Accenture volunteers Jennifer, Mia, and Alex and the Sulong Kabarangay Volunteers of Limay in Bataan province in Luzon Island.
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 8, 2011) - One of the developing world’s most inspiring success stories has just gained a new ally - microfinance, long perceived to be the effective and sustainable tool against poverty, gets a lift with the influx of volunteers from Accenture Philippines.
Accenture Volunteers Enable Automation of Micro-finance
Microfinance is the practice of granting credit, insurance, savings and other financial services so the poor can start small businesses. Usually provided by microfinance institutions (MFIs), it lessens poverty by boosting income, which in turn provides access to food, health services, housing, and education.
While capital is considered to be the lifeblood of microfinance, every microfinance practitioner knows it requires more than funds to generate an impact in poverty alleviation. Lifting lives from poverty calls for dedication and patience—you have to be selfless in sharing your talents and knowledge.
It is hence inspiring to meet people like Alexander Anden, Jennifer Meily, and Mia Taroy—Accenture Philippines volunteers who are taking time off work to contribute their expertise to make microfinance a more successful tool against poverty.
Accenture is a global company that provides consulting services in business process outsourcing. Accenture has been active in the Philippines since 1985, and now employs about 20,000 staff in the country.
Alex, Jennifer, and Mia are the first batch of Accenture staff who will serve as pro bono consultants to MFIs seeking to automate their existing operations and client information. They are currently providing technical advice to help automate accounting and collection systems and data backup and documentation processes for Bicol MFIs to achieve greater efficiency.
They also served as the resource persons for the management information system (MIS) training. MIS is a general term for the system of organizing and managing information about one’s business operations. The training seeks to provide MFI workers with a perspective on how to apply information technology to this essential aspect of microfinance operation.
Dan Songco, president and CEO of the PinoyME Foundation, a social investment banking entity for MFIs, explained: “The training gives the MFIs a perspective on what it takes to have an automated system. PinoyME has conducted trainings like this before, but without the consultant we were not able to track its effect on the operations of the MFIs.”
“This is a unique intervention because no one else is doing this. We’ve had a lot of discoveries in our past training workshops, and one of them is how important the MIS is to both the MFI and the client. If you have a weak system, you would not know if your MFI is already suffering losses. That’s critical and what’s even more critical is computerizing that system. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories of MFIs hiring consultants to design software only to find out that it does not compliment their operations,” he said.
“The course helps them understand, ‘If you want to automate this is how to do it’. If we are able to help MFIs systematize their MIS, then we can really make the industry more efficient and we can make it grow faster and reach more poor people. The big MFIs can already afford to buy software and hire consultants. But there are only a few of those. The program targets the medium-sized MFIs who would not have the resources for automation. This is a strategic partnership with Accenture. We convinced Accenture that they can really make a difference in the microfinance industry if they partner with us in this program,” he added.
The Accenture team spent April 26 to May 6 in Bicolandia to conduct training and immerse themselves in the communities they would be serving so they would learn more about the challenges that microfinance practitioners confront.
“We needed to understand the issues to know how to help them,” said Alex. The project brought them to Legazpi, Naga, and Camarines Sur to work with the Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Foundation, Kolping Society Philippines, Inc., Simbag sa Pag-Asenso Inc., Rural Bank of Guinobatan, Inc., and the People’s Center for Sustainable Development, Inc.
It was their first time to visit Bicol, and they were graciously received by the MFIs. Aside from tours to the Mayon Volcano and the lava wall, Cagsaua Ruins, and Linon Hill, they were treated to mouthwatering meals of laing, Bicol express, and grilled blue marlin.
Technology is not enough
When asked to describe the information technology problems of MFIs, Jennifer said “Technology should not be seen as the only solution. While it allows you to achieve a lot of things, proper implementation of processes is still necessary,”
She related that while some MFIs hired programmers to turn out data management systems that were customized to microfinance activities, there was “no knowledge transfer.” The programmers did not provide users manuals, and so MFIs had to call on their services even for trivial operations. This brings about a great deal of delay or disorder in the work of MFIs as the programmers only drop in on the offices once or twice a week.
Moreover, employees who have left the MFIs have not properly passed on knowledge on the customized software. The MFI workers hence do not have the same proficiency in using the data management systems. Jennifer said: “If they don’t know how to use the system, the values they compute become inaccurate.”
The Accenture team is providing the MFIs with recommendations and templates to make their processes more efficient, as well as practical solutions to glitches like sites that go offline. The team is currently monitoring the implementation of the proposals.
“The solutions go beyond automation. There must be organization policies and human intervention,” Jennifer said.
Rising to the challenge
Alex, Jennifer, and Mia revealed they became part of the project after volunteering to Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Program. According to them, the program is meant to “enhance the skills of the employees, and is also a way of sharing their experience, knowledge, and skill with others.”
