Newsletter #38: The resilience of microfinance in the face of the Covid-19 crisis


The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation publishes its Newsletter #38, which highlights the impact of Covid-19 and the actions undertaken by the Foundation and the organisations supported to face it. 2020 marked the world with an unprecedented crisis, but what will also remain at the end of this historic year is the resilience of the inclusive finance sector.

Signs of this resilience are presented in the results of the 5th survey carried out since the beginning of the pandemic by the Foundation, ADA and Inpulse among funded microfinance institutions to know the impact of the crisis on their activities and to better support them. A very large majority of the institutions supported expect their activity to growth in 2021, in terms of portfolio volume and number of clients.

The Foundation has also launched an International Coalition to act in concert with other players of the sector and better assist the supported organisations, both financially and through technical assistance missions in this period of crisis. In this issue of the Newsletter, you will discover the testimony of OXUS Kyrgyzstan, a microfinance institution that has benefited from additional support from the Foundation within the framework of the Coalition.

We also share with you the testimony of Daniel Hoarau, IT Manager of Crédit Agricole La Réunion, who went to Bosnia-Herzegovina to support a microfinance institution as part of a Solidarity Bankers mission, a skills volunteering programme open to all employees of the Crédit Agricole Group in favour of organisations financed by the Foundation.

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Ugafode and the financial inclusion for refugees

Supported by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation since 2015, UGAFODE Microfinance Limited is a microfinance institution that offers inclusive financial and non-financial services to low income, but economically active populations in Uganda. UGAFODE is one of the three organisations supported by a programme launched by the Foundation, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the UN Refugee Agency to support the financial inclusion of refugees. Thanks to the financial and technical support, UGAFODE opened a branch in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. Spotlight on an interview to Shafi Nambobi, CEO of UGAFODE.

1. In a few words, what is UGAFODE Microfinance Limited?

UGAFODE Microfinance Limited began in 1994 as an NGO focused on group credit for women and has since transformed into a Microfinance deposit-taking institution regulated by Bank of Uganda. The institution specifically targets low income but economically active population in the country through 7 urban and 12 rural branches, serving over 110,000 savings customers and 8,000 loan clients. We offer a variety of financial services, which include savings, loans and money transfer services with a loan portfolio of €12.1 million and savings volume of €6 million.

2. UGAFODE received an innovative support from the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the UN Refugee Agency in 2019, when it was selected as beneficiary of a programme to support financial inclusion for refugees. Can you explain the initiative and the support UGAFODE received?

Most of the refugees have been discriminated against and denied credit facilities from financial institutions as they are viewed to be too risky, despite being engaged in agriculture plus retail trade and commerce. In March 2020, UGAFODE was the first financial services institution to set up a physical branch in a refugee settlement in Uganda thanks to the programme. Nakivale refugee settlement is the 8th largest in the world hosting over 134,000 refugees from 13 countries. The total project budget is €536,780 with €396,882 coming from Sida and €139,810 contributed by UGAFODE in three years. Furthermore, the Foundation also granted a new loan of €540,000 in July 2020, of which 50% will be used in the framework of the refugees programme, to lend to refugees and host populations.

3. What are the first outcomes of the project?

Clearly, the project has passed the proof-of-concept stage. Since the opening of the Nakivale’s branch, 505 loans totalling to €383,596 have been disbursed between 2nd March 2020 and 31st December 2020, mainly to support small and medium enterprises and agriculture individual loans. It is important to note that all this has been achieved under Covid-19 crisis. The Portfolio At Risk (PAR) is at 1.65% for 1 day and 0% for 30 days, which is remarkable and appreciated. Moreover, we have reach over 5,000 refugees with financial literacy messages and 2,534 clients have opened savings with a total of €65,112. A total of 5,301 refugees have received €776,345 through money transfer services from friends and relatives at the Nakivale branch in the nine months since the branch was opened. We currently employ 21 staff with 8 refugees at Nakivale plus 4 in the Call Centre in Kampala to manage customer complaints in the major refugee languages.

4. How did Covid-19 pandemic affect the project? What measures have been taken to face the crisis?

The project implementation and opening of the branch happened at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Fortunately, as government rendered financial services as essential, the Nakivale branch was able to offer needed services to the settlement clients on a very positive note. UGAFODE has been able to adjust its policies and procedures to serve refugees within the regulation guidelines. We recruited refugee staff at the Call Centre to provide guidance and information to the clients. We also built a branch extension to provide sufficient space to ensure safety of both staff and customers. Furthermore, we granted rescheduling options to the clients with loans to support them in this period of crisis. The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and KIVA supported us to face the crisis. The Foundation granted us flexible budget lines within core lines to cater for crisis’ uncertainties. The Branch operates under strict COVID 19 SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) instituted by the Ministry of Health and Government. We will also be able to buy 3 more motorcycles to enable the branch staff reach out to more clients, easily and faster.

