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Jul 18, 2013

aid

Innovation in Development Disbursements: Visa Innovation Grant Recipients Announced

 

Today we’re proud to recognize the recipients of the Visa Innovation Grants Program. In partnership with NetHope, a consortium of more than 40 humanitarian organizations, and an Expert Advisory Committee of distinguished public and private sector leaders, five leading development organizations were selected to receive funding for projects that will modernize the distribution of agriculture, health and emergency relief payments to those living below the poverty line.

The Visa Innovation Grants Program is one component of Visa’s ongoing dedication to advancing financial inclusion around the world.  Every year, billions of dollars in cash payments are distributed to people in need through emergency relief efforts, benefit stipends, conditional cash transfers, microfinance programs, and other development initiatives.  Digitizing these payments through mobile phones or other electronic methods not only improves the distribution of aid, but can also help recipients gain access to broader financial services, including savings and electronic payments tools.

The group of five grantee organizations includes: Agribusiness Systems International (ASI), Freedom from Hunger, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mercy Corps, and Pathfinder International.

Each organization has been awarded $100,000 to support innovation in and adoption of electronic payments. The projects are focused on a wide variety of sectors, yet all are seeking better ways to distribute aid to the people who need it most.

Here is an introduction to the projects selected for funding, which we will cover in depth in future posts:

  • Agribusiness Systems International (ASI)

ASI will use the Visa Innovation Grant to bring formal financial services to rice farmers in Ghana. The program will extend branchless banking in rural areas by integrating mobile finance into the rice value chain. Mobile finance will reduce the risk of theft, connect farmers and other actors with financial services, and ensure timely payments to farmers. Founded in 1993 as an affiliate of ACDI/VOCA, ASI is a nonprofit consulting organization that helps smallholder farmers become competitive in the agribusiness sector.

  • Freedom from Hunger

Freedom from Hunger will use the Visa Innovation Grant to improve access to health services in rural Ecuador by integrating electronic payments for health services through local microfinance institutions that provide health savings and credit accounts. The program combines payment services with improved access to health services and education. Freedom from Hunger has more than six decades of experience fighting global poverty and hunger, as well as developing and testing flexible and sustainable approaches that provide group-based financial services, education and access to additional products and services to poor women and youth.

  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

IFRC, along with its partner American Red Cross, will use the Visa Innovation Grant to design and test a rapidly implementable and scalable electronic cash transfer system(s) with Red Cross National Societies in Latin America and the Caribbean. Electronic payments improve security and transparency of aid payments, enable families to begin their recovery in the shortest time possible and create a pathway to more formal financial services. The IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network, acting before, during and after disasters and crises to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.

  • Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps will use the Visa Innovation Grant to provide smallholder farmers in Indonesia with access to mobile money, improving their productivity and increasing incomes. The program’s scalable and replicable model connects banks, mobile network operators and a full range of stakeholders in the agricultural value chain, while also helping farmers gain the knowledge and tools they need for success. Mercy Corps is an international development organization that helps people around the world survive and thrive after conflict, crisis and natural disaster.

  • Pathfinder International

Pathfinder International will use the Visa Innovation Grant to introduce a mobile money-based payroll system for its community health workers in Kenya. The pay-for-performance incentive model will be combined with access to real-time field data, improving transparency and the quality of services delivered. Pathfinder International is a nonprofit organization with a focus on access to contraception; maternal and newborn health; and HIV and AIDS services. The organization has implemented projects in more than 100 countries worldwide, and is recognized for its innovative and responsive approaches to meeting health needs at the community level.

There were many impressive ideas submitted by all applicants, and we believe these projects have particular promise for scaling electronic payments across diverse sectors. We look forward to supporting these projects and seeing how each will spur new ideas and models for the future of aid and development payments around the globe.

[Photo above: Elizabeth Mueni (right), a community health worker in Kenya trained by Pathfinder International, uses a mobile phone to collect data and track the health needs of her clients. Photo by Sala Lewis.]

 Check back for more updates about the Visa Innovation Grants Program and the group of recipients highlighted above.

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Posted by: Douglas Sabo, Visa Corporate Responsibility on July 18, 2013 at 6:13 am

Jun 20, 2013

Aid Disbursement: Extending Relief & Bringing People Into the Formal Financial System

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 42.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee from their homes due to conflict, natural disasters or persecution.  Much of these are from the geography I oversee; Asia Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East & Africa. As the world comes together on June 20 to recognize World Refugee Day, the occasion serves to raise awareness about the hardships these displaced persons endure and reminds us of the importance of extending relief to them.

While great strides have been made in delivering much-needed assistance to displaced persons since the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees entered into force in 1954, relief and assistance to refugees still largely come in the form of food and supplies.  While these forms of aid provide valuable assistance that can make a world of difference, they can also be expensive to transport, inefficient and ineffective.  For example, food and other supplies may be prone to spoilage or theft, and may go unused and wasted if donated supplies do not meet the needs of the local environment.  In places prone to corruption, relief in the form of cash may never reach those in need.

Today, evolutions in technology are enabling new industries, such as electronic payment systems, to play a vital and complementary role to the work that aid agencies, governments and civil groups do to disburse supplies and assistance.

Electronic payment network operators, such as Visa, have been working alongside governments, NGOs and others to improve and streamline the delivery of aid through electronic payment products. This not only makes the delivery of aid instantaneous and secure, but also extends access to basic financial services to those in need.  As such products can be linked to a bank account at a licensed financial institution, this is often the first opportunity for many people to be included in the formal financial system.


 

For instance, in Pakistan, the National Identity Agency of Pakistan, United Bank Limited and Visa teamed up to distribute badly needed aid to families fleeing their homes after fighting broke out in the country’s Northwest Frontier Province.  The partners distributed aid on Visa prepaid cards, each loaded with 25,000 rupees (US$300), and installed terminals in local businesses to accept payment cards and connect them to the global payments network. These terminals helped displaced persons use their preloaded prepaid cards to buy much-needed food, medicine and other essential supplies from local merchants, and gave these businesses the opportunity to participate in the global economy. As a result of the program, more than 270,000 new bank accounts were created, offering otherwise excluded citizens access to secure and reliable financial services.

In July 2011, flooding devastated the Philippine island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the country. More than 120,000 families and 7,000 acres of crops were affected. Visa, together with Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) member Action Against Hunger/ACF International and Philippine Veterans Bank, delivered a voucher program using Visa prepaid cards to affected families. The beneficiaries used the cards to purchase food and supplies at supermarkets in the area. The program rolled out in eight days, and two monthly fund transfers were made to the recipients via the prepaid cards, helping to automate the disbursement process and alleviate the burden on the families.  

As we come together on World Refugee Day to reflect upon the importance of extending relief to people displaced from their homes due to conflict, natural disasters or persecution, we are encouraged by innovative solutions that can help bring greater transparency and efficiency to aid distribution.  These have the power to provide displaced persons with the dignity and flexibility to obtain the supplies and assistance relevant to their needs, and stimulate the local economy.  As we survey the realm of possibilities, Visa, for one, is excited about the opportunities ahead to better serve those in need.

 

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Posted by: Erin Steinhauer, Corporate Relations, APCEMA on June 20, 2013 at 10:10 am