COVID-19 : The Foundation’s governance during the health crisis

 

Spotlight on the interview with Sylvie Lemmet, Chairman of the Finance, Risks and Impact Committee, Jérôme Brunel, Chairman of the Compliance and Internal Control Committee, and Bernard Lepot, Chairman of the Investment Committee.

Looking back on the outbreak of the crisis, could you tell us how you perceived it at the time?

Bernard Lepot: We all understood as early as March that we were in unknown territory for an indefinite period of time, with systemic consequences that were difficult to grasp. All continents were affected, including Africa and Asia, where we have most of our activities. The risk of serious difficulties for our partners was likely, with possible large provisions for the Foundation. Despite this lack of visibility, the Board had to define the Foundation’s position quickly, which we summarise as follows: support for our existing partners and consultation with other international lenders.

Sylvie Lemmet: Last March, we were completely in the dark. We felt that the crisis was going to hit developing countries hard and that we were going to face potential bankruptcies and losses for the Foundation. We were worried for our partners.

Jérôme Brunel: I feared that the impact of the pandemic, which I thought would affect developing or less developed emerging countries more strongly (though this has not been confirmed) would weaken the solidity of the Foundation’s counterparties, leading to a substantial amount of provisions. This has not materialised up to now thanks to the resilience of the organisations supported and the coordination and joint actions of the various stakeholders in the inclusive finance sector.

What has been the role of the Committee you chair in this context?

JB: The Compliance and Internal Control Committee has played its role by adapting the internal control system to the increase in Covid-19 risks, organising training on debt restructuring methods, adapting the provisioning policy and collecting more information on the end clients of our counterparties. But to be honest, it was the Finance, Risks and Impact Committee that had the primary role in mobilising the Foundation’s governance to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

SL: The Finance, Risks and Impact (FRI) Committee already includes the Chair of the Compliance and Internal Control Committee among its members. Last year, we immediately felt the need to make the link with the Investment Committee, and its Chair also sat on the FRI Committee. The development of governance with this ad hoc committee has been extremely positive. It enabled us to build together, and with the Foundation’s Management Committee, a good understanding of the overall situation (the impact on the portfolio, liquidity and margin) and an intervention doctrine, which we developed as the crisis progressed. The objective is to provide the necessary oxygen to our partners while monitoring the risk of default.

BL: Once the roadmap was established, the Investment Committee continued to meet every month, but by videoconferencing, with a reduced number of new projects of course, but with close monitoring of the maturity extensions granted to microfinance institutions that requested them and, more generally, enhanced risk monitoring. The Board also decided to set up an ad hoc committee consisting of the three chairmen of the specialized committees to examine and discuss possible adjustments to the Foundation’s strategy. This body met several times to exchange views with the teams and to provide input to the Board before decisions were made.

What lessons have you learned from this experience one year later, and what prospects do you see for the Foundation in 2021?

SL: One year on, I am above all reassured by the quality of the men and women who make up the Foundation’s executive team and who have been able to respond to an unprecedented situation with great flexibility, professionalism and commitment. We were able to control the financial risks without abandoning our partners in difficulty, and to test the resilience of the organisations we supported, which reassures us as to their quality and as well as the resistance of the microfinance sector to shocks. This is a point that needs to be explored in order to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that have been implemented locally and the real social impact behind the good financial performance. We all hope for a return to a less chaotic situation and the resumption of activities in 2021. We will have to learn the lessons of remote instructions and juggle with an activity that seems to be picking up though travel remains limited. The pandemic is not yet behind us, but I hope it will remain under control in the countries in which we operate.

JB: The health crisis has shown, first, the solidity of the commitments undertaken by the Foundation, i.e. the judicious choice of its counterparts. Secondly, the quality of the response of the team and its Managing Director to adapt to this unprecedented context, helped by the mobilisation of its Board and its specialised committees. Finally, the Foundation’s commitment to continue its lending activity despite this «hostile» environment and to support microfinance institutions through an international initiative to harmonise the policies of other lenders and a precise dialogue with each of the borrowers.