5. What are now the priorities of the project?

There are three priorities :

  1. Scale up financial literacy trainings to raise awareness of at least 8,800 refugees and 8,000 host communities in year 2 and 15,500 refugees and 14,000 host communities in the last year of the project.
  2. Conduct a customer survey to facilitate informed decisions and develop products tailored to refugees.
  3. Roll out the project model to other settlements. After Nakivale, the project is going to be replicated to other refugee settlements at the earliest. Initial feasibility studies have been conducted for Kyaka, Kyangwali and Rwamwanja refugee settlements.

OXUS Kyrgyzstan and its six commandments for the Covid-19 crisis

Interview with Denis Khomyakov, CEO, OXUS Kyrgyzstan

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has worked on several initiatives to better support the microfinance sector. OXUS Kyrgyzstan is one of the microfinance institutions that has benefited from the Foundation’s response to the crisis. Five questions to Denis Khomyakov, CEO of OXUS Kyrgyzstan (OKG)

The Covid-19 crisis has strongly influenced Kyrgyzstan’s economy and your organisation. What measures have you adopted to cope with it?

The crisis has hit the economy and the health system of Kyrgyzstan hard. With border closures and lockdowns, industry and agriculture declined, and transport services collapsed. Although new activities emerged (such as delivery services), Covid-19 affected the country’s economy and by extension our clients and business.

In this context, we were well prepared at OKG. As early as February, we first protected our staff with home-based work or short time working at 2/3 of the salary; which involved the digitalisation of our activities. In May, we adopted both remote and on-site work, thanks to the required anti-Covid measures foreseen in the Covid-19 Business Continuity Plan (BCP), which quickly became operational.

We always made sure to communicate well. To achieve this, we first set up a Covid-19 Committee consisting of members from different departments and myself to structure communication and define operational measures. Several actions were taken: we organised communication with agencies and clients, established loan restructuring and client support, and decided to negotiate with lenders to obtain a grace period on repayments. We also had regular exchanges with various stakeholders: the governance that guided and advised us, the lenders who have done coordinated actions to ensure the continuity of our activities, and the National Bank that provided us with clarifications on the restructuring and exemptions possibilities.

What was the Foundation’s support to strengthen OKG’s response?

The Covid-19 surveys carried out by the Foundation were well organised and always took place at the right time. The Covid-19 Observatory launched by the Foundation, where the results of the surveys and other useful articles are published, has been valuable to us in assessing our situation and position in the region. The Foundation also led OKG’s group of lenders to implement the coordinated restructuring measures and extensions; at the Foundation’s instigation, with regular monitoring by Julie Serret, a Foundation’s Investment Manager, we acted immediately to prepare for the worst-case scenario and agreed terms with the lenders all together.

Which were the main measures implemented by this group of lenders?

The group of lenders decided to extend all payments payable between May and December 2020 for 12 months. The lenders also simplified reporting by collecting information through a common document, which gave us more time to focus on other issues. They also provided us with tools to create a BCP, to restart the business while protecting staff. As a result, we did not really worry about the liquidity situation. We were able to pay our staff salaries and benefits immediately.

What lessons do you draw from this period for the evolution of microfinance?

Here are my six commandments:

  1. Anticipate. Every business should have a BCP for these kind of events. Having an IT disaster recovery plan is very useful – it helped us a lot in reacting to the crisis and keeping the system running.
  2. Take care of the staff; inform them of the situation and the measures decided.
  3. Make decisions. Do not be too late but think twice.
  4. Inform investors and lenders of the situation and provide forecasts (detailed, even if you do not know how things will develop) for the coming months.
  5. Contact your Board of Directors often. Its composition and experience will enable you to get through any type of crisis.
  6. Be digital. Digital channels are valuable for communicating with clients and staff. Covid-19 has pushed us to think and to be more digital.

What are the prospects for OKG in 2021?

The company continues its development and growth. We plan to open two new branches in rural areas and to serve low-income clients. We plan to introduce tablets to speed up loan disbursement, but also to collect less paper and be more environmentally friendly. We also aim at developing green loans to help combat air pollution and intensive energy use in Kyrgyzstan.

