Can Islamic Microfinance give more people access to the financial services they need to grow their business? (Credit: DFID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Research has shown that financial sector development and the efficiency of financial systems are closely linked to economic growth. Ensuring the provision of financial services to the poor can also address the challenge of poverty alleviation and directly target financing towards economically and socially underprivileged groups. Appropriate financial services, such as savings services, investment, insurance, and payment and money transfer facilities, enable the poor to acquire capital to engage in productive ventures, manage risks, increase their income and savings, and escape poverty.
We have just released a Migration and Development brief prepared by our colleagues Jose Anson and Nils Clotteau of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) based in Berne, Switzerland. There are an estimated 660,000 post offices in the world, larger than all bank branches combined. In this brief, Jose and Nils explore the role that postal networks can play in providing money transfers (remittances) and basic financial services to low-income people living in developing countries, in particular those in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The New York Times published an opinion piece on diaspora bonds over the weekend. In this piece, Ngozi and I highlight the potential for mobilizing diaspora wealth for financing infrastructure investments in Africa and other developing regions.
At a time when donor countries are facing fiscal difficulties, new sources of funding and innovative ways to leverage available donor funding are required for meeting the financing needs in developing countries. Indeed, innovative mechanisms for channeling investments to dynamic developing countries may even provide a way out of weak demand and excess capacity prevailing currently in the developed countries. As highlighted by Justin Lin, "a global push for investment along the line of Keynesian stimulus is the key for a sustained global recovery; however, the stimulus needs to go beyond the traditional Keynesian investment....By far the greatest opportunities for productivity-enhancing investments are in developing countries..." (see here ).
For 20 years, BP Agrawal led research and development at such companies as General Dynamics, ITT, GTE, and Hughes, helping take new technologies from lab to marketplace. US-based Agrawal and his diaspora peer had a number of discussions on how they can make an impact in home country (India), and concluded that it is not their financial contributions that would make a difference but rather new commercial models of public service provision. In 2006, he won Development Marketplace awards for River from the Sky, a system of community water provision in draught-stricken areas and in 2007 for, Clinics for Mass Care, a system of mobile, kiosk-based clinics.
Recognition of the poor as a major market opportunity has produced bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation, the hallmark of which is global search for home-grown solutions. Diaspora members are natural vehicles for both global search and diffusion in the local context. In reality, diffusion is all that matters. Thanks to Agrawal’ patience, perseverance and persistence, he was able to enter into partnership with a local government which significantly speeded up the diffusion.
The United States has recently signed separate Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with El Salvador and Honduras to assist them in securitizing their future remittance receipts to raise financing for infrastructure and development projects. Under the Building Remittance Investment for Development, Growth, and Entrepreneurship (BRIDGE) initiative, banks in these countries will leverage their future remittance receipts to raise lower-cost and longer-term financing in international capital markets to fund infrastructure, public works, and commercial development initiatives (see press release).
In a speech in New York City on September 22, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained how BRIDGE would work to raise critically needed development funding:
“…Now, if they [migrants] send these remittances through the formal financial system, they create huge funding flows that are orders of magnitude larger than any development assistance we can dream of. By harnessing the potential of remittances, BRIDGE will make it easier for communities in El Salvador and Honduras to get the financing they need to build roads and bridges, for example, to support entrepreneurs, to make loans, to bring more people into the financial system…..Through BRIDGE and its in-country partners, local banks will be able to leverage their remittance flows….With the leverage from remittances, the local banks will be able to get lower-cost, longer-term financing for investments in infrastructure projects and small businesses.”
Bangladesh seems on track to launch a mobile money transfer (MMT) service which could potentially reduce costs to 1 percent of the transfer amount. The project will be implemented by Grameen Phone (a subsidiary of Grameen Bank which has pioneered mobile access to rural areas in Bangladesh) and is being supported by the World Bank, according to India's Economic Times.
There are two new innovations compared to other developing countries with successful MMT implementation: (1) This service is targeted primarily for cross-border transfers (estimated at $9 billion annually), unlike other countries such as Kenya and Philippines where MMT has been focused on domestic transfers, and (2) It will use a network of ATM machines, where recipients can withdraw the money instead of having to go to a designated agent.
Entering the cross-border market will require developing settlement systems between Grameen Phone and banks and money transfer operators in the major remittance-sources (including in the Gulf) and extensive cooperation between the respective central banks and banking supervisors. The success of this venture will serve as a useful pilot for other countries that are considering such cross-border transfers.