Grameen Foundation Celebrates 25 Years of EmpowHERment

Posted on 10/28/2022

TRANSCRIPT (Edited for clarity)

Brent Chism, Interim President and CEO of Grameen Foundation

All right, everybody. Welcome to Grameen Foundation's 25th anniversary celebration. I want to welcome Grameen Foundation board members, who are here in the room with us today; some staff who are here; and many others, who are joining us around the world online. Also, the folks at Capital Group have been great longtime supporters of Grameen.

Alex Counts founded Grameen 25 years ago, on the insight that poor people don't lack the expertise or knowledge of what they need to improve their lives. What they lack is the access to tools and technologies that would enable them to make those changes and lift themselves out of poverty.

I saw this myself just recently, visiting our projects in India and Uganda, where--even though those cultures are quite different--one common things that the people expressed was that they want a hand up, not a hand out, as the old saying goes. And so I think one of the things that we've really focused on over the years is how do we empower people to make the change they want to see in their lives.

One of those areas of focus for us has been the power of private enterprise to ameliorate poverty, and the creation of livelihoods that enable people to earn a living, to work themselves out of poverty. So we focused on including those people who have often been excluded from that process and from markets, and often those people have been women.

Life in poor rural communities is hard, and it's even harder for women. If you can make women's lives better, that often has an impact on their families as well. And so we have focused on helping women because that lifts even more people out of poverty as families and entire communities grow.

Ending poverty and hunger is not possible without women's empowerment. Women have to be able to form businesses, to form savings groups, and to connect to digital bank accounts in order to become entrepreneurs. And they need to be supported in taking those actions to improve their lives. So another area we focused on is the environment around women that filters into the attitudes than can help them thrive.

Grameen is also focused on the power of innovation and technology to catalyze change. We have a long track record of technology and innovation. Some of the early projects, like developing open source systems for microfinance institutions, like MiFOs, equipping last-mile agents with tools to digitize their customer service activities in the field; like TaroWorks and more recently, using cryptocurrency to help women entrepreneurs finance their businesses and survive even with setbacks like COVID.

There's an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And none of this work would have been possible without the community of partners and other organizations supporting Grameen. Everyone is focusing on doing their best to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

So many of the founding principles for Grameen remain the same as they were 25 years ago. And today we're going to look back both on where we've been and where we're going. Thank you for joining us on the journey.

In a moment, we're going to see a great video from Grameenies around the world. I do want to say that for those of you joining us online, we're thrilled that a generous donor has offered to match all donations today up to $25,000.

Let's kick things off with a welcome video from Grameenies around the world.

Lauren Hendricks, Grameen Foundation Board Member

Wow, so wonderful to see messages from so many Grameenies around the world. Hi everyone, I'm Lauren Hendricks, and I'm a member of the Grameen Foundation board. I am lucky enough to have had a decades-long relationship with Grameen Foundation. I started as a local partner in Uganda, and I was lucky enough to join Grameen Foundation as its Executive Vice President in 2015. Recently, I've been able to rejoin the organization as a member of the board.

I'm so lucky to be part of an organization that I believe so much in. One of the reasons I believe in Grameen is that we have always centered women as agents of change, both for themselves and for their communities. This started in our foundational role in the microfinance movement, a movement that was born of the belief that when women have access to resources, they invest them in themselves, in their businesses, in their families, and in their communities.

We all have women who have been agents of change in our lives. For me, it's my mother. There's no heartache i have that she can't soothe. There's no ambition I have that she doesn't believe I can achieve. For some of you, maybe it's an auntie, one who showed you how to step out of societal expectations and follow your passions. For some of you, maybe it's a teacher who believed that you can succeed, even when you didn't.

For Grameen, women have always been our agents of change--whether it's in Ghana, where women are teaching farmers in their communities how to increase their harvests and grow their incomes; Burkina Faso, where women are teaching their community members how to save, but also how to access better healthcare; in places like India and the Philippines, where women are becoming financial touchpoints in their communities. Not just to help other women conduct transactions, but to patiently help their neighbors learn how to use and access exciting new digital financial services.

