A Call to Action: Making International MFIs Disability Inclusive

> Posted by Michelle Romeu
When we think of people with disabilities, our minds may not jump straight to financial inclusion. And despite the fact that over 80 percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries, it’s estimated that they account for less than half a percent of all microfinance clients.
The idea of providing financial services to poor people with disabilities today can be compared with the concept of microfinance itself in the 1970s. Providers are skeptical because of misconceptions and a lack of knowledge about how to serve people with disabilities.
But this analogy has a bright side too. As Josh Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, points out in this month’s Equity E-Newsletter feature, “The lessons from the early days of microfinance…are both instructive and a cause for optimism.”
Just as the success of microfinance demonstrated to the world that the poor can use and need financial services, so, too, we need to make the business case for financial inclusion of people with disabilities.  Where do we start? Learn more about this call to action by reading (“Making International Microfinance Institutions Disability Inclusive: A Call to Action”).

It is indisputable that commercial microfinance institutions (MFI) have largely failed to reach a significant segment of the poor: persons with disabilities (PWD). With the clearly stated mission of providing the self employed poor in the informal sector with small loans and other financial products, this market failure is unacceptable and one that the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION  International (CFI), in partnership with disability organizations worldwide,  are committed to remedy. Not doing so would make a mockery of the Millennium Development goals since disability is so heavily concentrated among the poor. Indeed, of the estimated 650 million persons with disability, 525 million are in developing countries. The legal and moral obligation to address this market failure is clear but that business case is less certain.

Last June, the CFI (with the support of the Disability and Development team at the World Bank) , held a “summit”  at the World Bank  bringing together leaders of the microfinance industry and disability organizations to see if we could coalesce around some common objectives to jumpstart this initiative. A springboard to action was the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first great human rights treaty of the 21st century. Framing the discussion was a concept paper that CFI prepared, “A New Financial Access Frontier: Persons with Disabilities,”  (http://www.centerforfinancialinclusion.org/Document.Doc?id=830) based on a year of research and informational interviews.  Its conclusions, as discussed below, were widely endorsed by meeting participants. Read more >

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