Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Passport Series South Sudan: Part 3: Post-Conflict Microfinance

Each month, the Kiva Blog profiles a country we work in through the Passport Series. This month, we are taking a look into South Sudan. This is the third and last part of this month's series. The first post gave a great overview of the country’s history and current state, the second part took a dive into the microfinance sector of South Sudan, and this post will focus on microfinance as a development effort to help post-conflict countries like South Sudan.

Access to credit and financial services have an important role in everyone’s life, yet they are not always easily attained. Between 50-80% of adults in the world have insufficient access to financial services and a very small percentage of the world’s population has access to modern financial services (i.e. can go to an ATM, take out a mortgage for a home, or get a student loan). Finance isn’t easy to come across, and is even more difficult to acquire in remote areas of the globe. When a natural disaster hits, a food crisis becomes severe, or conflict arises countries often have to shift focus from general development efforts to the immediate emergency.

Why Conflict is Particularly Difficult for Vulnerable Populations

When conflict happens in countries, whether it is civil or between countries, marginalized groups are often hit the hardest. The poor, especially men, disproportionately serve in the military and armed groups. In conflict, most aspects of normal life quickly shut down – one that contains the most impact to the lives of locals, are social services. Social services include most programs run by the government and the international aid community and often include hospitals, schools, public services, etc. When these shut down, the role of education, healthcare, and community wellbeing frequently fall on women and vulnerable populations in the community – often doubling their already large workload.

Microfinance and Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Thus, when conflict ends, in addition to the other facets of life that change for vulnerable populations in the community, the re-institution or lack thereof, of social services makes a dramatic impact on lives. The faster public and social services get reintegrated into the post-conflict country, the better. However, because there are so many logistics involved with this, it often does not happen quickly. When countries enter into the post-conflict reconstruction stage, many different development tactics are often used to help the country rebuild and move forward. Microfinance is one of these.

As one can imagine, microcredit becomes a very complicated undertaking when trying to operate in post-conflict settings. Microfinance, especially in the form of credit, has become a very effective method of increasing women’s participation in the post-conflict economy. Microfinance is a critical element in national reconstruction and many MFIs are committed to continue their work in spite of conflict and insecurity.

History of Microfinance and Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Some of the first formal experiments in microfinance were in response to civil conflict and flooding in Bangladesh in the 1970’s. Since then, microfinance has been booming. As all conflicts are different, many different lending strategies have developed. The needs of the clients are quite diverse in varying locations due to – displacement, loss of family or community members, disrupted land, lack of schooling, emotional distress, injury or disablement among others. Many different microfinance programs, with varying methods and success rates have been developed to help in the reconstruction efforts of post-conflict countries. However, these programs are still too scarce and often are very hard to implement.

Kiva and South Sudan

Kiva takes great care in choosing Field Partners who do responsible work. Many of our Field Partners provide impressive wrap around and non-financial services and work in post-conflict countries. BRAC is a huge network of MFIs around the world that provides a wonderful framework for their clients that include extensive non-financial services. BRAC South Sudan (SS) is one of our partners and as we learned from the last post in this series, BRAC SS implements microfinance programs for the economic empowerment of war-affected marginalized populations, especially women. Kiva lenders have helped to fund 3,455 borrowers and have disbursed $810,100 in loans to BRAC SS borrowers, 99.45% of which are women.

In 2008, Kiva sent a Fellow to work with BRAC SS in Juba. Ankush’s blog of his adventures can be found here. The short video is an account of his thoughts on the history of South Sudan.

Following conflict, there is great opportunity in countries to reconstruct and renew. However, there are also increased complications and difficulties in providing services and resources for those affected. Microfinance holds a spot in rebuilding economies and allowing those affected a chance to re-instate their businesses, livelihoods, and general economic participation. Next time you loan to an entrepreneur, consider choosing one who is fighting to rebuild their life post-conflict.