Friday, June 11, 2010

Informality: a major obstacle for microfinance’s success

Though access to finance has improved the standards of living throughout the world, access to capital alone has not broken the glass ceiling of informality. Informal workers generally do not have access to legal benefits, are highly exposed to market fluctuations and lack physical and financial security. Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) have tried to fill the gap of low income worker need for capital by creatively catering to high risk borrowers who are in their majority informal. But without the support of sound national legal systems, informal workers continue working in the margin of societies.

GFI led a public opinion survey in 2009 in Nicaragua and Guatemala under the program PILAR. The survey showed a cross section of informality in Guatemala and Nicaragua, increasing the understanding of barriers to formality in both countries. In both countries it was clear that informal workers surveyed did not have access to diverse formal services such as social security, public health and financial services. Only one out of three informal workers polled in Guatemala City was able to obtain credit when they needed it.

And in Nicaragua, the investment of personal funds to create a new business is disproportionately large, with 52% of interviewees relying on their savings to start a new enterprise.

Without registration of the self employed and informal enterprises, financial services will only have minimal impact. As recommended by the Central Bank of Sudan for the developemnt of commercially sustainable microfinance “informality must be addressed for microfinance programs to thrive”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Extending Social Safety Nets, Reducing Informality & Expanding the Tax Base in Emerging Markets: A Look At Tax Registry Programs in Latin America

Even before the current economic crisis, official statistics indicated that the informal sector in developing economies accounted for nearly half of total non-agricultural employment in East Asia, over half in Latin America and the Caribbean, and as much as 80 percent in other parts of Asia and in Africa. To promote sustainable economic growth, GFI is leading efforts in Nicaragua and Guatemala to extend labor rights and social safety nets to informal workers, while simultaneously creating incentives for formalizing businesses and expand economic growth.

GFI is currently leading national roundtable discussions to finalize a national strategy (roadmap) for formalization for both countries.

The strategy being discussed is a voluntary registration system that allows small enterprises to pay a monthly set fee, which covers payment of a variety of taxes as well as payments for social security, health care and other social safety nets.

In Guatemala, national roundtables are reviewing the implementation of such voluntary registration projects throughout the region. For example, in Argentina registration for small enterprises was simplified under law 24.977 (passed in 1998), abridging separate tax payments and formularies. This law established the monotributo mechanism, which includes sales tax, added value tax, social security payment as well as contributions to a selected social project. To qualify for this program, small enterprises only need to meet the following criteria:

- Invoiced annual incomes less than US$144,000

- Unit sale price under US$870 (except furniture)

- No importation of goods or services

On the first month of the start of the program back in 1998, registration increased to 604,598 tax payers, which represented 11.4% of the total number of registered tax payers that year. Though registration continually rose since the inception of the project, collection of payments remained elusive. These changed thanks to a second amendment, which took effect on July, 2004. The amendment added categories of payment, where payment amounts are now organized in accordance to:

- The amount of gross receipts

- Square meters in use by enterprise

- Electricity used

- Average unit of sale

As, published by the Argentinean taxation Agency in 2006, it wasn’t until he amendment came into effect that in 2005 payments started to increase in tandem with registration, as seen in the graph above.

Thus, cost was a critical matter for compliance, even greater than benefits offered. Benefits were not minor, enterprises registered under the monotributo, for example, do not generate tax obligations of the sales tax or profit, have no need to submit tax declarations, do not need to keep accounting logs, and have access to public health care. Though lessons learned have been noted, the program has been considered a success; not only due to the increase in registration but also a fiscal success, as contributions compensated tax collection costs.

Chile’s system provides informal workers access to pensions for disability, widows, unemployment, and retirement. However, recognizing the frequency of unstable employment, the payments do not need to be monthly; instead, contributions are based on 80% of the taxable gross income and can be paid annually through a tax affiliate. Independent workers who have not had an income are exempt from mandatory contributions but can do so on a voluntarily basis, still covered under the pension system through government subsidization. The Chilean government has recently begun providing independent workers with educational resources necessary to learn about their rights, entitlements, and obligations.