These women, and more like them, are Grameen's legacy. And I invite you to join me in looking back through the years at Grameen Foundation, at the women who we've supported to change not only their world, but ours. Thank you.

Chism: What a wonderful overview of the great history of Freedom From Hunger and Grameen Foundation.

Next up, we have a fireside chat that's going to be talking about the landscape of international development. On our left, we have Peter Cowhey, who is the board chair of Grameen Foundation. And on our right, Don Gips, who is the CEO of Skoll Foundation. Skoll Foundation catalyzes transformational social change by investing in connecting and championing social entrepreneurs and other social innovators working on the world's most pressing problems. Don and Peter, take it away.

Peter Cowhey, Grameen Foundation Board Chair, and Don Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation and Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa

Thanks so much Brent, and thanks to all of you joining us from around the world, and for taking the time to learn more about the mission and passion for change of this great organization, the Grameen Foundation.

I'm really delighted that Don Gips can be with us today. Don has shared a journey with me because we began together in the Clinton administration, proclaiming the benefits that digital technology can bring to the world, including to the poorest countries in the world. And we both ended up migrating to a larger mission of dealing with the questions of poverty. It's a broad social and economic phenomenon around the world.

Don, we've seen in those years since the 1990s a lot of progress, and some setbacks, in addressing the amelioration of poverty in the world. I wonder if you have any thoughts from your vantage point at the Skoll Foundation, where you've tried so many experiments and helped so many innovators.

Don Gips: Peter, first of all, it's wonderful to be here with Grameen Foundation, celebrating 25 years of amazing work in the world. As we think about the mission of alleviating poverty in the world, I'm always reminded of Martin Luther King's advice to all of us, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We are on that path. Since you and I were working together through 2018, 1.2 billion people have moved out of poverty around the world.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic, with rising climate disasters, as we think about and send condolences to the people in Nigeria and Pakistan who are suffering from flooding as we speak, to the conflicts around the world, which are driving up prices, making famine a possibility again--in large parts of the world, we realize this is not an easy fight. We are going backwards at the moment and need to re-energize our efforts to address this.

At Skoll, we have a big annual forum and we give away something called the Global Treasure Prize. In 2013, that was given to Muhammad Yunus. When she spoke at that event, he talked about the fact that it used to be science fiction that people could go to the Moon. And then we set our mind fixing that. He said alleviating poverty is the same: We need to think of it as a social fiction that we can alleviate if we set our minds to it. That work inspires us at Skoll, where we bet on great people doing great things in the world.

Muhammad also said in that speech it would be wonderful someday to go to a museum to look at what poverty used to be because we've eradicated it. Well, that's a terrific statement of a vision for what we hope to achieve.

I think that an experience that runs across our two organizations is that there are no single magic bullets to achieving that goal. We try different solutions, and many of them move us forward, but then we start to run into the fact that they can only take us so far.

At Grameen, for example, we were originally helping to scale the microfinance revolution in the world and we did great work. But then we had to move on to the next frontier. In order to deal with that, you look for the entrepreneurs and innovators around the world.

Cowhey: Tell me about a couple of the ideas you found compelling.

Gips: There's so many I could go on about, and use up all of our time, but let me talk first about some of the trends we're seeing in what's having an impact in the world.

You've talked about one of them, which is technology. It's both a challenge in many settings--you know, if we look at what's happening to our information ecosystem here in the United States, or in other parts of the world, it's a challenge. But it's also a huge enabler, and enables all sorts of innovation that allows the most marginalized, if we can reach them, to access markets, to access medical care.

