Accion Ambassadors Blog

Experience the power of financial inclusion


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Now taking applications: 2016 Accion Ambassadors Volunteer Program

Note: We’ve moved! Follow this year’s Ambassadors blog posts here. We won’t be posting on this blog anymore, but all past blog posts have been moved to the new site, so you’ll be able to still find them.

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Every year, we send an intrepid group of volunteers to work with our partners around the world. We call them Accion Ambassadors. These passionate individuals document their journeys and report back with firsthand insights about financial inclusion and how it’s evolving. In the past, we’ve designed assignments based on the volunteers’ skills and interests, and on those of our partners — but this year, we’ll be doing things a little differently.

How does financial inclusion affect the lives of everyday entrepreneurs? How can technology play a part in economic development? What’s working on the frontlines, and what can we do better?

These are the questions we hope this year’s Ambassadors will strive to answer, through regular blogging and social media updates. We’re looking for writers, photographers, and content producers who are curious about the world economy, insatiable in their appetite for travel, and committed to reporting back on financial inclusion’s progress and challenges.

From microenterprises in Mumbai to fintech statrups in Zambia, this year’s Ambassadors will have the opportunity to see innovation for social good around the world through placements with our partners that last for a minimum of two weeks in the summer.

Learn more about the program requirements here, or read through some of the highlights from last year’s Ambassadors:

  1. “Why are there so many slums in India?” // Mumbai
  2. “The loan officer’s story” // Asuncion
  3. “3 Reasons Microfinance Still Matters” // Bogota
  4. “8 Lessons from Zoona, An African Fintech Startup” // Lusaka
  5. “Is microfinance innovating enough?” // Bangalore


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Looking back in the rearview mirror

Two and a half months in Paraguay working for Fundación Paraguaya has been a really valuable experience. I think there was an excellent fit between my ambitions (learning about microfinance on a local level) and the needs of the Fundación (analytical person with finance background). One thing I’ve learned is that lifting people out of poverty through microfinance is complex because of the playing field between efficiency (that requires a certain standardization) and the observation that people, better yet, families, are poor in their own unique way. Continue reading


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Franchising in Paraguay: Going beyond microcredit

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One of the “Impulsoras” explaining the different microfranchise options to Nidia, a long-standing client of Fundación Paraguaya.

The World Wide Web tells us that: “traditional franchising is when a firm with an established product or service (the franchisor) enters into a contractual relationship with other businesses (the franchisees). Franchisees operate under the franchisor’s trade name and guidance — in exchange for a fee.”

Microfranchising is a business model that applies traditional franchising (e.g. McDonalds) to very small businesses or micro-entrepreneurs, like cleaning supplies, eggs, and reading glasses in the case of Fundación Paraguaya. Microfranchising is a concept that differs from microcredit in that it mainly provides a proven and successful business model for replication, rather than just startup capital. Continue reading


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3 Reasons Microfinance Still Matters

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“Banco Occidente, Banco Caja Social, Citibank, BBVA…” Don Hugo listed off the banks he had taken loans from in the past. A microentrepreneur, José Hugo Beceira runs a construction shop in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogotá, and as he described, there is no shortage of credit for small business owners in the city. Entrepreneurs can walk into any number of NGOs, Colombian banks, or multinational banks, and walk out with a loan.

So if a microentrepreneur like Don Hugo can get the loans he needs to grow his business from so many providers, can’t we just consider this microfinance business a success and pat ourselves on the back?

Not so fast.

Though credit is widely available in major Latin American cities like Bogotá, we’re still very far from universal access, and moreover, easier access doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results for individuals or at the macroeconomic level. So, why do we need a continued focus on microfinance? Continue reading


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Looking ahead in global microfinance

IMG_7414 - CopyMy last week in India has come and gone, and I have been reflecting on the eight weeks I had the privilege of spending in this amazing country. In my previous blogs, I have shared some of my experiences in Mumbai and the many fascinating things I have seen. Yet, although my understanding of India is much better now, I still feel I have not been able to triangulate all the different pieces of the new things I had the opportunity to experience and learn during my time here. India is an intense country. As soon as you start discovering this country, it is easy to get overwhelmed by its contrasts, colors, food, people, religions, streets, architecture, and more. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is also an international and very fascinating city that is much more than the home of the Bollywood film industry and the main financial district in the region.

During my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work in microfinance across different places, including Latin America, Africa, the United States, and, more recently, India. Although each country and region has its own peculiarities, they all share very similar challenges to balance financial sustainability and financial inclusion, which requires continuous innovation to meet the needs of customers. In addition, providing financial services to very low-income households is just a gateway – but not a sufficient condition to – achieving financial inclusion. The role of governments and banks is increasingly important – governments through regulation, and banks through building and creating roads into markets. In this scenario, it is critical to continue innovating and learning more information about the impact that microfinance has on the lives of our customers and communities. This type of information will be useful to policymakers, donors, investors and financial services.

I would like to thank to all of the Swadhaar and Accion team, especially Preeti Telang and Nihar Jena. Also to my teammates Madhan and Pravash, thanks so much, I learned so much from you during these last eight weeks. Lastly, I would like to thank to my friends Apurva and Rathna who made my adaptation to living in India very easy and helped me so much to better understand the Indian culture. It will be impossible to remember India without a smile.

Pablo Nunez

Pablo Nunez is working out of Mumbai, India, with Swadhaar FinServe, an Accion partner and microfinance institution, on a small and medium enterprise lending project.


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The Limitations of Cash in Malawi

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The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Lilongwe was cash. While Zambia rebased its currency two years ago, there are still an inconvenient number of zeroes on Malawian Kwacha. The highest denomination note is worth less than $2 USD. This causes several inconveniences for ordinary Malawians, and Zoona agents, in particular.
Continue reading


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Up for Review: the Client Protection Principles at Fundación Paraguaya

Consider this the sequel to my last story about the Client Protection Principles. Planet Rating is visiting this week to conduct an organization-wide evaluation in order to decide if Fundación Paraguaya will be eligible for SmartCampaign certification.

(Tip: If some of these names do not sound familiar, probably better to read the prequel first).

Planet Rating has been so nice to let me join them on one of the days, which at the time of writing was yesterday. We visited the branch of Villa Elisa, a city in the Central Department of Paraguay that borders with the capital Asunción. At the branch, Anali from Planet Rating conducted interviews with three focus groups:

  1. Asesoras & Oficiales de Crédito
  2. A group of 8 male clients
  3. A group of 5 female clients (we hoped it would be more)

Some of the more interesting observations were:

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