Viewing all posts with tag: Gender  

Notes from the Field: New Video from Our Mobile Money Research in Bangladesh

In the past, we've talked about peer effects and low adoption rates of mobile money banking accounts in Bangladesh. Our research exploring these issues (as well benefits for migrant workers)  is in full swing!  It is a randomized evaluation, which means that half of the sample is randomly assigned to a control group, while half of the sample is randomly assigned to the treatment group, which receives training and assistance with signing up for mobile money accounts. 
In this video, co-investigator Dr. Abu Shonchoy audits the training by re-interviewing a woman who was part of the treatment group to make sure that the training was thorough and made the service understandable to the participant . . . 

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2014 Global Findex: Is the Glass Half Full?

The 2014 Global Findex data has been a hot topic of conversation around the FAI offices since its release last month.  While there is a lot to dissect in the 97-page report, the biggest headline is the 20% decrease in the number of unbanked worldwide  - approximately 700 million people worldwide. 

However, there are concerns that this number is overstated and the data leave us with outstanding questions as to why certain trends occur over the last 4 years.  One reason is we do not yet have access to the microdata.  When we can only use broad strokes to tell a nuanced story, many of the finer points are lost, like regional differences in financial inclusion changes. 

Another example is the data around gender . . . 

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A Tale of Two Studies: Measuring Women’s Empowerment Then and Now

In what seems to me an unfortunate conflation, the literature on women’s empowerment frequently relies on the same characterization as pornography: “you have trouble defining it but you know it when you see it.” If “empowerment” is hard to define, it is even harder to measure. This is a problem for researchers trying to establish a clear causal relationship between microfinance interventions and better outcomes for women.

In theory, microcredit could empower women through a number of different channels. For example, giving loans to women could increase their bargaining power within the family, and afford them greater control over household resources and decisions. The peer monitoring component of group-lending could provide protection against abuse, and deter domestic violence. Empirically, however, the picture is quite mixed . . . 

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Grants Double Income but not Empowerment for Ultra-poor in Uganda

A new paper by Chris Blattman (Columbia) and co-authors provides optimistic new evidence on the returns to providing cash grants to impoverished women in northern Uganda.  The new experiment varied whether the ultra-poor, largely women, were offered a business grant worth $150, training and supervision, and found dramatic impacts of the cash grant on entrepreneurship, hours worked, individual earnings, and household consumption.

The paper stands out from previous studies in that it finds strong positive impacts for women, and that it does so among the most impoverished people in the village.  Only those people identified by a local nonprofit as the poorest fifteen people in each village (86 percent of whom were women) were eligible for the study.  Previous studies of cash and in-kind small enterprise grants delivered to women in Sri Lanka and in Ghana find more mixed effects.  Grants to female-owned microenterprises had, on average, no impact in Sri Lanka, and in Ghana, only in-kind grants or grants made to initially more profitable female microenterprises appeared to benefit recipients . . . 

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How to Increase Formal Savings for the Papad-Makers of Dharavi Slum

This post by Mudita Tiwari and Deepti KC.

In Dharavi, Mumbai, the largest urban slum in Asia, groups of women make papad, crispy lentil dough wafers, for Lijjat Papad Company, one of the world’s largest papad retailers.  Lijjat requires any woman who works for the enterprise to first open a savings account, and to encourage savings, the company deposits a small proportion of the women’s earnings (2 rupees of every 32 rupees earned) directly into the savings accounts, adding a bonus during the Diwali festival . . . 

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Women Pay More and Get Less: Experiences from Malawi

Here on the FAI blog we’ve written many posts  on the shortcomings of financial literacy training programs, both in the US and abroad. When I came across a study from the World Bank’s Development Research Group evaluating a vocational training and entrepreneurship program in Malawi, I was prepared to add this to the stack of mounting evidence of training programs that show little to no effect on business development and personal finance and move on. But in this case, the study focuses on the gendered differences of participation in the training course, not just whether or not it was effective at facilitating new business activity.

Like previous research, the Malawi study found no effects on self-employment*, but it did find significant differences in satisfaction and self-esteem between women and men after taking part in the program. The authors (Cho et al.) comment, “these differences are explained by both the conditions under which women participate in training, as well as gender differences in the training experience" . . . 