Second, when we started Skoll--and Grameen Foundation sort of started around the same period--there wasn't a field of social entrepreneurship or social innovation. As a matter of fact, Skoll started the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford, and now [at many universities] social innovation and entrepreneurship centers are part of business schools. So we've now built this community of practice and I think that's critical, because none of these solutions, as you said, are the silver bullet. We need to combine them all and that's something we're starting to see more and more of in our work, which are what we call systems orchestrators--people who are working across public, private, and nonprofit sectors in integrating that work. And that's exactly the type of work Grameen is doing.

And the last trend we're seeing is a recognition of the power of most proximate people to these problems to have the answers. So digging down, figuring out how you connect the most proximate with the centers of power. There's an alchemy in there that can drive real social change, and we're starting to see that across all the work we do.

During COVID, most people ran away from the fire. Social innovators ran into the fire. They wanted to deliver for their communities. [Skoll Foundation] funded a group called the COVID Action Collaborative in India, that Grameen was part of, that reached into the most remote areas and helped drive change in a way that just gives you hope for what's possible.

Another example that we're really excited about now is something called the Africa Frontline Fund. So a couple statistics: Community health workers in Africa are the front line of vaccines delivering health care. And 85 percent of them are unpaid, 75 percent are women. People saw what they were doing during COVID. And Peter Sands, who runs the global fund, worked with a woman named Angel Jakaga (sp) in Kenya and created something called the Africa Frontline First Fund, which will now be a very large fund in the hundreds of millions, to support countries who will pay community health care workers, integrate them into the community healthcare system, provide them with digital tools and training to do their job, and to be the frontline to measure when are we entering into the next pandemic (because we all know this won't be the last one). So exciting stories like that give me hope.

Cowhey: So one of the things that we've discovered is that the combination of technology and people, as you say, really driving down to the grassroots, and particularly at Grameen where we have a goal that at least 70 percent of the people we reach and enable through our programs are women, and at least 30 percent are at the bottom of the poverty pyramid can be empowered by digital technology. By combining the digital technology and these networks of women's agents to create more scalable enterprises--and they have the effect of both immediately lifting the families of the women out of poverty, but also creating an infrastructure for progress of their villages.

But there's a lot that we still don't know about how to make those work at even larger scale, because as you said, the numbers are still overwhelming for all the progress that we've made.

So have you thought at all about the issue of further scaling the solutions that we're all experimenting with?

Gips: I think about it every day. It's core to the challenge of what we face. But I want to come back and give a statistic because I just read it this morning. If you were to remove the barriers that women face in smallholder farming around the world, according to a recent study, you can increase their productivity by 2.5 to 4 percent across the agricultural economy. That doesn't sound like much, but that translates into being able to feed an additional 150 million people annually.

It's the power of what you're doing and what number of the organizations we're working with are doing to really bring those tools, and then integrate them into the value chain. It is possible, and we need to figure out how to scale it and move it more quickly. And I do believe the answers are out there, and we're seeing models of this.

I also believe that companies--because consumers are demanding it and their employees are demanding it--are going to start looking for more solutions. And their investors are going to start looking for more solutions along these lines.

Cowhey: Well, I think this issue of scaling also shows the power of networks in multiplying their effects over time. Grameen has about 15,000 Community Agents deployed right now, but our estimate is that they are actually affecting several million households. And that's possible both because the network has effects on their neighbors, but also because of the knowledge that's spread changes the community as a whole. And so there's great promise there, but I think we have to be humble that there's a lot more learning that's going to be going on.

In the United States, we sometimes have a tendency to think that agents of change are heroic. They're extraordinary people. And there is heroism in everyday life, but what's really extraordinary about the women that we work with around the world is that they are us: people in every household, of every background. And they find the way to be heroic. It doesn't take a movie star to be an entrepreneur affecting change.

Gips: We've helped fund a film Called Waiting for Superman, and [the documentarian's point] is that we can't wait for Superman. Supermen are all over the place. And we need to figure out how do we give people the tools and the access to realize their full potential. That's why I'm so happy to come here and talk about the work of Grameen Foundation. Because it's this goal. This is what we're all about trying to figure out. How do you empower those great social innovators who are hopefully quite proximate to the problems their working on? They can see the answers and work with their communities. They know best. Give them the tools and access to achieve their vision. It is the common DNA that we share as organizations.

