Advancing Literacy through Women’s EmpowermentWith the start of a new school year, we are faced with a renewed appreciation of the importance of education. We are learning just how much students can struggle when they are removed from the classroom. But for many children around the world, this has been their reality for generations. For many, access to schools and technology, and ultimately literacy, are not a guarantee. Those who are most affected by this lack of education are girls. These 5 staggering facts highlight how women and girls continue to be left behind: But at FINCA Canada, we are working to change these statistics. We are proud to support women throughout the world who are: building schools in their communities, using expanded income from their FINCA loans to send their daughters to school, and working to continue their own educations. One example of how FINCA is empowering women to support education is Kerlande Toussaint and her husband who utilized a FINCA loan to start a school in a neglected neighborhood of Gonaives, Haiti. Valuing the importance of their own education, they wanted to provide an opportunity for all Haitians to learn. Starting with kindergarten children, including their own children, they added a new grade each year and now provide quality education for 600 students up to grade 10 as well as scholarships and boarding for some children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn. She hopes her students, like herself, will go on to attend university, creating more opportunities for their future.
International Literacy Day and BeyondSince its founding, FINCA Canada has placed women at the core of its mission. And the support of our donors is instrumental in helping us to reach even more women and girls, especially as we continue working to counter barriers to education for young girls. But now with the prevalence of COVID-19, women and girls are at risk of falling even further behind—in literacy, as well as other social and economic areas. However, FINCA Canada is working to make sure this doesn’t happen. For example, in partnership with Global Affairs Canada and the James A. and Donna-Mae Moore Foundation, we are safely providing financial literacy training over the next year for 20,000 women in Haiti. Financial literacy is an important building block for empowering women to provide for themselves and their families and to give them the tools to withstand the impact of COVID-19. In fact, the World Bank found that women in developing countries, like Haiti, who are financially literate and are using multiple financial tools rather than just one or two, are far more likely to be able to endure crises. In many countries, more than half of FINCA’s clients are women, and with FINCA loans and financial literacy training women can grow their businesses and send their children to school. These women, with their expanded businesses, are creating long-lasting legacies through their children and their education. We cannot wait to see all that our clients and partners are able to achieve by next International Literacy Day!
Defining Financial ExclusionFinancial exclusion refers to individuals and populations without access to common financial services. These can include savings accounts, loans, cashless transactions, credit, and other traditional banking services. People are excluded because of their socio-economic status and because they can’t meet the requirements of a formal banking institution. This poses a huge challenge to populations, as whole groups of people are unable to participate in the financial sector. Ultimately, financial exclusion prevents these groups from accessing the resources they need to expand a business, pay for higher education, or any number of other actions that could help them work their way up and achieve a better quality of life.
How FINCA Helps to Alleviate Financial ExclusionAt the core of FINCA’s mission is alleviating poverty through financial inclusion. We work to aid those individuals and small businesses who are excluded by the formal financial sector. With a network of 20 community-based microfinance institutions and banks around the world, we provide access to financial services for previously excluded or “unbanked” clients. These unique opportunities include offering small loans to people with little to no credit history, combining traditional branches with agency banking, using alternative credit scoring and analytics, providing mobile wallets, using point-of-service biometrics and the use of mobile technology to reach people in remote locations. We take pride in witnessing our clients utilize our financial tools to catalyze their own economic growth. Below are two examples of FINCA clients who were able to improve their lives through access to financial services.
Growing Her Business and Providing For Her FamilyIn Latin America, Guatemala has one of the highest disparities in distribution of income and land ownership. With over half of the population living below the poverty line and 56% of citizens financially excluded, many people do not have access to basic financial services. However, for over three decades, FINCA has been working to decrease those numbers, helping hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans achieve financial inclusion and improve their quality of life. When Lucia Margarita Pacajoj Ticum received her first FINCA loan to support her small business, she had no idea how much it would impact her family. Lucia began her business selling hand-made trinkets and souvenirs thirteen years ago. Though she was making a small profit, the income from her business was not sustainable. However, with her first FINCA loan, Lucia expanded her business, adding backpacks, quilts and pants to her product line. Slowly, she built her business into what it is today—a bustling market stall with two employees supporting her production. Lucia has since used her increased income to add electricity and running water in her home and pay for her children’s school transportation costs. Lucia is the perfect example of someone with the determination to grow her business and improve her family’s lives. All she needed was access to financial services.
