Travel diary of a Solidarity Banker in Cambodia

By Dominique Rombczyk, CA Val de France

©Philippe Lissac

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole SA in June 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme aimed at all Crédit Agricole group employees for the benefit of microfinance institutions or impact businesses supported by the Foundation. Discover the article written by Dominique Rombczyk, Solidarity banker of CA Val de France, who travelled in 2019 to Cambodia to support Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE), a social enterprise in which the Foundation is a shareholder.

When I discovered the Solidarity Bankers programme, I remember looking for as much information as possible on the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation as well as on Professor Yunus, on inclusive finance, on social entrepreneurship … All well-known notions, shared values but which seemed to be part of another world. The opportunity offered by Crédit Agricole and the Foundation to step into this world was too exciting to be overlooked.

I therefore decided to apply and was selected to carry out the Solidarity Bankers mission with Phare Circus (PPSE), a social enterprise that aims at promoting social inclusion and the empowerment of young Cambodians through art. The objectives of the mission were to identify the roles of the financial and managerial team, to train and propose a training plan on management concepts and financial strategy, and to propose monitoring and financial management tools.

The preparation phase was essential. After initial discussions with the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation team, there was quite a reading of PPSE presentation documents, financial data and general information to better understand the mission. In the weeks prior to the departure, several meetings took place with the Foundation and the enterprise to finalise the planning of the mission. Telephone exchanges allowed me to feel the enthusiastic state of mind of all interested parties.

A fascinating field mission

The departure for the 15-day field mission in Cambodia took place on September 7, 2019 with Hélène Kéraudren-Baubé, Administrative and Financial Director of the Foundation. The Managing Director of PPSE himself came to greet us at the airport, along with his family, creating a very familiar atmosphere that lasted during our whole stay there.

During the first four days of the mission, we had several meetings with the Managing Director and the heads of departments to analyse the functioning and organisation of PPSE in order to reflect together on ways for optimising the structure. The presence of Ms. Keraudren-Baubé during the first days of the mission was a true added value for proposing a relevant strategy planning for PPSE.

We also had the chance to attend the show offered by Phare Circus. A show mixing theatre, folk music and Cambodian stories. The incredible performance of young artists from difficult social and economic backgrounds was one of the highlights of my mission.

The second part of the mission was mainly based on the training of the Financial Unit teams. There were training sessions in the field of accounting, analysis and financial strategy, that helped consolidate, within the PPSE financial team, certain concepts. These trainings also allowed detecting training needs and thus helping to develop a training plan that the institution will be able to implement later.

Back in France

After the return from the mission, many projects were under way. The training plan, the strategic planning project, the drafting of a support for financial communication with the PPSE Board of Directors, the implementation of a financial monitoring tool … Several weeks after the return, I sent my final report to PPSE. Interactions in the meantime have been positive, and elements established during the mission are already being used and implemented.

I am back in France with the joy of having been able to share the daily life of so many passionate, enthusiastic and brilliant people within the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and PPSE. This mission allowed me to experience from the inside the functioning of a social enterprise and the beautiful dynamic that animates these structures. The idea of living this daily is extremely tempting.

A sense of pride also exists: that of being part of a Group that acts concretely, on the ground, with commitment, to promote social values.

Incidentally, but it is worth mentioning, the visit of the Angkor Wat temple, an emblematic place of Cambodia (which appears on its flag), can only leave an indelible mark on all visitors who go there.

Newsletter #35 to download here

 

The dairy sector favours the emergence of territorial dynamics in Northern Senegal

Interview with Bagoré Bathily, Founder and CEO, Laiterie du Berger

©Philippe Lissac

A committed player to the professionalization of the dairy sector, from its dairy factory located in the Saint-Louis region in northern Senegal, Laiterie du Berger is based on a local supply organisation considered a model in Sahelian Africa. A social impact company in which the Foundation is a shareholder, it continues to flourish thanks to the implementation of its subsidiary Kossam SDE, a livestock development company. This is an interview with Bagoré Bathily, Founder, Chairmain and CEO of Laiterie du Berger.

