Accion is a global nonprofit organization with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need to improve their lives.
Accion’s vision is to build a financially inclusive world with access to economic opportunity for all.
Passion for social change.
Letter from the President & Board Chair
We believe in a financially inclusive world—one in which every individual has access to a full range of high-quality, affordable financial services. With access and the right financial tools, people have a greater opportunity to capitalize on their abilities and achieve real economic gains, building brighter futures for themselves and their families.
Our work is guided by the lessons of our 50-year history, and a strategy based on three pillars: building the next generation of top-tier microfinance institutions (MFIs), pushing the frontiers of financial inclusion beyond MFIs, and helping to build a strong industry with high standards. Over the last year, we have made significant progress in all three areas.
First, we are working to extend microfinance to more underserved countries and regions of the world, launching Accion Microfinanças in Manaus, Brazil; strengthening our Indian partners; and working to build new alliances in China, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and beyond. And we’re increasing opportunity in the United States through the Accion U.S. Network, the largest microlending network in the country. Since its inception in 1991, it has extended more than $320 million in working-capital loans.
Second, we have launched Venture Lab, a $10 million new impact-investment initiative that provides
seed-stage funding for small start-ups developing new products and business models that increase
access to services for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. And through our Frontier Investments Group, we continue to invest in other groundbreaking financial services, such as mobile payments in
Zambia; a technology services company in India staffed by the disabled; and life insurance for the most
vulnerable, such as those living with HIV and AIDS.
Third, the Smart Campaign—the flagship consumer-protection initiative of Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion—continues to gather momentum across the globe, boasting more than 2,900 endorsers, of which 900 are MFIs who serve 40 million clients in over 130 countries. And, we have deepened collaboration with other industry leaders, including the Microfinance CEO Working Group, on a common agenda to address key industry challenges, with the goal of redoubling the industry’s commitment to consumer protection, pricing transparency and meaningful measurement of social impact.
We are proud of the work and achievements made over the last year, and of the value that Accion brings
in its effort to provide opportunity to millions of hardworking people throughout the world.
We are no less proud of, and honored by, your continued support. Your generosity makes our work possible.
We invite you to explore the stories of our clients and their families. They inspire us, and they serve as good examples of how millions of brave and industrious people are working their way up the economic ladder, with dignity and pride.
Designer and client of Accion East, a member of the Accion U.S. Network, New York City.
YAN RONG MA
Buddha shop owner and client of Accion partner Accion Microfinance China in Yuanbaoshan, China.
ERIVAN DOS SANTOS
Bicycle shop owner and client of Accion partner Microfinançasin Manaus, Brazil.
Raw food chef and client of Accion Texas, a member of the Accion U.S. Network, in Houston, Texas.
Electronics salesman and client of Accion partner Accion Microfinance Bank in Lagos, Nigeria.
Tea stand owner and client of Accion partner Mann Deshi Bank, with whom Accion is piloting its financial literacy and “Dialogue on Business” programs in Mhaswad, India.
Weaver and client of Accion partner Finamérica in Bogota, Colombia.
PURA PARADA HURTADO
Dairy farmer and client of Accion partner BancoSol in La Reforma, Bolivia.
BETTY AND LUIS SUXO SIRPA
Furniture makers and clients of Accion partner BancoSol in El Alto, Bolivia.
Barbecue shop owner and client of Accion partner Accion Microfinance China in Chifeng, China.
OKATOR NMAJU TASIE JOHNSON
Tailor and client of Accion partner EB-ACCION Microfinance in Douala, Cameroon.
Poultry vendor and client of Accion partner Accion Microfinance Bank in Lagos, Nigeria.
Strategies At Work
1. Building Top-Tier Microfinance Institutions.
Accion’s role in the industry is unique. We build sustainable, scalable MFIs that share our commitment to the double bottom line—maximizing both financial and social impact—by providing those MFIs with management services, investment and governance. Like a venture capital firm, we combine investment of capital with managerial expertise. Our managers are typically seconded to partner MFIs and use their experience to help build sound, commercial models of microfinance that are scalable, profitable and carefully attuned to protecting client’s rights. Together, these services help catapult smaller, younger MFIs to the highest level of performance.
We have focused our attention on some of the poorest populations in some of the most challenging environments in the world. For example, in 2011 we inaugurated Accion Microfinanças in Manaus, Brazil—the heart of the Amazon, where half of the region’s 14 million inhabitants live in poverty. We are proud to say that the institution closed the year meeting operational goals and a client portfolio well above initial projections.
In China, we are helping to build a new microfinance industry. We have partnered with Sagamore Investments, which is making a RMB 140 million (US$21.9 million) investment in Accion Microfinance China. The funds will significantly strengthen our microlending operations in Inner Mongolia, where 40 percent of the population remains below the poverty line.
In India, Accion has recently made equity investments and extended guarantees for our Bihar- and Mumbai-based partners, Saija and Swadhaar, redoubling our commitment to financial access in a nation where the growth of microfinance remains beset by great challenges.
In Africa, we are strengthening EB-ACCION Microfinance in Cameroon, a country in which more than 65 percent of the actively employed population lacks access to any form of secure, financial services. Our partners in Tanzania, Nigeria and Cameroon today provide secure savings accounts to more than 250,000 low-income people. We also proudly recognize the achievements of Accion Microfinance Bank in Nigeria, recently voted ‘Microfinance Bank of the Year,’ and Ghana’s EB-Accion Savings and Loans, named African Banker’s ‘Microfinance Institution/Project of the Year 2011.’