Cowhey: I think the last point I'd like to make is one that goes to your opening point about climate change. A lot of the challenges the poor are going to face, that our organizations are addressing, we don't know all the answers to. Adapting crops to climate change in the poorest areas, with not that much money for fertilizer and special inputs, is a special challenge. And we're going to have to learn what the solution is. There's not something to hand off, and the odds are that they're going to invent many of the solutions doing it on the ground.

Gips: We've seen this in other sectors, where right now, the best practices are diffuse. [We need to come together in the sector to figure out] where are all the best things happening, and then also advocate for the changes and the rules and the systems that enable those smallholder farmers to get to market, to get the subsidies that are sometimes quite efficient. So we're very excited about the potential here.

Cowhey: So that raises the ultimate question of changing attitudes and strategies of governments, which have vast resources and do control the rules of the game on the ground. Governments themselves are going through the shock of what's the future of the multilateral system, the future of globalization. You've worked at the highest reaches of government. Do the things that you're seeing play out there in the world make you feel that a partnership with government is going to be productive? Or do we have new challenges?

Gips: The external environment we're going to operate in over the next five years is going to be very challenging. Budgets are down because of so much money, rightfully, going into Ukraine. We're moving from a monopolar world to a bipolar world, and that's creating tensions and putting real pressure on the multilateral system.

The flip side, though, is we're seeing that social innovators have to work harder at bringing the government in at the beginning, and work not just at the national level but at the regional level and local level. Government officials around the world are people too. They want to see their communities improved. You have to engage them in the conversation early enough that they don't see it as a threat or a way to change. And this is a big part of what we're working on with our portfolio. How do you engage government in the right way, to bring these solutions to scale?

We're starting to see it in health care, in agriculture, and in livelihoods more broadly. And I think if we can do that, we can scale these solutions and maybe create that museum for poverty that Muhammad Yunus talked about in 2013.

Cowhey: Well, Don, I hope that, as they said in Casablanca, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the Skoll Foundation and Grameen Foundation. Thanks so much for being with us.

Panel Discussion: Alfred Yeboah, Gigi Gatti, Prabhat Labh, and Sabrina Quaraishi

Chism: Thank you, Don and Peter.

So next up we're going to have a panel of current Grameenies talking about some of the work that we're doing today. Sabrina Quaraishi is the director of Bankers Without Borders. Alfred Yeboah is the regional director of Africa. Prabhat Labh is the CEO of Grameen Foundation India. And Gigi Gatti is our senior director of program strategy and learning.

Hi everybody. I wanted to start with just a little bit about yourselves. If you could, please tell us about yourself and what you do at Grameen, and why you're passionate about the work.

Alfred Yeboah: My name is Alfred, I'm the director for Africa and also the interim director for program delivery. What is unique about Grameen, which excites me so much, is the fact that we don't only look at scaling up our innovations to get more poor people to benefit from our solutions, but we also scale deep by working at a deeper level of systems and norms change. We carefully balance our social and technological innovation with quality implementation and learning, the type of learning that translates into ideas that we can use in co-creating solutions with our beneficiaries.

I also think that we are going to be able to bring the right partners to the table, and to drive impact through collaboration. We also prioritize trust over output to get buy-in for and sustainability of our projects. And lastly, our approach is very gender intentional. We believe that once we are addressing harmful gender norms, then the outcomes of our program's beneficiaries are made better. Thank you.

Gigi Gatti: My name is Gigi Gatti. I'm the senior director for global program strategy and learning, and I've been with Grameen for quite some time now. Our roots are from the work of Professor Yunus, of the microfinance movement, and what really excites me is that our work with women is very focused. I believe that women's empowerment is one of the biggest challenges as well, but also holds the key and the opportunity for not only poverty alleviation but also economic empowerment in general. So many women around the world are still marginalized. There is still a huge digital divide; there's still a lot of gender divide. And closing these gaps and continuing our work in Grameen with women is something to look forward to.