– You created Kossam SDE, a subsidiary of Laiterie du Berger. What is it?

Bagoré Bathily, CEO of Laiterie du Berger: The Kossam project started in 2017 with a Solidarity Bankers mission, a a skills volunteering programme of Crédit Agricole, carried out by Jonathan Michaud, an agricultural engineer from Crédit Agricole Franche-Comté, who today heads Kossam.

The objective of Kossam is to strengthen and structure the dairy sector in Northern Senegal. It operates through fifteen mini-farms that test and make the model more reliable.

– What exactly are these mini-farms? What is their impact on the region?

They are pools of dairy specialisation. In practical terms, farmers place the best milk-producing cows of their herds in the stables at any time of the year. Kossam provides them with the best production conditions in terms of feeding, watering, reproduction monitoring, advice.

These actions give coherence to the sector, enhance the sector and slow down transhumance. The sector is getting organised and becoming more attractive. Young people get involved, train in new professions, gain responsibilities. It also has an impact on families. Thanks to the income from dairy farming, they settle down, improve their living conditions, and send children to school. Around Kossam, an entire territorial dynamism is being established.

– With Kossam, Laiterie du Berger expands its scope of expertise. What balance and prospects do you draw from the Senegalese dairy sector?

Today, our local milk production level has reached industrial levels. With higher income prospects, the industry is now structured and our social entrepreneurship model continues to demonstrate its effectiveness. We have found outlets for our products in the Dakar region. When it was launched ten years ago, Laiterie du Berger had a turnover of € 30,000. Now it reaches € 10 million. We plan to reach 2,000 families by 2022 and deploy 100 mini-farms nationwide. Each progress represents a new challenge!

– Laiterie du Berger benefits from the support of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, Crédit Agricole Franche-Comté and Amundi. How important are your partners?

Laiterie du Berger and Kossam are companies based on the social impact entrepreneurship model, one for the production and distribution of dairy products, the other for the raising of livestock and milk production. Our model goes hand in hand with a culture of alliance and cooperation. All of our stakeholders commit themselves with mutual understanding: local communities, farmers, financial partners. We all work with the same objective: allow Fulani breeders in the sahelian zone, who represent more than half of the population, to make a living of their activity. This is essential to the stability of the region.

What are the next steps for Laiterie and Kossam?

Kossam received a USD.5 million grant from Mastercard Foundation. It will help speed up the dairy’s activity and generate over 5,000 jobs in the dairy sector in Senegal. The grant will be used to increase milk collection to 4,000 tonnes and to capitalise on the restructuring of the collection system.

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Solidarity Bankers: Discover the video testimony of Haoly Basse, Solidarity Banker of Crédit Agricole CIB, who travelled to Senegal to support Kossam for the implementation of a digital application.

Digital and microfinance sector in the face of the health crisis

By Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation

The deployment of an ad hoc observatory to monitor the effects of the health crisis in relation to 80 microfinance institutions (MFIs) and social business partners in some forty emerging countries enables us to collect information regularly so as to share it and draw the best lessons from it.

This week we have monitored more specifically how microfinance institutions used their digital channels to overcome their difficulty of direct contact with borrowers which traditionally takes place either in the MFI branch or in group meetings or even during the disbursement of funds (microfinance uses mostly cash when disbursing the borrowed sums) or the monitoring of the projects financed.

According to the survey we conducted in the beginning of April, 68% of partner microfinance institutions indicated that they have made greater use of digital channels to overcome contact difficulties, as a result of lockdown or group gathering prohibition measures. This strong growth in use observed in the traditional finance sector can be seen also in the microfinance sector which has had no alternative but to adapt.

