mobile money, according to recent coverage in The Economist.
The increasing effects of climate change should be reshaping the way that we think about poverty alleviation and development. For many households, the shocks from a natural disaster can lead to increased economic and social vulnerabilities.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister this week launched the latest addition to the country’s digital curriculum to reach 20 million primary school students, continuing to revolutionise one of the most under-resourced education systems in South Asia.
For Shahina, a poor woman living in the remote rural district of Noakhali in southern Bangladesh, getting cash used to be a long ordeal. Since she didn’t have a mobile wallet, Shahina used to have to travel three kilometres to visit the local bKash agent to collect remittances sent by her husband and two sons, who were working in the city. Sometimes she was unable to make the trip without someone to watch her children. The roads are often impassable after rains and the market is far away. And often the agent charges informal ‘service fees’ before dispensing her cash.
Bangladesh is a fast-growing mobile money market. With bKash, the second-largest mobile money provider in the world, industry growth in the country has reached impressive heights. Between January 2013 and February of this year, the number of mobile money clients in Bangladesh increased five-fold to 25 million users, with the number of daily transactions increasing from 10 million to 77 million.
Last Thursday, the 2015 Gates letter identified mobile money as a transformative innovation for the next 15 years, driving faster improvement of the lives of people in poor countries than has ever been seen.
This winter, BRAC reached out to distribute over 100,000 blankets and warm clothes all over Bangladesh. Lives are lost every year in the country due to the cold spell that affects the poor and homeless who cannot afford warm clothing and appropriate housing. The Give Warmth This Winter campaign was launched in December 2014 with the aim to effectively ensure that warmth reaches those who are in need.
BRAC Microfinance has grown to become one of the largest providers of financial services for the poor. It currently serves 4.4 million clients spread across the country. And this includes one of the most hard-to-reach areas – the chars.