BL: One year on, it is worth underscoring the remarkable mobilisation and adaptation of the Foundation’s teams, with great collaboration between the various functions. We should also note the great resilience of our portfolio to date, which has perhaps exceeded our expectations. Good information/involvement on the part of the Board has enabled it to express its full support and solidarity with the Foundation’s strategy and actions. Things are still very uncertain for 2021, with perhaps a better visibility in the 4th quarter, but again nothing is certain. Let’s hope that 2021 will be a year of transition that will enable us to resume our development activities in 2022.

Download the 2020 Integrated Report here.

 

In 2020, the Foundation strengthened its technical assistance activity

By Violette Cubier, TA Manager, Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation

We continued to develop our third business line in 2020, namely technical assistance for our partners. Our technical assistance missions have contributed to the institutional strengthening and resilience of our partners in this time of crisis.

The Foundation supports its partners through various technical assistance programmes. This support covers a variety of issues such as operations and human resources management, governance, financial management, strategic planning, digitalisation of operations and products, launch of new services, risk management and social and environmental performance management.

The Foundation mobilised to provide close support to its partners throughout 2020. The technical assistance missions were adapted to respond to the priorities and emergencies that the partners had to face (liquidity management and portfolio quality, business continuity plans), but also to support them in their business recovery, their strategic reflections and the transitions necessary to face the crisis (digitalisation, strengthening of activities in rural areas). We also set up joint actions with other actors such as SIDI and the Fefisol fund, with whom we have organised training for some fifty organisations in Africa.

The year 2020 was also marked by a strong development of our technical assistance activities, with an increase in existing programmes and the launch of new programmes. The latter enabled the Foundation to extend the geographical areas of operation in technical assistance and to address more actively key issues such as the development of rural economies, adaptation to climate change or the financial inclusion of refugees.

The coordination of technical assistance activities is now a major focus of the Foundation’s operation for contributing to the institutional strengthening of its partners and supporting them in their economic, ecological and digital transitions, thereby increasing their impact on the ground.

More information: //www.gca-foundation.org/en/technical-assistance

Download the 2020 Integrated Report here

Solidarity Bankers mission in favor of Oshun Senegal

A new logistical support/purchasing mission in favor of Oshun Senegal is to be filled. The mission will last 10 days, including 4 remote and 6 field days in France and Senegal from June 2021, first remotely from France and then on the ground in Senegal if health conditions allow it.

Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A., open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees. The objective is twofold: on the one hand, to provide technical assistance to microfinance institutions and social impact enterprises financed by the Foundation, and on the other hand, to value the skills of Group employees who want to invest themselves in projects with strong social impact. The missions can be conducted during the working time of the Solidarity Banker (sponsorship by the employer of the Solidarity Banker) AND / OR during the holidays (volunteering).

Founded in March 2018, Oshun is a social enterprise that offers inclusive solutions, particularly by way of solar-powered water kiosks, allowing the most sensitive populations an access to clean water while fostering the establishment of a local community and virtuous ecosystem. Oshun Senegal is completing a process of administrative and HR structuring and wishes to strengthen its support functions, especially in logistics and purchasing.

The selected Crédit Agricole expert will support Oshun from June 2021 in setting up procedures to simplify and secure logistics, purchasing and supply management and to strengthen the staff concerned. The Solidarity Banker must have a solid experience in logistics and purchasing management and, ideally, a training and coaching experience in the purchasing field.

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How to apply?

To see the detailed offers of the missions:

  1. Go to the CA Solidaires website “Finding your mission
  2. Enter in the search bar: “Grameen Foundation”. All the Solidarity Bankers offers will appear!
  3. Click on the offer of your choice. You will find all the information you need for your application.

More information: cecile.delhomme@credit-agricole-sa.fr

The Foundation publishes its 2020 Integrated Report

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation publishes its 2020 Integrated Report which traces the highlights and key figures of this year marked by the health and economic crisis linked to Covid-19. Thanks to close monitoring and collaboration with its partners and other players in the inclusive finance sector, the Foundation ended the year with solid results.