The technological means and processes, including digital tools, are being developed rapidly by institutions of all sizes (the smallest with client portfolios of up to $10 million, and the largest well over $100 million). Since the beginning of the crisis, institutions have been producing business continuity plans, as the basis of new discussions and exchanges for their funding backers, in which they frequently include new digital applications.

For most institutions, the first step entails raising awareness among clients about the possibility of using remote payment methods. This step is implemented through SMSs (which are particularly suitable for 2G network coverage) but also through the social media – the telephone network permitting.

“[We] encourage clients through SMSs to utilize mobile money platforms for repayments as it is the safest mode at the moment.” – Partner in Uganda

”[We] start informing our clients by social media and SMS on possibility of repayment via terminals, mobile wallets, plastic cards and Internet banking” – Partner in Tajikistan

For many MFIs which did not yet have it in their range of services, the first process developed rapidly at the beginning of this health crisis was that of electronic money payments. This practice of remote payments is encouraged by many regulators, such as the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) for the countries under its authority or the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), which decided to reduce transfer and use fees for this form of currency. This implementation of remote payment is accompanied by mass mailings of information to clients to explain the new procedures.

“Sending bulky texts to customers to remind them how to use the mobile money code to make their loan repayments and also the hotline they can call for help or complaint.” – Partner in Uganda

These remote services enable customers to pay their instalments without having to travel (and therefore to use public transport) by using the pay station network of telephone operators which is generally dense and available even in rural areas.

The implementation of these means of payment also makes it possible to disburse loans to the electronic portfolios of clients, as the latter go to said pay stations not to pay their instalments but to obtain cash disbursements of their microcredits. The use of mobile money therefore makes it possible to continue the financing activity during a lockdown period.

“The Palestine Monetary Authority is urging all MFIs to start disbursing loans to income generating projects through digital channels with lower interest rate.” – Partner in Palestine

Yet, as astonishing as it may sound, this crisis is seen by some institutions as a real opportunity to accelerate the deployment of digital platforms and to launch new services in order to make headway in operational optimization and even excellence in customer relations. For the managers of these partner institutions, having to invest in digital tools for reasons that are “vital” for their institutions at this time seems to be a means of accelerating investment plans that they had been thinking about before the crisis broke out. It thus enables them to embark on modernizing their distribution mode and their processes, which has come as a pleasant surprise to us, even though we are well aware of the vitality and capacity for innovation of our partners.

“This was contemplated prior to the COVID issue […]. However, discussions are ongoing with regard to the possibility of [the mobile payment solution] being launched to all clients.” – Partner in Sri Lanka

“In times like this when anything can be a source of transmission for the deadly virus, it is prudent that less physical cash is handled. [We] used the opportunity to pilot [our platform] in order to look out for the shortfalls and the loopholes in the system.” – Partner in Ghana

The economies of certain countries that were already highly digitized, as is the case in East Africa, for instance, seem to be more resilient to the effects of the crisis. Microfinance institutions operating in these areas have shown remarkable adaptability. By way of example, the Kenyan economy, which is particularly open to payment, financing and investment operations using digital wallets, is running according to remote uses that minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

”Kenya is better prepared than others because of the high penetration of mobile money. The concept is accepted widely by the public” – Partner in Kenya

Many institutions tell us that they will be more structured and more effective in the aftermath of this crisis. These experiences, which are sometimes vital to the continuation of their activities, seem to be very useful to them for operational performance gains in the future.

”Our team will tailor mobile app to add a feature enabling to apply for loan restructuring remotely. […] We introduced a new criterion in our monitoring tool – “emergency (coronavirus)” meaning the loan officers will have to monitor their customers remotely, and get information and enter monitoring data into the software” – Partner in Kazakhstan

“The new strategy will focus on transforming [our] current mode of operations to embrace more digital solutions, decreasing the need for physical interactions between employees and customers, and replacing cash transactions with mobile payment functionalities.” – Partner in Georgia

These positive effects of digitization, which have been achieved by microfinance institutions thanks to forcibly imposed developments can also be found in social enterprises in our equity portfolio. The digitization of the operational processes is a very effective means for combatting the constraints of the lockdown for companies that have to deal directly with the public or with suppliers of raw materials. This is the case, for instance, of a Senegalese company which, thanks to digital payments, has managed to continue its milk collection and sale of dairy products and to generate growth that has exceeded the forecasts.