Aside from providing technical support, Accenture also donated one million pesos to the PinoyME Foundation for the implementation of a microenterprise financing program for the spouses or selected beneficiaries of Accenture’s security guards and custodians. Accenture’s 20,000 employees raised P200,000 while the Accenture Foundation provided P800,000 for the program. The volunteers said the project was “challenging, but at the same time also very rewarding,”
“This is the first time for us to do consultations as our work in Accenture mostly involves testing, programming design, and production support. This is also the first time for us to handle local clients.”
Jennifer added: “We see giving the MFIs the groundwork for automation and solution planning as challenges. So we are not doing this only for the aim of the company, but also for personal development. By providing these free consultations, we are enhancing not only our skills in testing and programming, but also in dealing with people.”
“Moreover you tend to help people,” Jennifer said: “During the immersion when we met microentrepreneurs visiting the offices, we saw that if we help microfinance practitioners, in a way we are also helping struggling Filipinos improve their lives.”
PinoyME, Petron Fuel Changes in Limay, Bataan
Like dismal relics of a distant past, there are Death March markers strewn all over the roads of Bataan. These serve as firm reminders of the sacrifices of heroes, and of how brutal survival can be—civilians and soldiers forced to march for days, to sleep on open fields, drink dark and murky river water, and eat leaves and grass. The story of Bataan is one of hardship, and also of determination, of ordinary people rising and rising again against adversity, doing small acts that somehow fuel great hope and change in the country’s “Cradle of Heroes”.
Decades after the 2nd World War, the residents of Limay, Bataan are still seeing their share of struggles—this time caused by a pervasive poverty, which is atrociously widespread in the Philippines. Much like the heroes of Bataan, however, the community is taking a stand against poverty and creating livelihood opportunities with a little help from the Petron Foundation, Inc. (PFI) and the PinoyME Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit social investment entity for microfinance institutions.
Luz Almazan, a community development specialist who is working with the Limay residents, explains the living conditions there: “A significant portion of Limay’s land area (about 26%) is still devoted to agriculture. Major agricultural produce is rice followed by vegetables, mangoes, bananas and rootcrops. Farming is still a source of income especially for long-time residents of the municipality. Some are also into livestock production, particularly hogs, poultry, and goats. Limay also lies along the Manila Bay and some residents rely on fishing for their livelihood. They are experiencing though a decline in the fish catch as a result of depleted natural resource.”
She adds: “While there are various opportunities for livelihood in Limay, majority of the residents within the Petron Bataan Refinery’s (PBR) fenceline barangays of Alangan and Lamo remain poor.”
The Sulong KaBarangay (SK) program started in 2009 when the PFI requested the assistance of PinoyME in “developing strategies that will enable it to contribute towards the improvement in the quality of life of the poor residing within the two immediate barangays within the PBR.”
PFI and PinoyME agreed to utilize the community-driven development (CDD) approach, a strategy that sees struggling Filipinos and their institutions as assets and partners in the pursuit of sustainable solutions to poverty.
The approach, which empowers individuals by giving control over planning decisions and investment resources to the community, has been used by both the World Bank and the Department of Social Welfare and Development in providing financial assistance to 4,000 poor barangays all over the country.
Petron provides resources for program development and implementation, while its staff participates in the projects. Moreover, it promotes linkages with local governments, and mobilizes private sector groups to support the project.
PinoyME meanwhile takes the lead in program development and implementation. It deploys field personnel who organizes the activities, and trains Petron staff in the CDD approach. Moreover, PinoyME mobilize other private and public organizations to assist in enterprise development, and documents processes to enable Petron to pursue the program.
Luz explains: “The CDD program in Limay enabled residents to take an active role in taking stock of their situation and at defining their development goals. Through community assemblies and volunteer group training sessions and meetings, they were able to prioritize some projects that they consider most important to address their community problems."
"These include vocational skills training and employment matching which they refer to as ‘Sulong Karunungan’, health and nutrition program which they refer to as ‘Sulong Kalusugan’, a community-based waste management and composting program which they refer to as ‘Sulong Kalinisan’ and a water system and irrigation program for upland farm communities which they refer to as ‘Sulong Katubigan’. The volunteers gathered the necessary information, coordinated with concerned agencies, and conducted a series of meetings to prepare the detailed program plans and budget estimates.”
The volunteers in December last year gathered to discuss and plan enterprise projects for the barangays. After receiving technical assistance from PinoyME and Petron, the residents submitted business plans. The proposed enterprises can be classified into five types: There are the bigasan or sari-sari store, livestock raising such as piggery, carabao, cattle, and goat; canteen or carinderia; rag making; or services such as scrap trading and mooring/ unmooring services.
PinoyME negotiated with the Daan sa Pag-unlad Inc. (DSPI), a local microfinance institution that would serve as the conduit for the release of livelihood loans to the proponents.
