2019 marks ten editions of the European Microfinance Award, launched in 2005 by the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as a biennial Award – the first of which took place in 2006, and after considerable interest and exposure, became annual after 2014. The Award serves two parallel goals: rewarding excellence, and collecting and disseminating the most relevant practices for replication by others.
The Award’s influence and prestige has grown, and its €100,000 prize for the winner (and €10,000 for the runners-up), attracts applications from many organisations that are innovating in a particular area of financial inclusion. As well as the significant prize, an important additional benefit to winners is the exposure that they receive, and the opportunities for expansion and replication that the attention of the sector can provide.
To celebrate ten editions of the Award, e-MFP has decided to reach out to the previous winners, for a ‘where are they now?’ blog series, published in the order we receive them throughout 2019, to look at what they have been doing with their initiative since they won, and how the winning of the Award has helped, and what plans they have in store.
In 2012, the theme of the Award was Microfinance for Food Security, focusing on microfinance initiatives that contribute to improving food production and distribution conditions in developing countries. Alalay Sa Kaunlaran Inc. (ASKI) of The Philippines won for serving smallholder farmers and fostering effective market linkages. Its initiative presented for the 4th European Microfinance Award focused on increasing the small farmers' productivity through financing, market linkages and capacity building program. It consisted of providing microcredit, technical assistance and insurance to small farmers, and sustained market linkages to private sector enterprises. The initiative enhanced knowledge and productivity of small farmers and helped beneficiaries increase their yield, produce good quality harvests, and reduce postharvest losses because of adequate infrastructure and proper use of adapted techniques.
e-MFP: How has your initiative evolved since you received the Award? What have been the biggest changes?
ASKI: Since we won the Award in 2012, ASKI continued and further strengthened our efforts to reach poor communities and bring programs and projects with genuine impact to the underserved agriculture sector in the Philippines. As we’ve developed our initiatives that increase food security since winning the Award, ASKI’s networks, stakeholders and partners have entrusted different community development programs through the ASKI Foundation. It has also bolstered its expansion program that made the delivery of its services more efficient and accessible to clients.
As of the end of 2018, ASKI Microfinance is serving more than 113,000 clients providing about P1.8 billion (USD 34.5 million) in livelihood development loans. Alongside this is a microinsurance program that reaches almost 250,000 households, covering 700,000 people. Our agricultural loan program supports around 19,000 farmers via a P524 million (USD 9.8 million) portfolio.
Aside from our existing loan products and services, ASKI also offers a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program with loans to help poor households access modern toilets and clean water, and Green Energy Loans to buy solar-powered lighting products that cater for communities without grid electricity. So far, the GEL program has more than 1,300 clients benefitting 7,000 individuals and is now being rolled-out in 78 ASKI offices in Central and Northern Philippines as part of our commitment to provide affordable and clean energy.
Winning the Award had immediate direct benefits for our clients. With the prize money, more than 7,000 individuals benefitted from different products, including multi-commodity solar drying pavements, dual threshing machines for rice and corn, hand tractor threshing machines, a farmer entrepreneurship program, a farmers’ field school, community health sessions for TB prevention, tree planting, and various other smaller projects to benefit poor rural clients.
e-MFP: What did winning the Award mean to your organization? Did anything change as a result of winning, both within the specific initiative for which you won and in the organisation more broadly?
ASKI: Winning the Award has inspired ASKI to carry out more initiatives that will help poor families improve their lives and livelihoods. ASKI considered the award a privilege but also a responsibility, to promote social change to neglected communities under the spotlight of many observers in the financial inclusion sector. The Award also helped ASKI’s initiatives gain recognition not just locally but also internationally, which has really helped us solidify our partnerships with different networks and stakeholders. Since then, ASKI has been implementing WASH and Men at Work programs in partnership with Wholistic Transformation and Resource Center and the Livelihood for Extreme Poor Program and Community Impact Fund for Community Development Projects, funded by Opportunity International (Australia).
ASKI has also strengthened its partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), a government agency certifying technical-vocational courses among the youth, and the agriculture and livestock program at the ASKI Training Institute is now awaiting approval from TESDA. Having the accreditation will enable us to become a certified training center not only in the local province but nationally.
Finally, to empower SMEs, ASKI is now working with Lanka Orix Leasing Corporation based in Sri Lanka to invest in our SME operation, known as the ASKI-LOLC Finance, Inc. With the enactment of the Microfinance NGO Act, all loans above P300,000 (USD 5,800) will be transferred to this new SME entity, which focuses on the particular needs of these clients that have graduated from microfinance and are expanding their businesses.
e-MFP: Are you aware of any impact your initiative has had on other organisations?
ASKI: ASKI’s value chain program for farmer-beneficiaries has become one of the models in the agriculture sector. In various local and international conferences, ASKI has been invited to present the best practices of our initiative. Similarly, we have become one of the institutions regularly considered for exposure visits by international organisations. Our program has also been noted by Agricultural Credit Policy Council and has introduced it to its agriculture projects in the country. So we are pleased that the exposure from winning the Award has meant the lessons we have learned can be absorbed for replication elsewhere.
e-MFP: What do you see in the future for your initiative and for this area of practice more generally?
ASKI: ASKI will continue bringing its initiatives that improve food security to its farmer clients. ASKI is hoping to build more formal farmers’ cooperatives to maximize their capacity to produce and prosper as well – which have already been done for farmer groups involved in rice, onion, ginger, and cassava production. ASKI is looking forward to new partners and funders to support its programs to help the agriculture sector of the country.
The European Microfinance Award is jointly organised by the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) and the Inclusive Finance Network Luxembourg (InFiNe.lu). For more information on the 2019 Award on "Strengthening resilience to climate change" , visit the Award website (closing date is 9th April).