For another social enterprise specializing in drinking water treatment, the health crisis has also led to the development of home water delivery following an order placed online.

Our partners are aware that the use of digital technologies is not a global solution to all the issues raised by this systemic crisis. They expect their customers and their operations to run into economic recovery problems in fact, where the digital dimension can only be of an altogether relative help. Despite the more and more intensive use of digital channels, the commercial activity of microfinance institutions is slowing down. They are all focusing on providing guidance and support to their customers by taking care to cope with the increasing number of requests for maturity extensions, while maintaining risk control and a good operational quality.

In some areas, the supervisory authorities have issued directives or strong recommendations for MFIs to grant moratoria to their clients that could last for several months, which entails a very high level of activity for the institutions.

In the majority of the testimonials we have collected, however, the health crisis is seen as a sequence that requires the different Management Committees of our partners to give serious thought to the operational performance under constraint. Our partners are convinced that the experiences they have gone through and the solutions found to deal with the health crisis will prove very useful “the day after.”

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Discover more articles on: COVID-19 Observatory.

A partnership between the Foundation and CA Romania to support microfinance

©Philippe Lissac

“After Egypt, India and Morocco, we are implementing a new cooperation agreement with a Group entity, Crédit Agricole Romania. This partnership fits perfectly within the framework of the Group’s project which integrates the societal dimension, in this case supporting low-income population, at the heart of development activities”, says Eric Campos, Managing Director of the Foundation and Head of CSR of Crédit Agricole SA.

With this partnership, the Foundation strengthens its positioning as one of the sector’s key players in the region, while forging its links with the various entities of the Group.

“Our focus on the Romanian market is to grow our presence in financing the agriculture sector and contribute to economic and social development benefiting from the expertise of our Group. This partnership is a great support in achieving these objectives”, says Luc Beiso, CEO of CA Romania.

The first beneficiary microfinance institution is Vitas Romania, which received a loan of €1.5 million, guaranteed 100% by the Foundation. Founded in 1996 by CHF International, a USA-based international development organisation, Vitas provides financial products and services to support the development of income-generating activities. The institution has 1,970 active borrowers, 45% of whom are women and 45% live in rural areas. It manages a portfolio of over €15.5 million. It operates in Western Romania, with its headquarters in Timisoara, through a network of 9 branches.

International microfinance institutions anticipate the first effects of a recession

By Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation

The crisis is beginning to take its economic toll

A few days after our last publication, the impact of the coronavirus continues to expand and intensify. The milestone of one million infected people worldwide has been passed and new outbreaks of the epidemic are being confirmed.

In constant contact with its network of nearly 80 partner microfinance institutions (MFIs) in 40 countries, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation continues its work of collecting information, analysing and sharing its observations. Over the past few days, we have focused our monitoring efforts on the consequences of the crisis and the work of the MFIs to deal with it. Such information is very important. It enables us to take the most relevant decisions at our level for the management of the Foundation, for the support of our partners and the effectiveness of our action as close as possible to their difficulties and anticipations. It also contributes to the sharing of information by and between the stakeholders of this sector who are getting collectively organized in these times of crisis.

The results we have obtained confirm the trends identified in the information provided in the first weeks: the crisis is very hard, undoubtedly beyond our initial forecasts in early March, but the resistance is being organized. The effect of the health crisis is systemic. No stress model had anticipated it. The response will therefore have to be systemic, too, if we want to avoid a major failure in this sector.