Brightening the Lives of Her GrandchildrenOver the last 20 years, the economy in Uganda has grown substantially due to wider access to basic resources. These resources include energy, water, health services, and education. However, with 41% of the population financially excluded, there is still much work to be done. Without access to proper financial resources, small business owners and entrepreneurs face obstacles in growing their businesses and increasing incomes. Knowing that financial exclusion is harmful to both excluded individuals as well as the greater economy, FINCA has helped many Ugandans access financial services. Furthermore, through our BrightLife and FINCA Ventures programs, we are bridging the gap between access to financial services and access to a range of other life-enhancing products. Jane Nakintu’s life changed forever when her daughter and son-in-law tragically died, leaving Jane as the sole provider for her four grandchildren. In this new role, Jane’s main priority was ensuring the health and safety of her grandchildren. Now cooking for five, she spent hours every day bent over the traditional three-stone fire she used to cook meals. Cooking this much, Jane’s kitchen would become consumed with black smoke that was unbearable to stand in let alone breathe. Fearing for her grandchildren’s health, Jane decided to take out a small loan from FINCA to purchase a BrightLife cookstove. The new cookstove reduces toxic smoke, keeps her grandchildren safe and saves her money on charcoal. Jane now uses these savings to buy books for her grandchildren. She is extremely happy with her new cookstove, which was enabled through FINCA’s connection between financial services and life-changing products.
The Need for Increasing Awareness About Financial ExclusionFinancial exclusion is a difficulty that millions of people face every day. In the absence of financial resources, low-income individuals confront hardships progressing towards living a healthier, more sustainable and better life. After over 30 years of working to help these poor communities, we can say confidently that access to basic financial resources can transform lives, strengthen communities and alleviate poverty.
The information below relates to a data security incident involving Blackbaud, Inc., a service provider to FINCA.
In July 2020, we were contacted by a third-party service provider, Blackbaud, one of the world’s largest providers of fundraising and donor engagement software for not-for-profit organizations.
Blackbaud informed us that they had been the victim of a cyberattack and that a criminal was able to remove certain data from Blackbaud’s clients. This included a subset of FINCA’s donor data. It is important to note that we have no reason to believe that donor credit card information, bank account information, or government-issued identification number (e.g., social insurance number) were impacted because FINCA does not maintain that information (if at all) in its Blackbaud database. However, based on the information provided by Blackbaud we have determined that the file removed may have contained some of the following for donors and prospective donors: contact information, date of birth, demographic information, giving capacity, and a history of donors’ relationship with FINCA, such as donation dates and amounts.
Presently, we have no indication that donor or prospective donor information has been misused. It is our understanding that Blackbaud conducted an investigation and ultimately paid the criminal’s demand with the intent that the criminal would delete the data. Although we have no way to confirm the data was deleted, Blackbaud has stated that it was deleted. Nevertheless, we recommend donors remain vigilant and promptly report any suspicious activity or suspected identity theft to local law enforcement. For more information about this incident, please visit Blackbaud’s webpage dedicated to this incident at https://www.blackbaud.com/securityincident.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our donors. Should you have any further questions or concerns regarding this matter and/or the protections available to you, please contact the Development Team at [email protected] or 202-280-5496.
A Grim RealityIn an effort to thwart the spread of COVID-19, Uganda’s government imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. From late March until early June, all non-essential businesses were closed, public transportation and private passenger vehicles were stopped, and Ugandans were mandated to stay at home unless in the case of an emergency. Since then the government has allowed some non-essential business and transportation to reopen but a strictly enforced 7:00 pm curfew remains. As a social enterprise providing clean energy products to some of Uganda’s poorest communities, the long-term lockdown and continuing curfew have presented enormous challenges to FINCA International’s BrightLife program. At the beginning of the lockdown, BrightLife was forced to close as a non-essential business. Consequentially, BrightLife had to furlough many employees and sales agents, as they could no longer sell solar home systems. More importantly, with the vast majority of BrightLife customers unable to work or otherwise earn money, many could not afford to make even the low weekly payments for their solar home systems.
A Helping Hand for Clients in NeedNormally when a customer misses multiple payments, BrightLife suspends their ability to use the solar home system. However, given that a solar home system provides customers with in-home lighting, a built-in radio, and a phone charging port, shutting off people’s systems completely during a pandemic was not an option for BrightLife. To help those who could not cover their weekly payments, BrightLife—with the help of FINCA’s generous supporters—covered the cost of over 4,000 customers’ payments for a full month. As a result, our clients and their families could still use their solar home systems to see in their homes at night, listen to important health information and updates on their built-in radios, and charge their phones to stay in touch during this crucial time. All of the customers that received a free month were elated. In the video below, listen to just a few customers express their gratitude to BrightLife for receiving solar lighting when they needed it most.
