Truelift Recognizes the Pro-Poor Performance of Ahon sa Hirap, Inc., Fundación Amanecer, Banco VisionFund Ecuador, and UNRWA Microfinance Department – Palestine

Already in 2018, Truelift has recognized the pro-poor performance of four diverse financial service providers scattered around the world in Colombia, Ecuador, Palestine, and the Philippines.  They join 22 other financial service providers recognized at the four Milestones along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway.

What unites these four newly recognized institutions is their commitment to serving the needs of people living in poverty.  And all four of these financial service providers originated as spin-offs from other, very different institutions, often creating opportunities to provide a variety of complementary financial and non-financial services to the same populations in need.

Ahon sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI) in the Philippines started group-based microcredit operations in 1989 as a replicator of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.  ASHI soon added other products and services for its clients, such as savings and micro-insurance as well as an agricultural program, leadership and microenterprise trainings, financial literacy, medical assistance, and relief and rehabilitation projects.  In the 1990s and 2000s, ASHI also provided a model and training for small and large institutions, both local and international, to get started in their microcredit ventures using the Grameen Bank Methodology.  ASHI operates predominantly on the island of Luzon, expanding over the years from its initial home in Los Banos, Laguna.  In 1995, ASHI started its expansion to the Visayas.  As of late 2016, ASHI was operating through 33 branches, reaching 43,234 families, most of them residing in hard-to-reach areas.

Truelift recognizes ASHI as having achieved the Emerging Practitioner Milestone along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway.  ASHI conducted a self-assessment of its pro-poor performance using the Truelift pro-poor management assessment tool available on CERISE’s social performance assessment platform SPI4.  By itself, self-assessment qualifies an institution only for the Aspirant Milestone (ASHI received the Aspirant Milestone in May 2016).  By obtaining a third-party verification of the self-assessment by consultant Lalaine Joyas, ASHI was able to verify their performance at the more advanced Emerging Practitioner Milestone.  However, by investing in an external assessment by one of the two Truelift-licensed rating agencies (MicroFinanza Rating and M-CRIL), ASHI might demonstrate its achievement and performance of an even more advanced Milestone (Achiever or Leader). ASHI has many of the features of a pro-poor institution.

Banco VisionFund Ecuador SA (VFE), formerly known as FODEMI, is a microfinance bank based in the city of Ibarra (in the Sierra north of Quito).  VFE launched its operations as FODEMI in 1995 to support microenterprises and women-headed households.  In 2015, FODEMI transformed into a bank affiliated with VisionFund International (VFI), which itself is an affiliate of the global child-sponsorship agency World Vision International.  Mostly in the geographic areas also served by VFI with non-financial services, VFE provides small loans and related non-financial services to microenterprises in the north coast and central and northern highlands of Ecuador via a network of branches and sales points. Two-thirds of the 56,578 clients are women and most work in agriculture, tourism, industry and handicrafts.

Based on the results of a Truelift-licensed assessment conducted in October 2017 by MicroFinanza Rating, VFE is recognized as having achieved the Leader Milestone, the most advanced along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway.

Fundación Amanecer was created in 1994 with the support of oil companies (Ecopetrol S.A, BP, Total and Tempa) operating in the Orinoquía of Colombia, the northeast quadrant of the country east of the Andean cordillera.  Also known as the Llanos, mixed forest and grassland extending into neighboring Venezuela, this is flat, seasonally marshy grazing country sparsely populated and difficult to access but oil-rich.  Fundación Amanecer offers social development programs (currently to 600 beneficiaries) and three microcredit products (14,925 active borrowers). The target financial service clients are microentrepreneurs living in the more populated eastern departments of the Orinoquía – Casanare (based in Yopal) and Meta (based in Villavicencio).   Amanecer focuses on geographic areas also served by other social and environmental service organizations associated with the oil companies, so that the same families have access to a variety of services provided by several cooperating organizations.

Based on the results of a Truelift-licensed assessment conducted in October 2017 by MicroFinanza Rating, Amanecer is recognized as having reached the Achiever Milestone, the second most advanced along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway.

UNRWA Microfinance Department – Palestine (UNRWA MD) was created in 1991 by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and now is an autonomous non-bank financial institution.  UNRWA-MD extends credit and complementary financial services to households, entrepreneurs and small-business owners among the Palestine refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, and Syria, as well as other poor or marginalized groups who live and work near them.  Of the 17,530 borrowers, mostly in the West Bank and Gaza, one third are women and their number is growing. They include fishermen, garage-owners, at-home seamstresses, and vegetable stall-owners. Microfinance operations are focused on poor urban areas where refugees often live, as these tend to be centers of commercial and industrial activity.  To create self-employment opportunities for youth between 18 and 30 years of age, UNWRA-MD also provides start-up loans for young people looking to start their own businesses.  Microfinance clients have access to the variety of other services to refugees provided by the parent agency, UNRWA.

Based on the results of a Truelift-licensed assessment conducted in November 2017 by MicroFinanza Rating, UNWRA-MD is recognized as having achieved the Leader Milestone, the most advanced along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway.

Several certification initiatives have arisen independently in response to lack of transparency and accountability regarding the social purpose of microfinance. The Smart Campaign attempts to identify providers that “do no harm” to clients by complying with the Client Protection Principles (CPP); even providers with no social objectives are included. For those with social objectives, the Social Performance Task Force has developed the Universal Standards for Social Performance Management (USSPM) without being specific about the social objectives of the provider. Social rating agencies offer assessments that can certify compliance with the CPP and the USSPM. But such compliance certification does not address how well the provider is achieving its chosen social objective. There are many social objectives to choose from, and some providers pursue more than one at a time. Truelift responds to the most common objective, poverty alleviation. A Truelift assessment is a logical extension to a social rating of compliance with the CPP and the USSPM by a provider focusing on poverty alleviation. Recently, these various global initiatives have been brought together by CERISE on the social performance assessment platform SPI4. Truelift is the poverty “module” of SPI4 along with modules for other specific social objectives. These modules can be used for institutional self-assessment or by rating agencies for external assessment of an institution.

In concept and structure, the Truelift Pro-Poor Principles and the assessment process are relevant and applicable to any poverty-focused (“pro-poor”) social business or service agency, whether private or public. For additional information, please contact the co-chairs of Truelift’s Steering Committee, Chris Dunford at christopher.j.dunford@gmail.com (English and French) or Carmen Velasco at carmenvelascolmk@gmail.com (Spanish and English).

For the full list of Truelift Milestone Institutions, visit the Recognition page.

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