by Andrew Huelsenbeck, K16 Kiva Fellow, BRAC Uganda
The Second Bottom Line
One thing that’s gotten very popular with microfinance institutions (MFIs) lately is measuring success based on what is called a double bottom line. For a long time, the only bottom line for many MFIs was financials, but industry experts began to realize that looking good on paper did not amount to having any real social impact. This is why some MFIs have begun to use a second bottom line – social performance – as an additional metric for success.
What is social performance exactly? It is how an MFI is translating its core mission into practice. The success of this can be gauged in basically two ways: (1) by examining the actual impact of services on clients and (2) by examining the systems an MFI is using to optimize its impact on clients.
Among MFIs, a very common means of measuring the social impact of services is the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The way the PPI works is by measuring the poverty levels of groups and individuals based on certain country-specific criteria like access to water, medicine, shelter etc. By examining changes in the PPI over time, MFIs are able to better determine their clients’ needs, which programs are most effective, how quickly clients leave poverty, and what helps them to move out of poverty faster.
The other main way of assessing social performance focuses less on the actual impact of services and more on MFIs’ management of the systems that optimize impact. This kind of management is commonly called social performance management (SPM). The success of SPM is based on an MFI’s ability to do mainly three things: (1) set clear social objectives, (2) monitor the progress towards achieving those objectives, and (3) use the insights from monitoring to improve overall performance and impact.
One of the major organizations responsible for establishing assessments and best practice guidelines relating to how MFIs achieve these three things is called the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF). The SPTF was birthed in 2005 when the CGAP, the Argidius Foundation and the Ford Foundation brought together leaders from various social performance initiatives in the microfinance industry to come to a consensus on a common social performance framework and an action plan to implement it. The SPTF has worked very closely with CERISE (the creator of the social performance assessment tool Kiva uses for its partners), and has recently been doing a lot of work in Uganda.
BRAC Uganda’s Gold SPM Award
Many Ugandan MFIs are part of a larger organization called the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda (AMFIU). In the past year or so, AMFIU has begun to seriously encourage social performance management among its constituents. With the guidance of the SPTF and with funding from the Ford Foundation, the organization has held training sessions, published instructional guides, and not too long ago, held its first ever Social Performance Management Awards here in Kampala.
The event was huge. All of the big players were there: PRIDE, Opportunity, Finance Trust, Habitat for Humanity, EMESCO and more. The Ugandan Commissioner of Microfinance and the president of AMFIU were also in attendance and helped to present the awards to the MFIs that have really excelled in SPM. Many bronzes and silvers were handed out, but BRAC Uganda, the main MFI I am working with, took home the only gold.
Mr. Ariful Islam, the (former) Country Representative of BRAC Uganda, displays BRAC's Gold SPM Award
BRAC Uganda is an incredible organization. In just six years, with the help of the MasterCard Foundation, Kiva, Unicef and other major partners, BRAC has become a microfinance titan in Uganda. It currently has over 1,800 employees working at 114 branches, has dispersed more than $71 million in loans, and has touched the lives of nearly 2 million of Uganda’s poor.
What’s more impressive, though, is BRAC’s dedication to the second bottom line. Its mission is clear and simple: to alleviate poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. BRAC has achieved this not only by bringing financial services to some of the remotest regions in Uganda, but also by starting and scaling up health, agriculture, education and adolescent empowerment programs.
Many systems at BRAC are set up to ensure that clients are actually benefiting from these programs. More than half of the time, program managers are out in the field interacting with clients; the 15-member Monitoring Department continually evaluates programs to prevent mismanagement and misappropriation of funds; and BRAC Uganda’s unique Research and Evaluation Unit regularly conducts studies on the relevance and effectiveness of BRAC’s operations.
The research unit at BRAC Uganda is also currently working with AMFIU and the Grameen Foundation to promote the use of the PPI among other major MFIs in Uganda. The poverty index (or scorecard) was originally developed by a lead BRAC International researcher using national household survey data in Uganda. The Grameen Foundation adopted the idea, and worked with BRAC to update the index using newer data from many different countries. Now, the two organizations are using the PPI to improve social performance in Uganda and all over the world.