As of December 31, 2020, the Foundation followed an outstanding portfolio to €81.2 million in favour of 75 microfinance institutions and 12 social enterprises in 39 countries. Women entrepreneurship and the development of rural economies remain at the heart of the Foundation’s action: 73% of the 7.3 million beneficiaries of the institutions supported are women and 85% live in rural areas.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Foundation has carried out surveys of the organisations supported to understand the impact of the crisis and better meet their needs[1]. The Foundation also initiated a global coordination with other actors around the key principles to protect microfinance institutions and their clients in the face of the crisis. To date, 30 donors, investors and platforms have signed the engagement of the Coalition.

Thanks to this permanent dialogue with its partners and peers, the Foundation has implemented several measures adapted to support the sector. It has thus granted rollovers to 29 partners, mainly microfinance institutions, for a total amount of €9.4 million. In 2020, the Foundation also supported the organisations through 93 technical assistance missions[2], on priority topics such as business continuity plans but also on issues such as digitisation which is essential for the resumption of their activities.

The Foundation was able to count on the support of its funders to strengthen its action in 2020. It obtained funding from Proparco, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Crédit Agricole CIB to establish a Covid-19 envelope and support the economic recovery of its partners.

In 2020, the Foundation also worked alongside the Crédit Agricole Group. Via a new cooperation scheme with Crédit Agricole Romania, new funding granted thought the FIR –A CA’s microfinance fund–, and a skills volunteering programme called Solidarity Bankers, the Foundation and Crédit Agricole have stepped up their actions for financial inclusion of the most vulnerable populations. A mission that will remain a priority during 2021 which represents a year of recovery.

Download the Report

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[1] The results of the surveys and other resources are published in the Foundation’s Covid-19 Observatory: //www.gca-foundation.org/en/covid-19-observatory/
[2] More information on the Foundation’s technical assistance offer: //www.gca-foundation.org/en/technical-assistance/

Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation’s role to respond to the crisis

©Godong

Soukeyna Ndiaye Bâ has been a Director of the Foundation’s Board since its creation. Engaged in the promotion of women entrepreneurs for more than 20 years, she is also Executive Director of INAFI (International Network of Alternative Financial Institutions) a global network of organisations that support microfinance programmes. Abdul Hai Khan is a Foundation’s Director and the Managing Director of Grameen Trust. He is also Board member of diferent microfinance and social business organisations in Australia, Bangladesh, China, France, India, Kosovo, Italy, USA and Yemen.

1/ Directors of the Foundation, you are also both international experts and microfinance practitioners. Can you share with us your analysis of the crisis and more particularly on the territories that you know well?

Soukeyna Ndiaye Bâ: In Africa, the current toll is close to 100,000 deaths and more than 3.7 million people infected, but these figures do not reflect the reality in the continent because there is no mass screening due to a lack of resources. Because of restrictions and border closures to contain the pandemic, the economic crisis has not spared the African continent. In this context, small-scale entrepreneurs, smallholder farmers and informal sector workers are directly afected. On the front line: women, both in rural and urban areas, who are very active in the informal sector. In Senegal, for example, about 94% of women entrepreneurs operate in the informal sector. In rural areas, in addition to the gravity of the economic situation, the already alarming health precariousness and dificulty in accessing healthcare may worsen.

Abdul Hai Khan: Current death toll in Asia is approximately 417,000, while the number of infected cases stands at more than 26 million. Schools in East Asia and the Pacific have been completely closed for more than 25 million children for almost an entire year. Covid-19 has slowed growth in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) as it has significantly reduced economic activity, including tourism and trade. Growth in the AEP region, excluding China, is forecast to slow to 1.3% in 2020 from 4.7% in 2019. Millions of households have been afected by the loss of jobs and income (including remittances), while they still have to cover basic expenses or service debt. Consequently, the percentage of poor people has increased.

2/ How do microfinance and social business mitigate the efects of the economic crisis?