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New Research from the American Economic Review

The American Economic Association (AEA) recently released the Papers and Proceedings issue of its journal American Economic Review, which presents selected papers from the AEA's annual meeting. The AER is one of the premier economics journals and has very broad coverage. For instance, you can learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about income and church attendance in nineteenth century Prussia. Happily, this volume also includes a number of papers relating to mobile money, credit, savings, and insurance.

Mobile Money

In their study, William Jack, Adam Ray, and Tavneet Suri investigate how households using M-PESA interact with and exploit their informal networks when making transactions. The authors find M-PESA users have more remittance activity, make transfers over distances greater than 100 km, and have more reciprocal transactions than non-users.

While Jack et al. looked at volume of transactions, David Weil and Isaac Mbiti used aggregate data in their research on the velocity of mobile money. One of the more intriguing findings is that withdrawals are made frequently and in small amounts, even though users can reduce fees if they group withdrawals. As the use of mobile money grows in other countries (M-PESA recently launched in India, for instance) it will be interesting to see how similar these (and previous) findings are in different cultural contexts.

Gender and Finance

Using data from over 30,000 firms in 90 developing countries, Elizabeth Asiedu, Isaac Kalonda-Kanyama, Leonce Ndikumana, and Akwasi Nti-Adde analyze whether gender is a determinant in financing constraints and access to credit for firms. They find that indeed, female-owned firms are more likely to be financially constrained than male-owned counterparts but only in the sub-Saharan African region. There is no gender gap in other regions but small firms are more likely to be financially constrained than larger firms, and foreign-owned firms are less likely to be constrained than domestically owned firms.

Moving from the macro to the micro level, Carolina Castilla and Thomas Walker investigate gendered dynamics of intra-household financial decisions in their paper. In a field experiment in Southern Ghana, researchers conducted public and private lotteries with cash and in-kind prizes to observe the effects of these windfalls on household allocations. They found “husbands' public windfalls increase investment in assets and social capital, while there is no such effect when wives win. Private windfalls of both spouses are committed to cash (wives) or in-kind gifts (husband) which are either difficult to monitor or to reverse if discovered by the other spouse.”


We return to Kenya with Michael Kremer, Jean Lee, Jonathan Robinson, and Olga Rostapshova in their study on behavioral biases and firm behavior. Among a sample of Kenyan shopkeepers, those with lower math skills were less accepting of small-scale risk and were also less likely to have larger inventories than those with higher scores. There are some interesting observations in the paper on the connection between loss aversion and microfinance, suggesting that small business owners are less likely to access microcredit if risk averse and social safety nets could possibly help increase investment in these enterprises.

Similarly, Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak and Mark R. Rosenzweig look at risk in the context of the Indian insurance market, specifically rainfall insurance. Their findings show that when insured farmers took greater risks, wage levels increased but so did the volatility of labor demand, creating a threat to landless workers. When offered the choice, landless workers also purchased insurance when contracts were offered to farmers.


Lastly, Suresh de Mel, Craig McIntosh, and Christopher Woodruff report the findings of their field experiment in rural Sri Lanka that tested the efficacy of various methods of collecting deposits in formal bank accounts. Although their research shows frequent, face-to-face collection increases aggregate household savings, collections using community lock boxes affected the number of transactions but not the overall level of savings.

Gender and Mobile Money

The mobile money revolution has been greeted with great excitement in some circles for the potential it holds to increase financial access for the world’s poorest. Women may especially benefit from expanding financial inclusion through mobile financial services (MFS). Women not only handle a lot of cash to provide for household needs in many societies, but they may be explicitly or implicitly discouraged from using bank branches.  A new report (sponsored by Visa and the GSMA mWomenProgramme) by FAI affiliate Daryl Collins explores just this theme. In “Unlocking the Potential: Women and Mobile Financial Services in Emerging Markets,”  Collins and her coauthors explore the untapped potential of woman as a strategic consumer base for MFS providers.

A summary of the report’s conclusions . . . 

