The neighborhood magnet

One of Joel Clarino's relatives helps a client. Neighbors now come to his sari-sari shop to do their banking, buy groceries and get free wifi.

Joel Clarino's shop is a neighborhood hotspot. Literally.

The solar-powered Wi-Fi in his sari-sari (neighborhood) store is a magnet for neighbors in this small community of 2,500 households. The other draw is his bill payment machine. It's the quickest and cheapest way for his neighbors to pay their bills, deposit money into their bank accounts and transfer money.

Joel is part of the Community Agent Network (CAN) created by Grameen Foundation and our partners in the Philippines. It’s given Joel a second lease on life. He opened his sari-sari shop seven years ago after recovering from cancer, and became a financial services agent with CAN a year ago.

In the program’s first two years of operation, more than 1,800 agents have enabled up to one million people, who were previously underserved or unbanked, to benefit from formal financial services.

Joel’s neighborhood is also a reincarnation—it was formed after the government displaced the community from their former homes during the expansion of the local railroad system.

As the only full-service financial agent in the area, Joel does brisk business, averaging 100 transactions per month. Everyone comes to him—even the kids who typically buy airtime for their phones. Adults use his service mostly to pay bills. To keep up, he has trained four of his nieces to conduct transactions. Four other relatives also work in the shop, serving customers’ other needs.

Joel has big plans for the future. He wants to strengthen the WiFi signal at his shop and to set up other hot spots around the neighborhood to ensure that children have sufficient internet access for studying. For him, becoming an agent has been a way to transform and to give back to his community.