Other initiatives such as our work on customer loyalty and the project to support women entrepreneurs initiated in early 2020 have been slowed down by the health crisis. We will take them up again. We will remain a reliable company for our clients, with a zero-exclusion approach!

The will of microfinance institutions to maintain their activities during Covid-19 crisis

ADA, Inpulse and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation have collaborated to monitor and analyse the effects of the Covid-19 crisis for their partner microfinance institutions worldwide. This monitoring was carried out regularly throughout the year 2020 in order to have a better vision of the situation’s evolution. Through this regular and in-depth analysis, we hope to contribute, at our level, to the construction of strategies and solutions tailored to the needs of our partners, as well as to the diffusion and exchange of information between the different players in the sector.

In summary

The results reported in this article come from the fifth survey jointly (1) conducted by ADA, Inpulse and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation. Responses were collected in the second half of December from 74 microfinance institutions (MFIs) located in 42 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EAC-28%), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA-26%), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC-23%), South Asia (14%), and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA-9%) (2).

At the same time, the major constraint that remained was the difficulty in collecting loan repayments, which implied increasing the portfolio at risk. This last point is still valid at year-end, and three quarters of respondents still report an increase in RAP. In added to this is the deterioration of the epidemiological situation in the world in the fall of 2020, as evidenced by the responses gathered in December 2020. The epidemic containment measures taken according to local contexts may once again have consequences on the activities of MFIs and their clients, and a return to normalcy is not yet on the agenda.

However, these new complications and their implications are not new. Thus, they have limited impact on MFIs’ risk indicators. The stability of the increase in PAR, as well as in recovery levels, does not reflect a further major deterioration in MFIs’ financial situation. This relative balance also corresponds to the MFIs’ state of mind as they approach 2021. Despite an unstable context and all the obstacles it entails, the vast majority of our partners expect their activity to grow in the new year, in terms of both portfolio volume and the number of clients. This confidence, which was already evident in the surveys conducted over the summer, is a further sign of the resilience of these institutions.

1. MFIs are always operating in unstable and difficult conditions.

Our last survey, conducted in October, showed a great improvement in the operating environment for MFIs and a gradual recovery in activity in all regions of the world. However, in a large number of countries, even those that appeared to be managing the virus’ spread well, new, more restrictive measures to contain the epidemic were taken in the last quarter of 2020 in response to the new increase in cases. This deterioration is particularly confirmed by our partners in Europe and Asia, where MFIs in South and Central America, Southern Africa and North Africa are reporting an improvement in the situation.

Comparing the responses of our 38 partners who participated in the October and December (3) surveys in the following paragraphs confirm the observation of a return of certain difficulties for MFIs, and are in line with the general results obtained at the end of the year.

First, the virus continues to rapidly spread in some parts of the world, and MFIs are not exempt from it. Thus, we can note an increase in the proportion of MFIs reporting that clients and staff have been infected with Covid-19. This can be seen in the drop from 47% to 32% (17 to 12 MFIs) of MFIs whose clients and staff are not reached by Covid-19. In October, this category included two thirds of the MFIs in Sub-Saharan Africa (10/15) and the vast majority of those in South Asia (5/6). In December, the share of MFIs in Sub-Saharan Africa was almost stable (9/15), while those in Asia dropped to 50% (3/6). Finally, the category “more than 20% of staff were infected” rose from 0% to 13% (5 MFIs) over the period, with the vast majority in the Europe and Central Asia region (4 MFIs).

In terms of operational constraints, results are relatively stable between the two periods. The list of MFIs indicating that they no longer face operational constraints remains more or less the same (39%), and is concentrated in Central Asia and West Africa. It should be added that collecting loan repayments (42% of the sample) and disbursing new loans (32%) remain the two main difficulties encountered by MFIs.

Difficulty getting in touch with clients, both in branches and in the field, was considered a consequence of the crisis for only 16% (6 MFIs) of this sample in October, and this figure increased in December (24%, 9 MFIs). In detail, it should be noted that the location of MFIs that highlight this constraint has evolved over

the last two months. Thus, they were particularly located in Latin America and the Caribbean and East Africa in October. In December, this point was raised by MFIs in Southeast Asia (3/6), Eastern Europe (2/5) and West Africa (2/8). At the general level of the survey, 30% of the MFIs indicated that they were once again limited in their activities, despite a gradual recovery.