Prabhat Labh: I'm Prabhat Labh and I manage Grameen Foundation's work in India. What really excites me about Grameen is that if you look at the trajectory of the last 25 years of Grameen, it has evolved and has constantly been evolving. And that's a fantastic sign for any organization given the times that we live in . The times are changing fast, the opportunities are coming, and things also become irrelevant. Some people still perceive that Grameen Foundation does microlending. I have to clarify, no we don't. We have moved on from there.

So it's a variety of things that we are doing today, which entails working with women entrepreneurs, working with digital technology, looking at data and measurement, all of the things. So in that sense, it's really very fulfilling to be part of an organizations which is not scared of trying out new things, succeeding in some of them, and failing in many of them, but nevertheless learning with everything that we do. As a human being, that's a sign of progress, when we are willing to experiment, to fail, learn and move ahead.

Sabrina Quaraishi: My name is Sabrina Quaraishi, and I'm the director of Bankers Without Borders, Grameen Foundation's volunteer initiative. I'm originally from Bangladesh so Grameen and the microfinance movement resonated with me a long time ago. I'm proud to have celebrated my 15th year with Grameen just last month.

What excites me? In Grameen's true innovative spirit, soon after Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize, Grameen saw this opportunity to establish one of the biggest global reserve corps of poverty fighters around the world, Bankers Without Borders. Fast forward 14 years, we boast more than 25,000 BWB volunteers from 170 countries, serving more than 300 social enterprises in 50 countries. So if that's not exciting enough, I don't know what is. We are bringing together such a strong corps of volunteers outside of the few hundred employees of Grameen Foundation. We have a big mission to solve and we can't do it alone, so as much support we can get, we welcome it. Thank you.

Chism: So Prabhat, on that theme of change that you mentioned: When Grameen started, we mostly were working with microfinance institutions. But today, the range of actors is much different. And in India, you're working with a very wide range of actors. Can you talk about the types of partners we have now, particularly in India?

Labh: So originally, of course we're working with a lot of microfinance institutions as partners. And they had one product in their toolkit, which is microfinance. But looking at the fairly complex nature of the lives of low-income people, we saw the need to intervene at various levels. More than half the people in India depend on agriculture as a source of livelihoods, so we had to get into that whole domain, and figure out how to intervene in that. So you look at, okay, how and from where farmers get their inputs, which is quality, which is timely, and at the right price. So we kind of intervened in that space.

Then, the biggest challenge farmers face is how do you get your produce to the market so that you get the right price for your produce. So we're making those connections. How do you access information about various crops and good agricultural practices? We're getting that information in the hands of farmers by leveraging these digital tools. And I'm really proud of the fact that Grameen has been one organization which is really excellent in terms of leveraging digital tools in the space of agriculture, of health, and of digital finance.

So that's a big part of our work, but it's not just these kind of interventions that are economic in nature, but also going a little deeper as to who are the people who really play a role in the agriculture value chains. And when it comes to work on the farms, it's the women who do most of the work on the farm. But when it comes to the economic part of agricultural transactions, it's the men who control that. And we are trying to change that so that women actually play a more important role in that value chain.

We work with these farm cooperatives, farm produce organizations in India. When we started working with them, they had, on average, 8 percent women members and 92 percent men. After working with them for two years, today, we have been able to drive that number from 8 percent to 35 percent, so that women actually are benefiting from agriculture, not just working in agriculture.

We're also working a lot in women's economic empowerment and you know, women-owned businesses, that whole space. We know that micro and small enterprises generate almost 90 percent of the jobs in the informal sector, and we are trying to see how these micro and small businesses can be put on the growth path through access to capital, through access to digital technology.

