This is the first post in a series of interviews with members of the Seal of Excellence Steering and Technical Committees.
The Seal recently had the chance to sit down with Chris Dunford to learn more about why he supports the Seal and the change he sees the Seal initiating within the microfinance industry.
Chris Dunford is currently the Senior Research Fellow at Freedom from Hunger and author of The Evidence Project, which “explores what we know (and how we know it) about supporting the self-help efforts of chronically hungry people.” Dunford has been contributing to the development of the Pro-Poor Seal of Excellence since its inception in the spring of 2010 and is a member of the Seal Steering Committee.
Why do you support the Pro-Poor Seal of Excellence?
“It became apparent that the poverty measurement tools being developed in the microfinance industry by themselves wouldn’t tell us whether people were actually improving as far as poverty was concerned. The basic conundrum within the microfinance world is that creating a profitable institution is not easy if you are trying to reach the poor and help them improve their own ability to deal with poverty. Despite the measurement methods—despite the development of the social performance management movement—despite all of these efforts, it was obvious to me in April 2010 that a lot of people were continuing to claim that they were reaching the poor and making a difference in the clients’ lives, but they were not really doing it.”
“I support the Seal because I believe standards have to be set and that there needs to be a way to prove whether or not institutions meet those standards. We need to make distinctions between microfinance operators who are reaching the poor and making a difference, and those who are not. For those who are not doing this, the Seal makes it clear that, if you want to claim to be a pro-poor microfinance practitioner, you have to strive to make changes and to measure poverty level and change over time to verify those changes are working. The Seal will help create transparency about objectives in microfinance and efforts to achieve them.”
What change do you see the Seal initiating within the microfinance industry?
“Already the industry is becoming more and more aware that it has social objectives and that it has to demonstrate commitment to those objectives through measurement and through the meeting of mutually agreed standards. It actually would unify the microfinance world, if everyone involved acknowledged that they have social objectives, even if the objective is as broad as financial inclusion, which is a social objective. The Seal has the potential to unify the industry in partnership with the Social Performance Task Force’s Universal Standards for Social Performance Management (USSPM), because both help organizations to:
a) say they have social objectives (the Seal focuses specifically on poverty objectives);
b) define and clarify what those social objectives are;
c) create a community with others who share the same objective; and
d) work within that community to establish the standards of achievement of that objective and techniques to verify compliance with the standards.
“At the same time, because not all institutions have the same social objectives, the Seal helps to define specializations within the industry—from anti-poverty, to employment creation, to women’s empowerment, to the most general: financial inclusion. Each category of social achievement has to have its own community that can set standards.”
“Ultimately, the Seal has to work out the modality for those with the objective of poverty alleviation: how to build a community, set standards, and measure institutions against the standards. Moreand more providers are going to get guidance from the Seal on what they have to do to establish that they have a pro-poor commitment to outreach and positive change. The Seal can help them realize that this particular objective is more feasible to achieve than they might have thought.”
“This is what we set out to do: to help poor people and help them get less poor. The Seal will help a growing number of providers see a pathway toward becoming a true pro-poor microfinance provider. The Seal is designed to encourage them to follow that path to its end.”