2. Therefore, customers remain exposed

As the MFIs testify through these surveys, the uncertain and particularly unstable context also weighs heavily on MFI clients. Logically, the difficulty in collecting reimbursements for MFIs, for example, is closely linked to the difficulties encountered by the clients themselves. The activity of a large part of them has still not restarted or remains slowed down by the crisis context: our last survey highlighted in particular the tourism and trade sectors as the most affected sectors (4). In December 2020, the proportion of MFIs indicating that more than 90% of their clients have restarted their activity remains in the minority (23%, 17 MFIs). However, 46% (34 MFIs) of MFIs indicate that clients who have resumed their activity represent between 70% and 90% of their portfolio. Only 11% (8 MFIs) of respondents indicated that less than 50% of their clients are able to work again. There are, however, some regional disparities in these results: in South Asia, Europe and Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, at least 80% of respondents report that more than 70% of clients have returned to work. In the MENA and Latin America and the Caribbean regions, this share decreases to 43% and 41% respectively.

Our partners’ responses also make it possible to continue profiling the customers most affected by the crisis. First of all, it should be noted that a large proportion of the MFIs surveyed rule out the possibility that there is a category of clients that is more affected than the others, whether in terms of gender, location (urban or rural) or age. In detail, 42% (31 MFIs) of respondents believe that all of their clients are impacted identically, and 51% (38 MFIs) indicate that there is no significant difference in repayments based on these criteria. Overall, the idea that there is a difference in exposure to the impact of the crisis according to age is also dismissed. While some MFIs say they see differences according to age categories (-30, 30-50, 50+), none of them stand out.

Among the MFIs that perceive a difference in the impact of the crisis on their clients (36 MFIs), one criterion stands out for the most part: 76% (27 MFIs) believe that the most impacted populations are urban populations. The same proportion claims that this difference is reflected in loan repayments. These responses confirm our previous results for the most affected sectors, which are definitely urban. The fact that the criterion of rurality is hardly mentioned goes in the same direction, and echoes the agricultural sector, revealed during the surveys by our partners as a sector less affected by the crisis linked to Covid-19 than the others, and towards which a certain number of MFIs imagined they wanted to move. Finally, a last characteristic is mentioned by MFIs reporting disparities in the impact of the crisis: 36% (13 MFIs) perceive that women are more affected than men and therefore by default may have more difficulty repaying their loans. It should be noted that a portion of the respondents serve only women clients, which logically makes them the most affected population in the sector.

3. Now well-identified challenges for MFIs

MFIs are now aware of activity levels that are still at half-mast or of the measures implemented by the local authorities to contain Covid-19. In addition, to which they are adapting. Thus, the financial difficulties mentioned by the MFIs are very stable from October to December 2020 and do not highlight any new trends. Two of the four most cited difficulties remain linked to the MFIs’ declining profitability, due to the increase in provisioning expenses (45% of the respondents, 33 MFIs) and the non-collection of interest (55%, 41 MFIs). These two points are closely linked to the most striking difficulty of the crisis for MFIs during this period: the increase in portfolio at risk (74%, 55 MFIs).

In December 2020, 74% (55 MFIs) of respondents indicated that more than 70% of clients were repaying their loans, and 37% reported client repayment levels above 90%. On the other hand, only 9% report that less than 50% of clients are able to repay their loans, which is in line with clients’ recovery levels. These levels are reflected in the level of portfolio at risk of MFIs: in December 2020, 47% of respondents (35 MFIs) indicated that PAR 30 had increased without doubling, 16% that it had doubled, and 12% that it had more than doubled.

Nevertheless, this risk configuration seems to have broadly stabilized in the last quarter of 2020, despite the additional constraints presented above (see Fig. 7). In the common sample for the October and December surveys, we still find a quarter of MFIs that are not affected by this increase in portfolio at risk. At the same time, there are no MFIs added to the list of MFIs whose PAR 30 has more than doubled. Transfers from one category to another over the October-December period are for the vast majority between a stable PAR and a PAR that increases without doubling. This indicates that the deteriorations in the local contexts previously presented would therefore not affect all clients, thus having only a moderate impact on the MFIs’ risk indicators.