We're looking at the products and services that low-income people need in rural and remote areas, and creating mechanisms to do that by creating a network of last-mile agents, or women entrepreneurs, that we call Grameen Mittras, who are digitally enabled and bring a host of products and services to these local communities.

So there's a number of things happening in India, and it's amazing to know what is possible when you put the power of networks and digital technology together with the passion of people.

Chism: Alfred, so today in Africa your team is working with women in some very difficult-to-reach places: refugee settlements in northern Uganda, and some very remote communities in Ghana. Can you talk about some of the keys to success in working with these communities, and areas that are often cut off from many of the other systems you find elsewhere in those countries?

Yeboah: Access to finance is a big issue, a big challenge, especially for the rural poor women. And access to service points has always remained a challenge. The financial institutions' private sector players find it hard; they don't see the business model.

What Grameen has done is to work with this private sector, microfinance institutions, savings groups, and even local civil society organizations, to explore how we are able to set up a female agent network in each of these rural communities, empower them, and build their capacities to use digital innovations and leverage mobile money platforms. This will set them up to operate successful microbusinesses as mobile money vendors, providing many digital financial services in their communities.

It doesn't end there. We go beyond to also build a capacity of the same female agents to provide non-financial services to their community. So it's kind of killing two birds with one stone. These agents are providing very critical and timely digital financial literacy training, business course training, to their communities.

Importantly, they're also serving as gender-based violence referral supports and points in their communities. So for survivors of gender-based violence, which is quite an issue when it comes to harmful gender norms in our communities, we have these agents who are empowered with the tools and skills to provide referral support services to survivors of gender-based violence.

For us, it's a holistic approach, one that centers on women but bring on more men as allies to achieve this seamless suite of service.

Chism: Sabrina, earlier I mentioned the proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." And in this journey we've been joined by thousands of Bankers Without Borders volunteers. Can you give a quick summary of how Bankers Without Borders started and where you see it going in the next 25 years?

Quaraishi: Absolutely. So we started about 14 years ago with generous support from J.P. Morgan, at the time really engaging their investment bankers and servicing the microfinance sector. After the Nobel Peace Prize happened, the financial institutions came to us saying how can we get engaged in this sector. So it is really the premise of Bankers Without Borders.

Very quickly, we saw that well, our mission is to eradicate poverty and hunger--why just stop with the microfinance sector? So I've become industry-agnostic. I mean, as long as we're servicing organizations with a market-based approach, solving poverty issues, we are able to serve them.

We started serving more and more organizations around the world, and then we have more than 300 of them in 50 countries that we're serving. The kind of support we're providing is either virtual, on the ground, or a mix, and it's really around needs that these organizations are facing, whether it's around financial services, HR, marketing strategy.

And recently, the pandemic happened, so we had lofty plans of serving organizations in a series of projects, and then quickly it's become a virtual model. Volunteers are no longer able to travel to client organizations, who traditionally want people on the ground. So in our true innovative spirit, here's what we've done: U.S. volunteers are still able to volunteer virtually, and we're coupling them with local resources, local volunteers, who are there to provide on-the-ground support. And then what's happening, they're bringing the local expertise, the language fluency, which is actually leading to better support and long-lasting impact.

The kind of support we're providing now, we're seeing a trend around digitizing business operations. And suddenly it's a proliferation of e-commerce platforms, it's looking at business and strategy refresh for these organizations, and development of financial products and services.

We've also partnered with USAID working with farmers in certain countries, providing access to finance and bringing in these volunteers. And I mean, mind you, we're doing all this on pro bono service, so we're seeing a big shift in how we're providing the service and in the kinds of technical assistance we're providing.

Chism: Gigi, next question for you: What do you foresee as being the most pressing challenges for Grameen over the next five to 10 years, from your perspective of leading our global programs?

Gigi Gatti: I think the biggest challenge is time. Time is going so fast, and in just the recent years so many things have happened that caught humanity basically unaware., like this pandemic, and how fast climate change is actually affecting everyone.

