Social Entrepreneurs Providing New Channels for Savings for the Poor?

In the past few years, poor people are increasingly gaining access to financial services - to make payments and deposits - through the expansion of branchless banking.  As researchers from CGAP, the Gates Foundation and other institutions have noted, partnerships between banks and other village based institutions such as post offices, retail institutions and microfinance organizations have played an important role in increasing the access to services to poor people living in low-density areas.
 
At Ashoka, we have seen an increase in another important force.  Social entrepreneurs from different fields (education, health, etc.) are creating channels through which the poor can save. To achieve their social goals social entrepreneurs are often in constant contact with people in the villages and they develop strong network of trust and credibility - more so than other more traditional organizations such as small business or local government offices. In most cases, these branchless banking solutions are located in remote villages where there are no options for banks to partner with traditional branchless banking agents (for example, large retail chains or franchises or more traditional microfinance institutions).
 
One example of this type of entrepreneurial venture is Aisect (founded by Santosh Choubey), India’s leading IT Training and Services for rural areas, with over 8000 centers in 27 states and 3 union territories. Aisect developed a partnership with the State Bank of India as a Business Facilitator and as Business Correspondent providing banking services in the unbanked areas of the country to hundreds of thousands of people
 
Another powerful example is the participation of Banco Palmas (founded by Ashoka Fellow Joaquim Melo), in a hybrid value chain with a bank. Melo founded the Social Enterprise Banco Palmas in 1998 to help develop formal and informal businesses in the favelas outside of Fortaleza (Ceara, Brazil).  By 2011, there were 54 organizations throughout 12 states in Brazil following the model of Banco Palmas.  This network has a partnership with Banco Caixa to give access to formal savings accounts to its customers. On average 17,000 saving transactions are executed monthly at the main branch of Palmas .  This partnership allow communities located far from traditional banks or those that are elderly or disabled and have difficulty commuting, access to basic banking services. 
 
These are only two examples of social entrepreneurs using their traditional customer service offices (community centers, IT centers, etc) as branchless banking centers to offer savings services in a commercially viable way, but it is an increasingly popular model. Considering the capillarity of the initiatives of social entrepreneurs and the network of trust they have built in the communities they operate, it may be interesting to consider them as an agent with potential to generate solutions of branchless banking benefiting thousands of poor people.
 
Marcelo Ber is program manager of Microsaving - Social Financial Services at Ashoka. He is also a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU Wagner.