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Managing the Difficult Trade-offs in Microfinance Regulation

A few weeks ago M-CRIL, an Indian microfinance ratings firm, published a white paper on India's evolving microfinance regulations. The overall message is that while the proposed regulatory framework is improving, it still needs work. One particular point caught my eye: 

"The prevailing pricing regime – average cost of funds plus a margin cap – penalizes those MFIs that incur a high cost due to their commitment to responsible finance as well as those who are innovative in raising funds at low cost.  Those that do both suffer a double 'whammy'."

While there is widespread agreement around the world that people should be protected from usurious interest rates on loans, there is little consensus on how to determine, and enforce, a cap on interest rates charged to the poor. The debate is as hot in the US (where it's fought over credit card and payday lending rates) as it is in India, Nicaragua and Bangladesh . . . 

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Women in Banking

Bringing the unbanked into the formal financial system requires innovation—but sometimes the innovation required is far from what we spend most of our time thinking about.  A post at the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics blog details an important innovation required to bring women into bank branches at the turn of the 20th century: a private room for extracting cash from their stockings. 

The post notes other important milestones in banking women—a long term process that began around the time of the U.S. Civil War when California established the financial independence of women regardless of marital status. Still, more than a century later, the “ridiculous” idea of women managing their own bank accounts was being used for easy laughs on television shows . . . 

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Mary Ellen Iskenderian: The Year in Microfinance

As CEO of a global microfinance network I spent much of 2010 answering questions about the crisis in India and advocating for the continued relevance of microfinance as a model. This year’s challenges, however, gave me an opportunity to talk about theessential role of transparency and good governance and the importance of building on a deep understanding of client needs to tailoring products to fit those needs.

While the crisis dominated the media for much of the year, it would be regrettable if we didn’t acknowledge some of the important positive developments in the last 12 months. As an organization focused on increasing women’s access to financial services, we at Women’s World Banking (WWB) have a few things to cheer . . . 

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How do Women Weather Economic Shocks?

A new paper from the World Bank explores what we know about how women weather economic shocks. Here’s the main result:

In the past, women from low-income households have typically entered the labor force, while women from high-income households have often exited the labor market in response to economic crises. Evidence also suggests that women defer fertility during economic crises and that child schooling and child survival are adversely affected, mainly in low-income countries, with girls suffering more adverse health effects than boys.

Papers like this can go a long way toward providing the foundation for the case for insurance. It has nothing to do with insurance per see—just about the inability to cope with risk . . . 

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Barbara Magnoni on microfinance product design

The vast majority of microfinance programs -- particularly group lending efforts -- explicitly target women. This focus grew in part out of the belief, supported by some research, that women are more likely to invest in the household as a whole, particularly in the children. Given that, what can we do to improve women’s financial self-sufficiency, either through employment, entrepreneurial success or thoughtful risk management tools?

Barbara Magnoni, President of EA Consultants, a development consultancy that advises on microfinance product design, thinks we could start by taking a more differentiated view of men and women as microfinance customers . . . 

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Research recap Part 3: in preparation for next week's Microfinance Impact & Innovation Conference

We're live-blogging the Innovations for Poverty Action/Financial Access Initiative Microfinance Conference 2008.

There is no tenet of microfinance theory more fundamental than the focus on women. The marketing narrative is replete with reasons why a focus on women is sacrosanct. To quote Muhammad Yunus: “Women have greater long-term vision and are ready to bring changes in their life step by step. They are also excellent managers of scarce resources, stretching the use of every resource to the maximum.” And of course, we all "know" that women invest more in their households and children than men do . . . 

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Self Help Groups in India: Living up to their promise?

This month Frances Sinha is writing about lessons from her important new book, Microfinance Self-Help Groups in India: Living Up to Their Promise. Her first postintroduced the book. Today's post describes some of the most striking lessons.

The social promise of Self Help Groups (SHGs) lies in the potential of the group medium, and the potential of wider networks of such groups to provide an empowering community platform for their women members.  

We used the data from 214 SHGs in four states of India to see: In how many groups has a member been elected to the village panchayat (local council)?  How effective are such elected women members in village governance? How many groups have played a role to improve community decisions and action – on, for example, delivery and maintenance of services (schools, health care, roads, veterinary care) and on issues of social justice, especially those of concern to women (domestic violence, dowry, bigamy, treatment of widows)?  How effective or successful have such actions been?  And, when SHGs undertake group based enterprises, how viable are such enterprises?

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