Small-scale outreach activities are sliding into recession

78% of our partners are seeing the first effects of the economic recession on their areas of activity.

In the first feedback we received, rural areas seemed to be escaping the first effects of the crisis, especially in food-producing regions. By now, irrespective of the size of the institutions (the smallest have a financing portfolio of less than $10 million, and the largest over $100 million)) and their geographic location, they are all, more or less, faced with similar problems: the inability to travel (74%), the drop in disbursements to borrowers (77%), and the ban on group meetings (63%) are the reasons most cited by our partners for the slowdown of their activity.

“As indicated in the first analysis, the expected direct impact (up to 6 months) is a possible deterioration in the quality of the portfolio in the tourism, transport and hotel sectors, as well as loans financed by remittances from abroad. A medium-term impact is also expected due to the general slowdown in the economy and the reduction of solvent customers.” – Partner in Georgia

More than a third of our partners are under almost total lockdown (36%) and the rest are adapting to restrictive pre-lockdown measures.

“[Our] activities have been significantly affected so far, with client businesses primarily affected by general public fears and more directly by the strict guidelines implemented by the government in an effort to control the spread of the virus. An increase in the cost of living is also expected […]. Imports are declining, production costs are going up. Kenya’s GDP is likely to fall and inflation will most probably rise, which will affect the country’s economy.” – Partner in Kenya

“We see that the government is taking increasing measures to limit travel and commercial activities. For example, a regional government has specified that all microfinance activities in the region should be suspended in April. We are getting similar requests from village authorities in other regions.” – Partner in Burma

Effects that now impact the accounts of institutions

These difficulties are starting to be reflected in the figures of MFIs. For instance, 74% of the institutions explain that their portfolio at risk (PAR 1) has increased compared with the end of 2019. This increase is currently contained to less than 10% in absolute value for 8 out of 10 institutions.

The institutions are clearly accelerating and intensifying the use of digital technologies in order to make up for the fact that sales teams cannot travel and organize out-of-pocket payments. For example, 68% of the respondents say they are making greater use of digital services to carry out their activities remotely.

Loan restructuring operations have already started in nearly one out of two MFIs (43%). The intervention announced by regulators and legislators in the financial sector is confirmed: almost half of the respondents (44%) are encouraged to take the initiative in proposing moratoriums and restructuring operations for the benefit of their borrowers (the countries which have imposed these measures include in particular Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Senegal, DRC, Egypt, Morocco and many countries in Eastern Europe). New initiatives are also being considered such as the introduction of emergency products (such as minimum subsistence) in the coming months.

Institutions are implementing crisis plans

This systemic crisis calls for an in-depth review of MFI business planning and financing needs. Upon closer scrutiny, the increase in maturity extensions granted to borrowers does not yet translate significantly into additional financial resource requirements for the MFIs surveyed. At the time of the survey, 48% of them did not yet see any change in their liquidity needs compared with the projections made for the year, and a third even envisaged a decrease in their needs due to a significant drop in their activity.

At this stage, only one out of five MFIs (19%) is expecting an increase in its financial needs, linked to the increase in the price of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, raw materials …) which will trigger an increase in the financial needs on the part of borrowers, mainly in rural areas of our intervention territories. This prospective analysis has been spearheaded by the major international microfinance networks.

“In addition to the Covid-19 crisis, Kazakhstan has been affected by the sharp drop in oil prices which has weakened the national currency by 380 tenges to 445 to the dollar” – Partner in Kazakhstan

The responses from our partners reveal other factors of concern, in particular their ability to finance their activity: a quarter of them foresee a loss of value of their local currency against the dollar (26%) and a substantial increase in currency hedges in their future funding (23%). One out of five MFIs is already experiencing funding difficulties with their usual donors.