Adapting Operations to the Current ClimateThough BrightLife has partially resumed operations, it is still limited by the continued curfew and transport restrictions. Typically, the best time for BrightLife agents to visit clients is 6:00 – 9:00 pm. But since BrightLife agents need to be at their home by 7:00 pm, their ability to make sales and follow up with customers has been drastically reduced. Meanwhile, with transportation options still reduced and the curfew causing enormous traffic jams each afternoon, the workday in Uganda has been reduced to only a few hours each morning. Realizing these issues early on, BrightLife began developing an app for sales agents to help them streamline their in-person sales and after-sales service. Agents began testing the app in June, and by July, all sales will go through the app. Not only will the app save time by streamlining the sales process, but it also provides extra in-app training, and allows agents to see which of their customers have upcoming or missed payments so agents can effectively follow up with them.
A Long Road AheadNo one in Uganda has gone untouched by the effects of the coronavirus lockdowns. And while BrightLife has seen a decline in repayments, it is optimistic for the future. The majority of customers BrightLife has spoken to have expressed their eagerness to continue making their payments once they are able to resume working. Agents have also been eager to learn about and implement the newly created app to make their sales more efficient and effective. BrightLife offers access to life-changing products for people who would not normally be able to afford them. It is a critical service in the fight against poverty in Uganda, and BrightLife plans to continue working hard to help those who need it, pandemic or not.
Going Mobile in HaitiEven in an extremely poor country like Haiti, half of FINCA’s clients have a smartphone or other ways to access the internet. And FINCA Haiti is putting the growing ubiquity of those technologies to work. The most recent digital innovation from FINCA Haiti is its virtual branch. For many years, FINCA Haiti used the internet and social media to inform prospective clients about the microloans and other life-changing services it offers. But people still had to visit a physical branch office or wait for a visit from a credit officer to complete a loan application. The virtual branch does away with those in-person visits. From initial contact through application and disbursement, clients interact with FINCA Haiti completely online. While conceived of before the pandemic as a way to provide better service to clients and reach people in outlying areas, the virtual branch couldn’t have launched at a better time.
FINCA’s Mobile Banking Initiatives in Other CountriesHaiti isn’t the only FINCA Impact Finance subsidiary seeing a dramatic increase in the use of digital banking. In the weeks following the lockdown of their country, FINCA Kosovo reported a 2,000 percent spike in web chat inquiries and a 700 percent increase in Viber chats and Facebook Messenger inquiries. Meanwhile, FINCA Microfinance Bank Pakistan recorded a surge in the use of its mobile wallet. The mobile wallet includes a contactless payment feature, which has been a real game-changer. It allows clients to practice social distancing while remaining economically active. As the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on countries in which FINCA works, more innovation will be necessary. If you are interested in supporting these efforts, please consider donating to FINCA’s Emergency Response Fund.
Almost overnight, things got worse. I started having less clients and life became suddenly hard. I had almost 20 years running this sewing business and had been able to support my entire family. I was able to cover everything I need with the money earned from this business. All of that changed.According to Ms. Kabeya, it happened so suddenly, and people in her community initially focused on how to survive. That meant finding new sources to secure food and medicine. It also meant no one was thinking about clothes. She estimates that in the first month of the pandemic, she began losing 70% of her monthly revenue and could only retain 5 of the 12 employees she had. But in those first weeks, another idea sparked—one uniquely fitting for Ms. Kabeya’s skills and current needs.
When I first thought about producing masks, I doubted that it could work. I tried a few times, but eventually stopped thinking about it. But one day I was talking with the manager at my local FINCA branch about the difficulties I was facing with my business and she reminded me: I am a tailor! I could easily put that to use to make masks and help my business by selling them to compensate the losses I was experiencing because of COVID-19.With the encouragement of the FINCA staff at Victoire Branch, Ms. Kabeya got to work by procuring fabric, thread and elastic. She drew the model, then jumped right into sewing. The masks run between $0.65 to $1.3. Because of word of mouth, she hasn’t had to sell any masks on the street, rather, orders started coming in from different people, as well as associations and small enterprises. With the quick sales, she was soon able to call two people back to work to support making masks. For her, that was one of the best moments.
It helped bring my life back to normal. I’m doing business and helping people protect themselves from the pandemic. And my prices are very affordable to low-income people in my town.Ms. Kabeya tries to put her special touch to make each mask different, but most of the time, she said, customers who order clothes prefer having a mask made of the same piece of fabric as their clothes. But still, some let her be creative. More than that, she’s begun thinking creatively about her next steps for her business.
COVID-19 has taught me a different way of selling: e-selling really works! We think that in the future, we can better communicate our business through the internet and social media. We have understood that even though everything is closed, the internet still works, people communicate on social media, and even business goes through it. We plan to launch an online platform for selling all of our production.To date, she’s produced 5,500 masks. And she is just getting started.