And we are exploring new opportunities in the Philippines, Kenya, Mexico and other countries.
In the United States, we continue to strengthen our 20 years of work in small-business lending and financial education. The Accion U.S. Network—the largest microlending network in the country—is already benefiting from the ‘Big StartUp,’ a nationwide jobs-creation initiative recently launched by the New York Stock Exchange, which has recognized Accion as a leader in the field.
We are proud of all these achievements, yet we still have much to do. Our research and development, supported by philanthropy, enables our work on client-appropriate products and services. Examples can be found in such countries as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador where, supported by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are developing savings products and outreach methods to make microfinance easier, more efficient and more economical.
Capacity building remains a hallmark of our work, and it continues on multiple fronts. Through our Global Training Centers in China, India and Ghana, which are supported primarily by Credit Suisse, Accion trains and mentors microfinance managers and staff.
And we continue to enable microentrepreneurs through our ‘Dialogue on Business’ skills training and financial literacy programs. Over the last year, we have delivered new training modules in multiple languages across Latin America and India on subjects from cash and credit management to marketing and sales practices. For example, in partnership with the Muthoot Pappachan Group, Accion has recently trained more than 25,000 microentrepreneurs in India’s southern states, with plans to train a total of 100,000 by 2014.
Ultimately, top-tier MFIs will provide better access to more high-quality financial services and products for more people in more places. And that is taking us one step closer to our vision.
Many of the most compelling financial services and methods being created to serve the entrepreneurial poor are being developed outside of traditional brick-and-mortar MFIs. To help serve those companies, Accion launched the Frontier Investments Group—a hands-on equity partner that invests in early-stage, post-revenue companies that have moved beyond the seed stage. Frontier Investments focuses on three sectors that promise new solutions for underserved markets: technology, such as off-the-shelf core banking systems that improve the reliability and scalability of traditionally paper-and people-intensive microfinance models; distribution, such as branchless banking payment systems that lower costs and expand outreach of financial services; and new products, such as microinsurance and other services that address demands beyond microcredit.
In recent months, Frontier has invested in Mobile Transactions International, a mobile payments business with a vision of transforming the way people and organizations transact business by reducing reliance on cash. Mobile Transactions operates in Zambia,
Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Frontier has also invested in Vindhya e-lnfomedia, a business process outsourcing company in India whose customer base primarily consists of info-tech and microfinance companies, and whose employee base is largely comprised of people with disabilities.
The organization has been recruiting, training and employing differently abled people since its launch in 2006. Currently, nearly 90 percent of its employees are physically disabled, and also lack access to economic and other opportunities.
Frontier was also the first institutional investor in Leapfrog Investments, one of whose portfolio companies, AllLife, provides life insurance to South Africans living with HIV and AIDS.
Our experience with Frontier has shown us that we can still do more to help build enterprises whose
goal is to broaden financial inclusion. To that end, Accion recently launched Venture Lab, a $10 million initiative that provides seed funding and technical assistance to promising start-ups often considered by others to be ‘pre-investable.’
In addition to capital, Venture Lab provides a dedicated team ready to assist with early-stage tasks such as analytics, financial modeling, business development and reaching scale. The Lab’s assistance leverages Accion’s technical capacity, its global network of MFIs and its relationships in the microfinance and mainstream financial industries to help build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which these small, young portfolio companies can thrive.
We are building an industry with high standards through numerous collaborative projects and programs—none as unique and widespread as the Smart Campaign.
The flagship effort of Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion, the Campaign’s goal is to protect microfinance clients through seven fundamental consumer-protection principles. The Campaign encourages microfinance institutions to commit to the principles, then trains and certifies the MFIs in the application of those principles.
Since its launch, the Smart Campaign has experienced remarkable uptake. Today, it boasts endorsements by more than 2,900 signatories, of which approximately 900 are institutions serving some 40 million clients in over 130 countries. The Campaign is helping to ensure quality delivery of services worldwide.
We are also working on many other opportunities that we believe can significantly help improve the industry.
In 2011, a group of CEOs from global microfinance organizations—FINCA, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity, Pro Mujer, VisionFund, Women’s World Banking and ourselves—formed the Microfinance CEO Working Group. The published result of our initial discussions—the “Road Map for the Microfinance Industry: Focusing on Responsible and Client-Centered Microfinance”—outlines our collective vision for ensuring the continued success of the microfinance industry for years to come.
Central to this vision is the Working Group’s support for three key initiatives: the Smart Campaign, Microfinance Transparency and the Social Performance Task Force’s universal standards for social performance management.
Microfinance Transparency promotes the importance of pricing transparency and provides a forum for MFIs to clearly transmit pricing information to all interested stakeholders. Over time, widespread transparency will
put pressure on all players to compete and reduce rates.
The Social Performance Task Force builds upon the foundation of client protection and transparency, and recently released its “Universal Standards for Social Performance Management.” These standards mark a noteworthy achievement in industry consensus on how we pursue our social missions and, ultimately, how we determine social impact.
If the microfinance industry can come together and, with one voice, support and advance these fundamental practices, it will have taken key steps to expanding essential financial services to the 2.5 billion people who remain without access to these services, and whose lives could be made so much better with that access.