In order to be able to monitor the rise in risks and funding developments as closely as possible, more than half of the MFIs (55%) declare that they have finalized (or that they are in the process of doing so) a Business Continuity Plan that includes precise liquidity monitoring. This responsiveness is remarkable and such plans are an essential element in helping MFIs cope with and manage the consequences of the crisis.

Our analysis shows an apparent correlation in the quality of the Business Continuity Plans following the Coronavirus crisis and the past experience of a serious crisis that has already affected the MFI. The lessons learned from past crises thus seem to play a very important role in the resilience of institutions in the face of a crisis, be it financial, political, health, etc. Many less experienced institutions however also show a remarkable willingness to innovate and an equally remarkable capacity to anticipate.

Donors reacted very quickly also. Drawing on the lessons of past crises they have shown remarkable capacity in the past few weeks to intervene and anticipate in a sector that, all things considered, is still young. International lenders, foundations, investment funds, and local banks in all regions of the world are thus working on joint action plans. A number of meetings are being held around the world to get ahead of the crisis and absorb its effects that would be absolutely devastating without such awareness and rapid and determined commitment. There is agreement across the board on the need for effective information sharing and coordination by and between the various stakeholders. Donors are organizing their action around responses adapted to the funding needs of MFIs impacted by the crisis, but also by providing monitoring tools, technical assistance plans or training to strengthen the capacities of MFI teams in the face of a situation that is as sudden as it is exceptional.

All of these elements remind us to which extent this crisis is a shared concern for all microfinance stakeholders. The involvement and rigour of local institutions, the coordination of international networks, the support of public and private donors and the confidence of investors will be the key values of our collective capacity to overcome the challenge of this health tsunami.

Read more articles on : Covid 19 Observatory.

ADA releases a guide to ensure business continuity of MFIs during the crisis

©Didier Gentilhomme

The health and economic crisis generated by the Covid-19 strongly affects microfinance institutions and their clients. To support the microfinance sector in this very particular context, the NGO ADA pursues its mission to promote inclusion for all by leveraging its knowledge and expertise in risk management with a guide of good practices for the continuity of microfinance institutions.

Available in French, English and Spanish, this guide offers recommendations to microfinance institutions to organize crisis management and ensure business continuity.

The document can be downloaded from the ADA website, in a page exclusively dedicated to the management of the Covid-19 crisis, a space which offers partner articles, guidelines, testimonials and videos in order to provide a place to exchanges and sharing of experiences between professionals in the sector.

This guide describes certain points of attention for the analysis and the measures to be taken to organize appropriate crisis management and ensure business continuity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To access it, click here.

[INTERVIEW] “Life must go on, we should not lose hope”

Interview with Dara Huot, CEO, Phare Performing Social Enterprise

©Philippe Lissac

The CambodgeMag interviewed Dara Huot, Managing Director of Phare “Performing Social Enterprise”, partner of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation. He expressed his concerns and hopes regarding the Phare Circus social enterprise.

Since March 17, performances of the Phare circus, one of the main attractions in Siem Reap, but also in Battambang, have been suspended …

Indeed, we had to apply a government decision taken against performance halls. Before that, we had implemented all the necessary measures to disinfect the premises between each performance and respect the distances between the spectators. The temperature was controlled for each person entering the tent, and distributors of alcoholic solution were located everywhere. However, the number of spectators was gradually decreasing. The government decree only precipitated a closure that would have been inevitable.

How did staff react to this closure?

Phare is a very large social enterprise, split between Siem Reap and Battambang. Here we have 40 artists and 70 employees. The Battambang school, which provides circus training, but also graphic animation, dance, painting and theater training, has 110 teachers for 1,200 students. When the closure was decided, we took the opportunity to resume our list of “things to do”, you know, all those little things that accumulate over time and that we generally reserve for the off-peak season.

We cleaned everything, redid the paintings, carried out all the maintenance work… And then, when we finished all this, everyone went home. The vast majority of the staff are from Battambang, so many have joined their families there. All the artists continue to train hard, for the resumption of the shows, but also for the next tours. Some have been canceled, but we hope to be able to carry out the one planned in France for this winter.