So to me, the biggest challenge really is how to maintain that agility in order for us to be able to respond to these challenges on a timely basis. Yes, we are using technology, yes, we are innovating, but the poverty alleviation roadmap that we've been through took years. And we have to admit that it took time, but in the next few years we don't have the luxury of time anymore. So how do we leverage on what we've already learned, what assets are out there, and who our catalytic partners are, in order to speed up the work and the skill.

I think what will happen is that, because of climate change, there will be a lot of people who will be displaced. And this will set us back again, as we heard during the fireside chat.

Chism: I want to end by asking each of you to share a story from your time at Grameen that stuck with you, and maybe keeps you going when times are tough.

Quaraishi: I often joke saying that what I do with Bankers Without Borders is not just playing, but we're also the wedding planners and the therapists post-wedding, and the therapy continues now with the pandemic. We have so many volunteers coming to us, saying, "I'm going crazy! I've been working from home, I have all this time, what can I do?" And then we provide them with opportunities.

Finding purpose is a big one. Oftentimes for me, that makes a difference. We're meeting countless volunteers suddenly finding purpose through these volunteering opportunities.

A story comes to mind: Recently, I was in the rural areas of the Philippines visiting a cooperative that works with cacao farmers. And a volunteer was visiting just two weeks before, a Wells Fargo volunteer with a marketing background, providing some marketing support to this cooperative. The volunteer said, hey, you're producing this chocolate; why just stop with milk chocolate? Why not diversify the product and do caramel, espresso, chili (that was quite spicy, actually)? And then he designed the wrappers for these chocolates and said, let's use stories of the farmers or the women who are producing these chocolates. So suddenly, there are pictures and stories--I mean, going way beyond what the project was asking for.

So I'm visiting, and then I see this chocolate at the stores, and I knew this volunteer was just here advising on the chocolate, and they're actually being sold right there! And that was an extremely heartwarming story for me. And there are countless others--we do as many as 500 deployments a year--and there are equally heartwarming stories every year.

Labh: One for me is that we work with these Grameen Mittras, women entrepreneurs. We have around 2,200 of them in different parts of India connected to a digital platform who serve their local community.

One of them is Priya Chamat. She's about 28 years old, she's married, and she has two children. She provides digital banking services in her village, and she also provides agricultural inputs to the farmers. When girls and women need to buy sanitary napkins, they can buy it from Priya, which is a huge advantage to them because they don't have to go to a male shopkeeper and be embarrassed, you know, as part of the transaction. People can also buy things like solar lanterns from Priya, because the electricity is not reliable, and that helps children continue their studies using the solar lanterns.

But the most remarkable part of this whole story was that we had invited Priya to come to Delhi to talk to a group of students who had come from India from Wharton Business School. So Priya had come, and because she had an infant child with her, she brought the child. And she was on the panel [carrying her infant] and her child, after a few minutes, became impatient. She had of course brought her husband, and the husband was taking care of the child.

And that's the most remarkable thing I have ever seen, that kind of role reversal, because we automatically gravitate to women becoming the caregiver and hence getting left behind in their opportunities. So this kind of very fundamental shift that is happening at the household level was, for me, very profound.

At the macro level we can talk about, you know, $26 million dollars' worth of transactions, or so many income employment operations that have been created, but behind each of these numbers is an individual story of change that we see at the household level, which is remarkable.

Gatti: So maybe I will be a bit greedy and share two stories: One my colleagues have heard, over and over again, is this story of me training the loan officers in India in one of the harshest winters, attending a women's group meeting so they can repay their loans. And it was so cold, and in that home where we all met there was no roof. And so I asked the women, why isn't there any roof in this home? And the answer was because when money is scarce and there's no food on the table, the roof has to be sold because it was the only thing that had value in their home.

And that has always been my favorite story, in the sense that it really shows you that human aspect of why we really need to solve this problem of economic empowerment. And we're not just talking about, you know, solving the roofing problem, but economic empowerment as a whole. Nobody should have to suffer that way.