This stability coincides with the MFIs’ new objectives at the beginning of the new year. The crisis has disrupted their operations, and has inevitably had an impact on their projections. Thus, 58% of MFIs report having updated their business plans and growth objectives for the coming months and years. On the strength of these crisis gains and a better understanding of the context, the vast majority of MFIs still plan to continue to develop in 2021. Thus, 80% of those surveyed expect their portfolio volume to increase this year, while 15% expect it to stagnate and 5% expect it to decline. In addition, this portfolio increase should also be followed by an increase in the number of clients for 75% of the MFIs expecting growth in the new year. A new hopeful signal, therefore, but also a sign of ambition on the part of institutions determined to continue moving forward in 2021.


(1) The first four surveys of ADA’s partners, Inpulse and the Grameen Agricole Foundation are available here : //, // and //¬
(2) The number of responding MFIs by region is the following: SSA 19 MFIs; LAC 17 MFIs; EAC 21 MFIs, South Asia 10 MFIs; MENA: 7 MFIs
(3) The sample size is 38 MFIs: 6 in South Asia, 10 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 6 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1 in MENA, and 15 in Sub-Saharan Africa.
(4) //; //

Travel diary of a Solidarity Banker in Bosnia-Herzegovina

By Daniel Hoarau, IT Manager, Crédit Agricole de la Réunion

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A. in 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills-based volunteering programme open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees in favour of microfinance institutions and social impact enterprises supported by the Foundation. Discover the interview of Daniel Hoarau, Solidarity Banker of Crédit Agricole Reunion, who left for Bosnia in 2020 to support Partner Microfinance Foundation (Partner MKF).

A dream of discoveries

Once upon a time, an employee of the CA Regional Bank of Reunion Island dreamed of committing to a solidarity project and discovering other cultures and companies. An employee and friend told him about the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and its Solidarity Bankers programme. This is the beginning of my story as a Solidarity Banker. I applied and was selected to support Partner MKF, a microfinance institution in Bosnia, in structuring its IT system.

Partner is a local microcredit organisation that offers banking products and services to people excluded from the traditional banking system. Today, Partner has more than 40,000 clients, 46% of whom are women and 86% live in rural areas. It is an organisation funded by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation since 2019.

The mission preparation was marked by regular exchanges with the teams of Partner and the Foundation. I was also able to study several documents and evaluate the existing IT infrastructure as well as the first evolution plans considered by the institution. I was ready for my mission in the field.

Departure for Bosnia

The departure is announced, after several adjournments due to the Covid-19, thanks to the determination of the Foundation and the logistic teams of Crédit Agricole SA. Covid-19 test planning obliges, the flight plan is set up: Saint-Denis, Paris, Vienna, Sarajevo, Tuzla: a 24 hour trip, departure on 31/10 at 25°C, arrival on November 1st in Tuzla at only 10°C.

First contact on arrival: Salih, the driver, or when two English beginners meet. Arrived safely, the light: Ivana, the interpreter in charge of guiding me, thanks to her all becomes simple and fluid. She will be the marker of the whole mission.

The next day, I discovered Partner: the teams and the welcome are wonderful; they all give me confidence and allow breaking the ice both literally and figuratively. The mission is short and we have to be efficient. Multiple interviews with different department managers (information system, human resources, compliance and credit) are followed by an audit of the technical installations, an analysis of user needs and the preliminary scoping of the project. Over the days, the light shines and the recommendations appear. The last step is a review meeting with Partner’s management: analyses are presented and the IT structure evolution plan is validated.

Bosnians have a very different work routine: it starts at 8 am, breakfast break at 10 am, no lunch break between 12 and 2 pm and work ends at 5 pm. This leaves the opportunity for many convivial moments organised by Partner. Dinners, moments of discovery of the Bosnian culture, customs, and even the ascension of a local mountain gave even more meaning to my mission!

Back to Reunion Island

After another 24-hour adventure for the return flight, I arrived to Reunion Island. I have finalised my 34-page report, which aims at lighting up Partner’s decisions for the framing of its system and infrastructure.

I come back enriched by this experience with teams committed to the company’s values: Responsibility, Fairness and Honesty. Values shared by Crédit Agricole Reunion, Crédit Agricole SA and the Foundation that have made this experience possible.

“When you want to build a ship, do not begin by gathering wood, cutting boards, and distributing work, but awaken within the heart of man the desire for the vast and endless sea”, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

I wish to thank all the people from Crédit Agricole Reunion, who contributed to make this mission possible; Jasmin Smigalovic, Selma Jahic and all the Partner teams, without forgetting Ivana Bilić the interpreter, for their welcome; Caroline Brand and Carolina Viguet from the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation for their support in the mission; and Aurélie Cacciotti from Crédit Agricole SA for the logistical support.