Are wages still being paid?

The full wages were paid throughout the month of March. As for April, the wages have been reduced by 50%, and this will be the case for the following months. It is unthinkable to leave our employees without any income, and we do not hesitate to draw on our cash for this. But how much longer can we continue like this? After 3 or 4 months, there won’t be enough money … Especially since we have to keep paying the rents.

Do your employees receive support from institutions?

No, it’s not like in France, where compensation is granted to people who find themselves unemployed. Nothing is planned for them here, and the situation is made worse by the fact that many employees have contracted debts with banks and microfinance organisations. The interest they have to pay back every month is very high, and I don’t see how they will manage. The only hope would be for more flexibility from these organisations in terms of reimbursement. Maybe cutting interest rates, spreading out the due dates or, why not, hanging them off until things get back to normal. A moratorium on rents could also allow many Cambodians to see the crisis pass. As it stands, paying off a loan, paying rent and supporting your family when you have a low salary or, worse, when you are unemployed will be a big problem for a whole part of the population.

How will this crisis change Siem Reap?

Since the city opened to mass tourism, that is to say twenty years ago, the number of visitors has only grown exponentially. The infrastructure did not necessarily follow. The environment has suffered a lot from the increase in traffic, waste is not always well managed, access to water and its quality are still problematic in certain districts. Electricity needs have increased, but there are still many cuts. Why not take advantage of this involuntary “break” to renew yourself, to question yourself and, thus, to embellish the city? We have to stay positive, try to see what we can get out of this ordeal. Life must go on, you must not lose hope, and continue to be positive despite the circumstances. More than ever, we must take care of ourselves and our loved ones, and stay strong. This is important for you, but also for those around you. Everyone hopes that this pandemic will last as short a time as possible. 2019 will have been a difficult year, and 2020 will be much worse. But we will get out of it, and come back, I hope, hardened by this ordeal. Although it will, of course, be very difficult to go up the hill.

The microfinance sector prepares to face health crisis’ effects

By Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread around the world with over 450,000 confirmed cases as of March 26, 2020. Governments, even those who deny it, are taking more and more stringent steps to contain the epidemic. As the situation evolves more quickly every day, microfinance players are preparing themselves to face this crisis by taking the first salutary steps.

Following its enquiry launched two weeks ago, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has established an observatory to constantly update the information collected through daily exchanges with its partner microfinance Institutions (MFIs). The goal is to better understand how to support them, but also to share its analysis with other financial players in the inclusive finance and development aid sector.

Adapting to slow the spread of the virus

MFIs quickly realised the health issue of the crisis. They immediately sought to adjust their operating methods to the contamination risks by adopting recommended barrier actions and launched awareness campaigns among customers and employees.

“Hand washing is mandatory in all branches, with the provision of buckets and soap for everyone entering the office. Hand sanitizers are provided over the counter for all customers who transact with cashiers. […] The process of acquiring protective masks for cashiers is underway. It is strongly recommended that all staff members experiencing symptoms stay at home during the follow-up. We strongly recommended all staff to avoid going to the branches in the light of developments, unless it is absolutely necessary.” – Partner in Sierra Leone

MFIs also had to adapt to decisions taken by local authorities to curb the spread of the virus. Organisations in the most risky areas were therefore forced to partially or completely cease their operations and to close some of their local agencies.

“All operations will be closed as of 12:00 noon on March 26, 2020, in accordance with the announcement made by the President on Monday, March 23 and to allow personnel to return home for the period of confinement. […] Disbursements to customers have been postponed until the end of the period of containment.” – Partner in South Africa

The vast majority of our partners have rapidly implemented teleworking or staff rotation systems. Faced with the numerous prohibitions on groupings, institutions are now working with a representative of solidarity-based credit groups and remain in contact with their customers through instant messaging services.

