Tag Archives: guarantee

MicroCredit Enterprises to grow to a $100 million guarantee fund – Interview with Jonathan Lewis, CEO of MicroCredit Enterprises

4 Dec

Jonathan C Lewis

Jonathan C Lewis

 

 

 

Bhalchander: We have with us today Jonathan Lewis, who is the CEO of MicroCredit Enterprises. MicroCredit Enterprises is committed to reducing poverty by mobilizing private investment capital to finance micro-businesses throughout the world.  Jonathan – Congratulations on winning the Social Venture Innovation award and for being recognized as an honoree by the World Affairs Council of Northern California. And thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to be with us.

 

Jonathan Lewis:  Thank you for your own commitment to economic justice and for inviting MicroCredit Enterprises to this interview. 

MicroCredit Enterprises is deeply honored to be recognized for our pioneering social venture model.  In three years, we have created a stable financing model which is sustaining 100,000 microloans reaching 500,000 poor individuals (89% of whom are women and children) via 28 MFIs partners in 15 nations on 4 continents without needing a single dime of donations, grants OR investment.  In the end, as proud as we are of these awards, our lasting pride comes from knowing that literally thousands of children will go to bed tonight without the pang of an empty tummy and their mothers will awake tomorrow to a more hopeful life. 

 

Bhalchander : I read that Microcredit Enterprise utilizes ‘idle capital’ to help the poor. It is a very interesting concept to take something which is idle and use it for public good. Can you tell us more about your innovative model and Microcredit Enterprises?

 Jonathan Lewis:  Because poor women do not have collateral or credit histories, MicroCredit Enterprises Guarantors – the key program benefactors — pledge collateral assets and personal guarantees (not a donation or grant) to back loans to MicroCredit Enterprises that are used to fund an overseas microfinance loan portfolio.  Our Guarantors realize returns in the open market, manage their own funds and simultaneously support about 5,000 small entrepreneurs. 

 In the event of an overseas financial loss, each Guarantor bears the tax-deductible loss on an equitable, pro rata basis with all other Guarantors.  Guarantors do not realize a return on the guarantee risk, but do maintain complete control of their assets, thus receiving all investment returns from their portfolios.

 

Bhalchander:  In how many countries does Microcredit Enterprises operate currently and how have you chosen the countries to operate in?

 Jonathan Lewis:  MicroCredit Enterprises is in 15 nations diversified across 4 continents.  The special focus is sustainable economic development for families living in extreme poverty ($1.00 per day or worse), so our lending criteria are, first and foremost, targeted to reach overseas microfinance partners in rural areas with high numbers of deeply impoverished women.  Secondarily, we apply strict geographic diversification to minimize risk.  Since MicroCredit Enterprises is entirely open source, your readers can visit our website  to study our specific criteria, loan process and evaluate what we have accomplished and – if they wish – build on it.

 

Bhalchander: What were the biggest challenges you faced in setting up and growing Microcredit Enterprises? How did you tackle them?

Jonathan Lewis:  The steepest hill to climb, which still exists today, is explaining our new model, a new funding paradigm.  Since MicroCredit Enterprises depends on neither donations nor social investments, we have an important educational job to explain how a foundation, high net worth individual or company can directly impact lives around the world without writing a check. 

 The solution?  Patience, and old-fashioned, low-tech guerilla marketing by word of mouth.  

 

Bhalchander :  You were a very successful business executive before you started MicroCredit Enterprises. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you did before starting MicroCredit Enterprises?

Jonathan Lewis:  My last commercial venture was an international knowledge company in the healthcare field.  Among other services, we organized trade missions to other countries to investigate healthcare systems and business opportunities and hosted the International Summit on Public-Private Healthcare Partnerships.  The Summit was attended by delegations from about 80 nations.  One day I realized that I cared more about the people who get no healthcare at all.

 

Bhalchander: In your experience what is tougher and why – running your previous organization or setting up and growing Microcredit Enterprises?

Jonathan Lewis:  Both are tough, but in different ways.  All businesses, social or otherwise, and all nonprofits serve multiple stakeholders:  shareholders, customers, the larger community interest, etc.  A social venture adds mission clarity, but – as the adage goes – “no margin, no mission”. 

 

Bhalchander: In the last few months, everyone’s attention has been on the economic crisis. Microfinance is also seeing a lot of changes – there is private equity and venture capital coming in. Are there any new kind of risks Microfinance faces and something we should all watch out for?