Well, we came up with a housing loan, that was different from the microentrepreneurship loan, so they were able to have access to two products, basically. But that is not the end goal of the story. The story is that when humans are suffering--and that is something we've been very good at in Grameen Foundation, really understanding the root cause of why we need to solve these problems, and what it takes to solve them. But being able to orchestrate partnerships that will help us solve those problems is very important in our work.

And my second quick story is that while my colleagues were busy doing a focus group discussion, I took one of the children of the women in the focus group discussion aside and just took him in my lap, and I played my Android phone with him. And in 10 minutes that little boy was able to navigate the Android phone, something that we have been trying to train the women on for the last two months or so. So to me, that story is also very important because that gives me hope for the younger generation. And I see this as a trend, that so many young people now are very socially aware, you know. They're no longer the consumer society that we have seen. My hope with this new generation of young people who are now being social entrepreneurs, who are putting in a lot of their lives and own interests to be a part of this.

Yeboah: So for me, a story that stuck with me and actually keeps me going is that of a small-scale farmer called Amina. She's a maize farmer in rural Ghana who is now breaking a cycle of poverty in a community. That kind of poverty is induced by the triple global crises of climate change, COVID-19 and other health-related issues, and also the disruptions in the supply chain and farm inputs like fertilizer.

So Amina, her husband, and her four lovely children [dealt with] unpredictable rainfall patterns and warmer temperatures, so the rain did not come when expected. When it finally comes, it could rain up to about two weeks and cause flooding on the farm. And then with the warmer temperatures, the sun comes in so strongly that the crops are affected and the warmer temperatures sometimes trigger pest infestation. And she loses so much--at one point, she lost 15 to 17 bags of maize because of pest infestation on the farm.

Another challenge for Amina is that the only river in the community is drying up because of warmer temperatures, and now she needs to walk up to about a mile to collect water and firewood just to prepare the household meals.

What this means is she has less time for farm activities and then she also has to take some part of a small income she gets from the farm to take care of her husband, who was down with COVID for several months, and two of her children, who also had malaria.

For me, the story of Amina stands out because she's charting her own pathway to resilience by using very simple technology to adapt to a changing climate, and also to adapt to health shocks to her livelihood.

And I think Grameen Foundation has been part of this success story by working with local farmers to foster collaboration, co-invention, and more importantly, collective responsibility. The way we approach our work is to understand what the priorities of Amina and similar farmers are in their communities, and also understand what kind of changes they want to see when it comes to adapting to a changing climate.

I'm happy to say that we're able to work with local partners to come up with simple farmer radio programming on climate information services that Amina receives on a simple feature phone. She able to tune in every Wednesday to a listen to farmer radio programs on how other women are adapting to climate change.

The good thing is that all of this information is helping her look for better livelihood options that are suitable to her circumstances. Now, she's adopting what we call a cropping calendar that has planting dates and sowing times that are very specific to a situation. She's also now using improved maize seed varieties that are drought resistant and have low water requirements, and are also resistant to pest infestation. The seeds also have shorter maturity cycles so it doesn't take longer for her to harvest and get the proceeds that she needs from a farm. Her husband is now also planting trees on the maize farm to provide some kind of shade to the crops, especially during prolonged dry seasons.

Something that Grameen did that I'm so proud of, and I associate with going a step further, is to also provide them with education, and how they can diversify their livelihoods so they don't put all their eggs in one basket--raising small ruminants and poultry, and using the droppings from the poultry to serve as organic manure fertilizer for the farm.

For me, this is a story that represents the definition of what resilience and local development efforts look like. So that is why the story of Amina stands out for me. Thank you so much.

Chism: Well, thanks to all of you for these great stories. Thank you for the passion and commitment you guys bring to the work. And thank you for your dedication to Grameen's mission. You are great representatives of the impact that we're having across the world in so many different sectors.

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