Digital solutions are particularly adapted to this context. They allow the continuation of microcredit disbursement activities and remote recovery. In a dairy in Senegal, for example, the payment for milk collection to breeders has not experienced any disruption because it has been done for a few weeks via a mobile phone payment device.

“We encourage by SMS our customers to use mobile payment platforms for refunds because it is the safest method of payment at this point in time.” – Partner in Uganda

If MFIs have been able to adapt quickly their operating methods, it is also the time to prepare for the looming economic slowdown. Crisis meetings are increasing in head offices, or through video conferences from managers’ homes, in order to set up continuity plans.

New regulations

A growing number of countries are introducing new credit regulations to cushion the economic shock and the likely insolvency risk of vulnerable customers. Regulators are urging financial institutions to grant deferred payments to their crisis-affected customers, as well as to restructure loans. Such decisions are already beginning to be implemented.

“The government is also implementing measures to help local businesses, such as reducing interest rates. For example, the borrowing rate for secured loans has been lowered by 1%” – Partner in Myanmar

“The Central Bank of Kyrgyzstan has taken the following support measures: 1) cancel the accumulation of penalties for all borrowers; 2) review the conditions for repayment of loans and provide for a delay in payment of at least 3 months upon the borrowers request; 3) when restructuring loans related to changes in borrowers’ cash flows due to coronavirus, institutions should not consider them as bad debts if the cause is health crisis “- Partner in Kyrgyzstan

“The Central Bank has announced that financial institutions must accept all requests for deferrals until April 30.” – Partner in Kosovo

The microfinance sector shows a high degree of responsibility and maturity to face this global crisis. The partner institutions of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation produce regular financial statements and forecast analysis of their financing needs in the coming months. Although we have not yet observed any particular increase, the evolution of portfolio at risk (PAR) levels is systematically subject to a very high degree of vigilance. Multiple exchanges between lenders, specialised non-governmental organisations and microfinance institutions are now organised daily.

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is in regular contact with its partners and colleagues in a reciprocal effort to pool ideas and resources. We share with our partners, with responsible investment players and with our peers our analysis and best practices implemented by microfinance institutions.

The pooling of available information, analysis and anticipations, and then the concerted implementation of shared decisions are principles that are vital today for our sector. At the cost of this transparency, this concertation and a necessary adaptation of our intervention principles, we should be able to overcome the effects of this exceptional health crisis, which could knock down many microfinance institutions, leaving fragile populations in desperate situations. Because we know the crisis will hit the most deprived populations in the first place. Hard. Let’s work together to live up to the issues of this humanitarian challenge.

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Discover other articles at: Covid-19 Observatory.

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation continues to invest in Kosovo

© Philippe Lissac

The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has just granted a new loan in local currency for a total amount equivalent to € 1.5 million to the Kosovar microfinance institution Kreditimi Rural i Kosoves (KRK) which it has supported since 2009.

KRK is a project initiated in 2000 by ADIE International as the Rural Finance Program of Kosovo (RFPK). The project turned into a microfinance institution shortly after, when the new regulations on financial institutions came into force in Kosovo. KRK’s mission is to provide access to financial services in rural areas of Kosovo in a sustainable manner, giving priority to the agricultural sector. To date, the institution has nearly 17,000 clients, including 16% women and 84% rural clients.

With this investment, the Foundation now has, in the Eastern Europe & Central Asia region, an outstanding portfolio of € 22 million, which represents 23% of its portfolio, and has 18 partner organisations supported, that is 21% of the microfinance institutions and impact businesses it finances.

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Created in 2008, under the joint leadership of Crédit Agricole SA and Professor Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is a cross-business operator which contributes to the fight against poverty through financial inclusion and social impact entrepreneurship. Investor, lender, technical assistance coordinator and Fund advisor, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation supports microfinance institutions and social enterprises in nearly 40 countries.