IBM (NYSE:IBM) and CARE today announced plans to enable microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Sub-Saharan Africa to dramatically lower the costs of providing financial services to previously unbanked populations in the region.
The two organizations will jointly establish an Africa Financial Grid built around a shared services and infrastructure model designed to help MFIs reduce operating costs, streamline lending processes, scale rapidly, and integrate with other resources such as credit bureaus, financial institutions and international payment networks. The Grid will also eventually be able to flexibly link with telcos or other mobile payment providers in Africa to enable customers to repay loans or carry out money transfers via mobile phones or other devices.
Over the next ten years, the Grid will help millions of people in Africa tap into the economic opportunities that microfinance can provide. The Grid will also help MFIs expand into additional financial services such as micro-insurance, bill pay, credit scoring and history, and international remittances. The project will initially target 11 countries with a combined population of more than 400 million people. As CARE and IBM build out the Grid, open platform technologies and standards will be used wherever possible so that additional third-party services and capabilities may be offered.
"Microfinance is crucial for sparking economic development in emerging markets," said Mark Harris, country general manager for IBM South Africa. "Hundreds of millions of people on this continent live on less than $2 per day, so access to even the smallest of loans can make a huge difference in helping entrepreneurs establish or expand their self-supporting operations. In the past, it has been cost-prohibitive for most lenders to target this market, but the combination of technology and expertise that IBM and CARE bring to the table will help overcome those barriers."
IBM will design and manage the Grid's technology platform, providing deep banking and software knowledge from its financial services business as well as experience gained operating microfinance hubs in other geographies. CARE will contribute substantial resources and local infrastructure to this effort, leveraging its long-standing experience in and contributions to the global microfinance industry, its strong governmental relationships, and decades of experience operating as a trusted development partner in Africa.
During the next decade CARE will provide 30 million households in Africa, or roughly 150 million people, with access to a suite of basic financial services, including savings, credit, insurance and remittances. This initiative will help improve standards of living, increase investment in income generating activities, diminish vulnerabilities to environmental shocks, create employment and grow economies.
"Over the past 50 years of working with communities in Africa, CARE has found that one of the most effective ways to address poverty is to promote access to financial services such as savings and credit," said Steve Hollingworth, CARE chief operating officer. "We believe this partnership with IBM will open new channels for millions of people in Africa to invest in their own futures."
IBM and CARE's decision to partner on the Africa Financial Grid was sparked during IBM's recent Global Innovation Outlook (GIO) program, which brought together a diverse group of global thought leaders for a series of nine brainstorming sessions about the future of innovation and economic advancement in Africa. The need to provide access to capital and financing to more of the African population proved to be a prevalent theme during these sessions. Participants highlighted the growth potential and transformative possibilities that could be fostered if a more open, scalable, lower-cost microfinance hub could be created and deployed on the continent.