Re-Engineering local Microfinance Operations
So we're heading off to Uruguay in a few weeks to present our ideas about the use of ICT (mobile in particular) as an enabler of the local Microfinance process, and hopefully to secure funding to pursue these ideas. This presentation at the XIII Foromic Conference being held in Montevideo, Uruguay represents the next stage in the IADB's "Technologies for Financial Inclusion Program " for which MSB's innovation submission was one of 20 best winning ideas selected.
Studies have shown that the development and operating performance of the microfinance sector in Jamaica and the English-Speaking-Caribbean lags considerably behind their counterparts in many other developing countries, with contributing factors including: the small scale of operations of community-based MFIs, high operating overhead expenses and poor loan recovery/delinquency rates. We believe that by disaggregating the microfinance process into a series of process-threads and use-case Interactions supported by mobile-enabled applets, we can significantly diminish the overhead costs associated with the typical small Microfinance operation. Some examples of transactions amenable to increased use of automation include:
• Borrower profile registration
• MFI-to-Borrower message alerts
• Submitting/Pre-processing of Loan applications, etc.
Over time we expect that by allowing increased scalability, this technology-enabled model will contribute to reduced transaction costs, increased points of access, and ultimately facilitating the improved availability of financial products and services for marginalized microenterprises and citizens, particularly in rural communities.
There are a few things that are particularly pleasing about this trip to Uruguay and the overall venture in general:
i) The essential idea of becoming a major facilitator of the use of modern ICT's as an enabler of business innovation in SMEs, is the fundamental premise on which the MSB Centre of Excellence was started and is a key initiative in MSB's current Strategic Agenda.
ii) Our ambition for this project goes well beyond empowering individual MFI's to be more effective and savvy users of technology and operationally efficient. At an aggregate level we believe an efficient and scalable Microfinance sector can go well beyond funding individuals and microenterprise and become a legitimate source of capital funding for SMEs
iii) One of the longer-term Goals of this initiative is the establishment of an active OpenSource development community centered at the UWI that can provide a fertile environment for the ongoing engagement of student resources to maintain and extend the technology components developed, with additional functionality and innovation relevant to the local and regional microfinance sector(s).
iii) On a personal note, a key partner in this Research initiative is my son Matthew and his social entrepreneurial initiative Global Youth Connection (http://gogyc.org). The prospect of jointly presenting this idea and potentially collaborating on its implementation as a team is a compelling one.
My colleague (and boss) Prof Evan Duggan, often makes reference to the digital effectiveness framework for realizing ICT benefits. i.e. the evolution of a nation and it's ICT sector through progressive levels of value-adding capabilities - Awareness, Access, Diffusion, Exploitation, and Innovation. As a Nation, we need to stop resting on the accomplishments of our significant strides in ICT infrastructural development that is manifest in relatively high ratings in global digital indices. That only reflects progress through the first two stages of the digital continuum. Truly effective benefits realization from our ICT infrastructure requires a much greater level of maturity in our use and application of ICT and ultimately to become ourselves, producers of Value and Innovation. The OpenSource philosophy offers a compelling vehicle to accelerate our progress down this path towards greater technological and economic independence.