DSPI met on March 4 with the potential microentrepreneurs to discuss the loans and policies. DSPI also presented in the meeting its programs, including insurance coverage for borrowers and other family members, medical mission, mass wedding, and scholarship training programs. The sari-sari store and bigasan project applicants were also informed that DSPI can provide goods instead of cash should they prefer it. Redefining local governance?
Though the seeds of change in Limay still need to bear fruit, Luz is deeply excited about the potential impact of CDD in the lives of the residents. The people of Bataan are again rising to the challenge of a new time. Moreover, she sees the promise of the CDD to grow into a model that would redefine the roles of the barangay residents and the private sector in local governance. “The PMEF and PFI, under the SK program have mobilized the residents as SK volunteers to collectively undertake actions towards their improvement.
The series of activities included community profiling, problem analysis, training, and planning for their development. Through the series of community-led activities, the SK volunteers identify community challenges, identify and develop projects, and prioritize projects using parameters they have defined among themselves.
“The SK volunteers are developing into becoming active partners of the Barangay Council. They are motivated with their newfound roles such as mobilizing residents for the Barangay Assemblies, taking Minutes of Meetings, discussing topics assigned to them during Barangay Assemblies, preparing their project proposals and business plans, conducting small group meetings, and all the other tasks. They have provided time and their limited resources for the conduct of the various activities assigned to them. The processes empower the volunteers to take positive and collective action to address the various challenges before them.”
Luz concludes: “The participation of volunteers and the engagement of the barangay local government unit in the definition, and eventually, implementation of community programs has the potential of redefining the concept and practice of local governance towards making it participative and increasingly accountable to the communities its covers.”
Sweet Success for PinoyME, Antique Farmers Partnership
The taste of muscovado sugar tends to linger in your tongue. Smoky, intricate, and with a lovely texture, the sugar has been a generous source of pleasure for countless coffee, chocolate cake, and gingerbread lovers.
However, people nourished by these treats rarely realize that muscovado sugar is also a source of income and hopefulness for hardworking farmers and millers. For the members of the Antique Federation of Cooperatives (AFCCUI), prosperity through diligence is grown like sugarcane in fields of muscovado sugar.
The seeds of AFCCUI were planted in 1963 when Mill Hill missionaries introduced the cooperative movement in Antique. Fifteen of 21 cooperatives joined hands in 1969 to establish AFCCUI to help strengthen cooperatives by providing services such as training, consultancy, financial intermediation, and networking. Its initiatives have generated a positive impact not only in the development of cooperatives, but also in lives of the members and other Antiquenos.
Aside from yielding profits for the farmers and banana chips producers, AFCCUI also has its own Microfinance Lending Program, which has empowered people like Richard Cajurao and Valentine Bolivar with micro-businesses that continue to flourish. Cajurao, who is married and has a child, acquired Php 3,000 from AFCCUI in 2007 as additional capital to start a sari-sari store.
His business has expanded, and he has even bought a multi-cab as service vehicle. Moreover, his saving deposit has grown from Php 150 to 7,000. Bolivar, who has two children, also availed Php 5,000 as additional capital for a sari-sari store in the municipal wet market of San Jose, Antique. The business has flourished, and has even allowed him to buy a house and lot.
This year looks to be a fruitful one for AFCCUI as it partnered with the PinoyME Foundation, a social investment banking entity for microfinance institutions, and availed of Php 1 million to expand their muscovado sugar trading business. The loan will be funded by the global business process outsourcing company Accenture Philippines (800,000) and the PinoyME Foundation (200,000).
Tomdoly J. Antonio, general manager of AFCCUI, said: “We intend to use the funds as revolving capital for the purchase of muscovado sugar from miller/producers. Muscovado Sugar here in our province is seasonal, milling starts in the month of November and ends in March that’s why we have to stock in order to cater our market.
“Demand for muscovado sugar is getting bigger and we have started penetrating in some malls. Export market is also potential but the challenge is that we must produce organic muscovado since the demand is organic.
“Sugarcane farmers and millers could benefit from AFCCUI’s partnership with PinoyME having AFCCUI as assured market of their muscovado sugar. With continuous financial support of PinoyME, AFCCUI could absorb quality muscovado sugar with fair price.”
With the partnership, the federate built by farmers and cooperative members will become a driving force in the Philippine muscovado sugar industry.
Moreover, it will continue to develop as a force for empowerment and microfinance to help enterprising Antiqenos fulfill dreams of more prosperous lives.
Antonio said: “AFCCUI is very grateful for the financial assistance of Accenture and PinoyME. We were able to increase our inventory of muscovado sugar so we will be able to sustain our market during off season. Our business is also of great help to the sugar farmers because we were able to promote muscovado sugar in both domestic and export markets.”