AHK: By improving access to essential services, microfinance institutions and social businesses strengthen the resilience of low-income populations, including small-scale entrepreneurs from the formal and informal sectors and smallholder farmers. They are therefore essential to protect the most vulnerable populations, severely afected by the efects of the economic and health crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. To cope with this pandemic, many microfinance institutions have innovated and increased their support to their clients. For example, they have restructured loans to better support the most afected clients and accelerated their digital transformation, by introducing or improving cashless transactions through mobile banking channels and by creating virtual branches.

3/ What is the outlook for the years to come?

AHK: The magnitude of the damage that Covid-19 pandemic has brought in the world is huge. However, it ofers us a unique opportunity to improve, or even redefine, our economic structures by relaying on social and environmental consciousness. We should not call it a ‘recovery’ programme but a ‘reconstruction’ programme. In this comprehensive reconstruction plan, social entrepreneurship can play an essential role, as it can be a lever to transform unemployed people into entrepreneurs. Financial inclusion can help economic recovery go hand in hand with social development.

SB: The world is threatened with recession and food and social crisis. Building the «after Covid» world must therefore be multi-sectoral and focused on innovation. We must learn from the problems encountered during this crisis: better assess and anticipate risks, strengthen our socio-economic models and rethink our public policies to better protect the most vulnerable populations. Women entrepreneurs will have a key role to play in boosting the economy. Supporting female entrepreneurship will be a lever for women empowerment and the development of rural and urban economies. Digital will be a major tool to encourage entrepreneurship, modernise, develop and innovate.

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation acts for financial inclusion in India

©Crédit Agricole/Getty

With about 190 million adults without a bank account, India has –after China– the second-largest unbanked population in the world (World Bank). The microfinance sector has become a key instrument to fight financial exclusion in the country by providing financial and non-financial services to people excluded from the banking system. The sector has shown spectacular development: it reaches 60 million borrowers, for a total portfolio of 27 billion euros.

To support the development of microfinance in India, Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has granted a loan of 3 million euros over 3 years to Pahal Financial Services Private Limited, an Ahmedabad (Gujarat) based microfinance institution. Since its creation in 2011, Pahal has served nearly 750,000 customers, mainly women borrowers, across 167 branches with total assets under management of 81 million euros. Today, Pahal is one of the fastest growing microfinance institutions in India thanks to innovative and diverse product offering for low-income people.

“With this new partnership, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation strengthens its action in favour of financial inclusion and women empowerment in India. This funding is our first direct exposure in India, using the External Commercial Borrowing channel recently opened by the Reserve Bank of India. The company has shown in many occasions its resilience and we trust that Pahal, its clients and the whole industry are recovering fast from this crisis”, said Caroline Brandt, Senior Investment Manager at the Foundation.

“Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation’s  debt line is a validation of Pahal’s business model and displays the resilience of the microfinance sector in India”, said Kartik Mehta, Co-Founder and Managing Director. “We at Pahal are determined to be a part of financial inclusion agenda for the vulnerable sections of the society. This money will be used to onlend to the women borrowers of Pahal”, added Purvi Bhavsar, Co-Founder and Managing Director.

The Foundation’s financial support comes at a time when the microfinance sector is emerging out of the Covid-19 crisis. After lockdown relaxation, the anticipated microcredit demands are expected to trigger swift recovery of the sector. Pahal, in partnership with the Foundation, will support its borrowers to help them restart their businesses.

SINAPI Aba and its work for women entrepreneurship in Ghana

Launched by the Canadian government in 2017, the FINEDEV (Financial Inclusion for Enterprise Development) programme promotes business development through financial inclusion in Ghana. The programme is implemented by Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans, a non-bank financial institution supported by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation.

FINEDEV aims to improve access to finance, financial education and entrepreneurial training for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), women and vulnerable groups in Ghana. For Sinapi, the focus is on women entrepreneurship as 70% of its clients are women.

Networking and entrepreneurship training

The programme is based on two strands of action. The first is networking through events and training for women entrepreneurs. Through these meetings, participants have the opportunity to share their experience, learn about entrepreneurship and connect with other local women entrepreneurs. Since the beginning of the programme, Sinapi has organised 310 networking events and 447 trainings for more than 30 000 participants.

