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Author: Sally Yacoub
As International Women’s Day comes around once more, the stubbornness of the gender financial inclusion gap lingers in my mind. Despite progress in women’s financial inclusion, the gender gap in account ownership has remained persistent - at 9% since 2011. I cannot help but think about Albert Einstein’s quote that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. As a collective global community, we need to do things differently; think differently and intervene differently. Thinking through the barriers to women’s financial inclusion, the persistence of the gender financial inclusion gap is not surprising. Financial services are introduced in contexts and ecosystems that have their own dynamics - which grants privileges for some and presents obstacles for others. Those barriers are often intricately interwoven. When it comes to financial inclusion, women face a broad range of barriers. Despite obvious differences in individual circumstances and needs, many women - particularly low-income women in developing contexts – share common features.

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Author: Gilles Renouil - Women’s World Banking
As leaders face the enormous challenge of reviving post-pandemic economies, financial inclusion plays a key role. But how do we ensure that incentives, tools and programs specifically designed for low income populations become commercially viable in their own right, and remain financially sustainable over the long term? In last month’s blog “Five to thrive Embedding health care in financial services”, Lisa Morgan and Craig Churchill from the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlighted that while the need is greater than ever, it’s not easy to design and deliver financial services that can help to finance health care for vulnerable groups. We at Women’s World Banking look back at 15 years of design and implementation of innovative health insurance programs for low-income populations and confirm that yes, it is not easy. Yet, Caregiver, our flagship insurance solution, provides a meaningful, affordable and sustainable life insurance and hospital cash solution to middle- and low income women (entrepreneurs) in developing countries, proving that with discipline and commitment it can be done.

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Author: Craig Churchill - Lisa Morgan
We laud e-MFP and the other European Microfinance Award organisers for highlighting, via this year’s Award, the potential impact that financial inclusion can have on health care. This is indeed a critical issue. For low-income households and microentrepreneurs, ill health can be financially catastrophic – eroding savings, depleting working capital, causing loan repayment defaults and exacerbating indebtedness. Health related financial risks are a primary driver of impoverishment. The WHO estimates that about 150 million people around the world suffer financial catastrophe each year from out-of-pocket expenditure on health services, while 100 million people fall below the poverty line.

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Author: Daniel Rozas - Sam Mendelson
“The first wealth is health,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. How particularly true this is for the global poor, for whom health is often the dividing line between the path to prosperity or a slide into destitution. To make matters worse, the combination of typically volatile and precarious incomes and the absence of high-quality universal health care where they live means low-income communities not only need access to health care, but also the ability to pay for it.

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Author: Weselina Angelow - Programme Director Scale2Save WSBI
These have been threatening times for financial service providers (FSPs) and customers. That’s especially true in Africa, where large-scale lockdowns across countries, besides causing economic setbacks for particularly low- and middle- income households, hit FSPs on many fronts. From office staff workarounds and increasing use of digital products for branch and agent operations and contact with informal groups, FSPs saw challenges unforeseen just a year ago. The pandemic has underscored the importance of a digital financial services-enabling environment and a refocus on the need to build financial health and resilience among the underserved and unbanked. Scale2Save – a programme active since 2016 – helps institutions in six African countries through the journey of navigating the rough waters of Covid-19.

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Author: e-MFP
As part of our efforts to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on microfinance markets around the globe, e-MFP reached out to Kompanion Bank in Kyrgyzstan, a good and long-time friend of e-MFP, having been a winner of the European Microfinance Award in 2014. Via an email exchange, Margarita Cherikbaeva, CEO, brought us up to speed on the situation on the ground: As of morning May 20, there were 1,322 coronavirus infection cases in Kyrgyzstan, 37 cases for the last 24 hours. 949 people recovered (68.3% of the total number of registered COVID-19 cases). Analysis shows a downward trend starting from April 16. An increase was observed from April 5 to 20. The highest numbers were registered on April 11-12. The number of cases has started to decrease since end of April. Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the economy of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Ministry of Economy projects a 6.8% decline in the annual GDP due to self-isolation.

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Author: e-MFP
As part of our efforts to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on microfinance markets around the globe, e-MFP reached out to Kashf Foundation in Pakistan, a good and long-time friend of e-MFP, having been a winner of the European Microfinance Award in 2016. Via an email exchange, Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and Managing Director, brought us up to speed on the situation on the ground: "The novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc in the country. To date 31,728 cases have been confirmed in the country with 691 deaths. The province of Sindh and Punjab have been most impacted by the virus with 12,017 and 11,568 cases respectively. They are followed by KP (4,875), Balochistan (2,061), Islamabad (679) and GB/AJK (442/86). Moreover, as the country grapples with the coronavirus, the economic impact is mounting, with the economy expected to shrink to negative 1-1.5% against an expected growth rate of 2.4% during the current fiscal year. In addition, the imports are expected to decrease by 50-60% and the exports by 10-20%. The employment loss is also estimated at 20%".

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Author: e-MFP
Like many major microfinance markets, the Philippines microfinance sector is suffering from the twin threats of a public health emergency and the mitigation response which entails economic shutdown, both of which disproportionately impact vulnerable population segments and the financial providers that serve them. As part of our efforts to understand the impact of the pandemic on our partners, e-MFP reached out to Alalay sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (ASKI), a good and long-time friend of e-MFP, having been a winner and finalist of the European Microfinance Award on multiple occasions. Via an email exchange, ASKI brought us up to speed on the situation on the ground which has greatly affected the whole community including the microentrepreneur clients of ASKI.

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Author: Daniel Rozas
Liquidity has been foremost on the minds of just about everyone in the financial inclusion sector. Several essays on this site have delved into the topic. The first article in our liquidity series outlined three drivers for illiquidity: deposit withdrawals, operating costs, and maturing debt, and argues that maturing debt presents the greatest risk. But what does the data say? Here we will dig into that, and investigate just how severe the different elements of the liquidity crunch are to different categories of MFI around the world. We don't have access to sector-wide data reflecting the situation right now. Nobody does. But we can get a good view of what may be happening from historical data collected by MIX Market over many years. Let's start with the most basic question. Assume an MFI is operating under complete shutdown, with no repayments, no new disbursements, and no other inflow or outflow of funds - it's operating entirely from cash reserves. How many months would it be able to survive before the money runs out?

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Author: Daniel Rozas - Sam Mendelson
In our first piece in this series "Keeping the Patient Alive - Adapting Crisis Rubrics for a Covid World", we introduced the analogy of the emergency room doctors trying to treat a critically ill patient - a financial services provider (FSP), its staff and clients in lockdown or socially distancing, unable to travel and with incomes collapsing, health expenditures increasing, and some sick or dying. Repayments are close to impossible, and new loan applications are flat. But operational expenses continue, and it’s a race against the clock. In short, this patient is critical. To continue the analogy, ensuring the reciprocal trust and confidence of staff and clients and investors is like treating a patient’s organs, with interventions from pharmacology to surgery to transplant. We’ll get to that, though. For now, the challenges need triage. The patient can’t breathe, so she cannot oxygenate and circulate her blood. This, to come back to our institution, is the critical need for liquidity.

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