Jonathan Lewis:  Microfinance is not immune from the turmoil in the financial markets.  MFIs are indicating that the biggest challenge resulting from the global financial crisis will be securing new financing and rising interest rates which ultimately have to be passed on to impoverished borrowers.  Stories already abound about MFIs losing commitments for funding from so-called mainstream lenders and banks. 

 For some MFIs in select countries, foreign currency exposure is becoming a more serious risk.  In recent years, the weak dollar has largely muted this concern.  No longer will that risk factor be so easy to overlook or ignore.

 In general, microfinance will soon discover that private capital flight risk is real.  Indeed, I predict that the microfinance intelligentsia will mute the complaint about public capital “crowding out” private capital, an argument that actually has never made much sense either economically or in terms of social mission.  Hopefully, in the future microfinance thought leaders will be more respectful of the need for stable, socially committed capital, whatever its source.

 For a quick overview about microfinance, visit the MicroCredit Enterprises Study Center.

 

Bhalchander: What advice would you give to up and coming entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs?

Jonathan Lewis:  To dream.  Listen to everyone, but trust your instincts.  Hang on to your core beliefs and live them intensely and everyday through your venture.  Keep moving. 

 

Bhalchander: And my last question, what are your future plans for Microcredit Enterprises?

Jonathan Lewis:   One, MicroCredit Enterprises will grow to a $100 million guarantee fund (or one percent risk exposure per Guarantor unit of $1 million).  That will mean roughly 2.5 million people with food security.  Two, in 2009, MicroCredit Enterprises will become an offering on the new, very innovative MicroPlace.com website which allows individuals to earn interest from microloans. 

 

Bhalchander: Thank you very much for being with us. We are all very happy that MicroCredit Enterprises is making the world a better place. We wish you greater and bigger successes.

 

You will also find this interview posted on http://www.mykro.org

Helping Microcredit Programs Succeed

13 Nov

 

 

Continued from ‘The First Break-through’.

 

 

By February, we had gathered additional momentum. Chiradeep Vittal joined the team and soon after Amar Singh, Ramkumar, Ramya and Vinay started building the system at a fast pace. We would have quick two week development iterations followed by testing done by Suriya Prabha and Supraja.  

 

There was a ton of legal work to be done and we initially had a very hard time getting any law firms to help us. But after a little bit of struggle, things fell into place – Hanson Bridgett, UC Berkeley and O’Melveney and Myers started helping us with the legal work.

 

Meanwhile Natasha Ramarathnam joined us in India and we started talking to various Microfinance institutions (MFIs) who may need guarantees and also to the large banks who lend to these MFIs.

 

As we started talking to MFIs and MFI networks, we were soon struck by the enormity of demand and the amount of ground we had to cover. Rajkamal Mukherjee, a microfinance veteran and VP at Accessdev (a Microfinance network working with emerging MFIs in India), wrote to us:

The AmFA partnership presently has 110 partners aggregating to outreach of 2.4 million clients and gross loan portfolio of over a USD 250 million. These institutions represent a major chunk of the 40-50% annual growth segment in the sector. Our assessment of the immediate demand for additional credit among the AmFA partners is of USD 600 million.”

 

This bottom up assessment of the demand was quite stunning. One would expect that banks would quickly step in and lend to microfinance institutions adequately at a market determined interest rate. But that clearly does not seem to happen, despite the fact that banks in most developing countries have enough capital to lend. One outcome of this has been that bank lending has been heavily skewed to the larger MFIs while smaller MFIs have struggled to raise adequate bank loans to meet demand.

 

Prof. Mohammad Yunus summarizes the problem beautifully ‘The biggest problem we face in trying to expand the reach of microcredit is not the lack of capacity. Instead, it is the lack of availability of money to help microcredit programs get through their initial years until they reach break-even level.’ He further adds ‘Local banks cannot lend to MFIs because MFIs cannot provide collateral. However, if an international or domestic organization steps forward to act as a guarantor, local banks are happy to provide the money’ (Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus with Karl Weber, Public affairs books, Creating a world without poverty : Social business and the future of capitalism, page 70, 2007).

 

I would take Prof. Yunus’s argument one step further. To make bank loans available to microcredit programs through their initial years, we need to make guarantees easily available. And to make guarantees easily available we need a scalable way to raise funds from socially responsible investors. I believe that our internet-centric model has the potential to raise socially responsible funds in a scalable manner and make it available to MFIs when they need it the most. Implementing it calls for a lot of hard work from a lot of people. I will write more on that topic in another post.