A second strand is the “Women Mentorship” programme. It brings together women entrepreneurs who have already received business training from Sinapi Aba, with less experienced women. Each “mentor” woman advises and supports other women entrepreneurs in building their businesses. The programme has already brought together 156 participants, including 52 mentor women and 104 coached entrepreneurs.

With FINEDEV, Sinapi is strengthening its action in favour of women’s financial inclusion in an innovative and sustainable way. Initially planned for a period of 4 years, FINEDEV has been extended for another year and is expected to end in 2022. After the official end of the project, Sinapi Aba plans to continue supporting its clients’ projects by maintaining its mentoring and networking activities for women.

SSNUP programme finances its first agricultural project in Senegal

©FGCA/Godong

To support small-scale farmers, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Luxembourg Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Action, under the coordination of ADA, have launched the SSNUP (Smallholder Safety Net Upscaling Programme). With a budget of €55 million over 10 years, the programme aims to sustainably strengthen the safety nets of smallholder farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia by stimulating the development of agricultural value chains.

The programme draws on the technical assistance knowledge and expertise of impact investment funds already active in this area. The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is one of the impact investors in charge of the SSNUP implementation. It will provide its expertise in technical assistance to the organisations it supports – microfinance institutions and social enterprises– in order to design and develop financial and non-financial solutions for agricultural risks mitigation and transfer of the different value chain actors.

An impact agricultural project in Senegal

The first organisation supported by the Foundation within the programme is SFA (Sénégalaise des Filières Alimentaires), a social enterprise that works for the development of an inclusive rice value chain in Senegal. Created in 2013, SFA produces white rice from paddy cultivated by small producers in the Senegal River Valley. It provides them with technical support through training on best agricultural practices and facilitates their access to the market and to financing by putting them in relation with local lenders.

Despite the technical support provided by SFA, the small-scale producers’ yields remained below their potential. This is mainly because farmers are still reluctant to implement the agricultural practices promoted by SFA without experiencing their positive effects first.

The SSNUP will strengthen this technical support for producers through a technical assistant mission with a budget of €11,000. This 6-month project aims to create 20 demonstration fields in SFA’s operation areas, in which best agricultural practices will be implemented. These reference fields will allow training some sixty producers on the best practices to optimise their production and to demonstrate to all producers in the area the positive impacts of these practices on agricultural yields and production quality. Exchange sessions and training led by the trained producers will enable them to share their learning with over 2,000 small-scale producers.

The expected results of this project are based on 3 pillars: capacity building of the trained farmers; increasing production and its quality for the trained farmers; increasing the income of the trained farmers and their households. This high impact project will contribute directly to the rice value chain development and food security in Senegal.

 

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.
Article-investissement-Europe

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation consolidates its partnerships in Europe

Article-investissement-Europe
©FGCA/Godong

During the last quarter of 2020, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation continued its financing with its European partners, thereby consolidating its position in a region that represents 18% of its outstanding portfolio.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Mikra microfinance institution was granted a new loan of €1.2 million over a three-year period. Financed by the Foundation since 2019, Mikra’s mission is to provide financial services to the poorest but economically active populations. The institution promotes equality for Bosnian women by financing and supporting entrepreneurship projects. To date, Mikra serves over 15,000 active clients, 68% of whom are women and 58% of whom live in rural areas.

In Moldova, Smart Credit was granted a new loan for an amount, in local currency, equivalent to €500,000. Smart Credit is a microfinance institution whose objective is to help clients improve their living conditions, especially socially disadvantaged small entrepreneurs. The institution currently has over 3,000 active borrowers, 54% of whom are women and 71% of whom live in rural areas, and manages a portfolio of €3.5 million.

Finally, the Foundation granted a new loan, the second since 2018, to ADVANS Holding for an amount of €800,000. ADVANS, whose headquarters are located in Luxembourg, is an international group whose mission is to build a network of microfinance institutions in developing and emerging countries. The Group provides financial and non-financial services to low-income people in nine countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through its network, ADVANS serves nearly 800,000 customers and manages a portfolio of approximately €780 million.

For more information, please click here.