Increasing the availability of these social safety nets by designing programs that adapt to the irregularity of these informal workers would allow the informal sector to better fare economic downturns and reach economies of scale. These are key goals for developing nations that strive to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Honduran Crisis and its Impact on Honduran Development

by Chris Dell'Amore

In lieu of the recent political events in Honduras, one can only hope that the tumultuous conflict in one of the world’s poorest nations is remedied as quickly as possible. Combined with the recent economic crisis, the political conflict only adds to the instability and challenges facing poor Hondurans every day. While coups in Latin America during the 1980s were commonplace, we no longer live in a day and age where threats to democracy can be tolerated by the global community. At GFI where our primary concern is to improve livelihoods for working poor in developing nations, we are saddened by the undermining of the rule of law in Honduras, and catastrophic impact that may have on foreign assistance and other investment that support the people of Honduras.

As of 2004, 50.7% of the Honduran population was living below the poverty line according to the United Nations. This high percentage is illustrative of the vulnerability of Hondurans and the need for stable political leadership to promote economic and social initiatives. As of Tuesday, June 29, Honduras’s economic woes have worsened as Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua temporarily suspend commerce with Honduras. Also, Honduras’s largest trading partner, the United States, has vehemently condemned the coup and threatened to cut millions of dollars of aid should the interim government not reach a consensus with the O.A.S. In addition, the World Bank has suspended the $270 million loan to the Honduran government and will not pursue any projects in the country until Zelaya is reappointed. Likewise, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration’s (CABEI) developmental projects have been temporarily halted. CABEI has spent $400 million on development of infrastructure in Honduras since 2007. Should the O.A.S. and the Honduran government not reach a consensus, the Inter-American Development Bank will also pause any programs in Honduras while Nicaragua and Venezuela have call for the United States to place economic sanctions on the nation. The repercussions of Zelaya’s exile will be devastating to the Honduran people as an already impoverished nation facing 27.8% unemployment will most definitely see a decrease in foreign investment resulting from political instability.

The need for foreign assistance, economic stability and leadership is paramount to helping the large numbers of Hondurans currently living in poverty. While the two regimes clash, the true victims are the hard-working Hondurans who labor for some of the lowest wages in the western hemisphere.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Global Network Enables Cross-Cultural Solutions

President Obama's recent speech from Cairo set a new foundation for U.S.-Muslim relations and generated excitement for progress and cross-cultural collaboration on the complex challenges that face our growing and globalizing world. It is clear that our President's speech moves us closer towards a more global community better equipped to address the economic and development challenges that transgress geographic boundaries, ethnicities, religions, and cultural preferences.

As part of the network of global actors, The Global Fairness Initiative(GFI) views the renewal of U.S. - Muslim relations as an opportune moment to expand our work in Northern Africa and the Middle East. As Obama boldly proclaimed, "our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity, men and women, to reach their full potential." GFI's mission is to create economic opportunity and improve livelihoods for the world's working poor. Employing a multi-stakeholder approach that includes engagement with governments, civil society actors, workers, and the private sector, GFI is working to ensure that the world's most vulnerable workers do achieve their full potential. As Muslim & Arab nations face similar challenges in generating sustainable economic opportunities for their citizens, GFI looks forward to new partners in our mission to reduce poverty word-wide.

With the foundation laid for a cooperative and more harmonious world society, one cannot help but be excited by the possibilities for development efforts. In an ever shrinking world, poverty and injustice anywhere is a threat to livelihoods everywhere. GFI has created a concrete plan to empower those in poverty, ultimately working to improve livelihoods and create economic opportunity. With small efforts bridging cultures, the world can become a more righteous place, providing opportunity and enabling the underprivileged to reach their full potential.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Women Farmers: Agents of Economic Growth

In many developing nations, agriculture has been identified as a crucial sector for poverty reduction efforts. Women farmers account for 60 to 80 percent of food crops produced; yet the active role that they play in agricultural production around the world continues to be overlooked. As the global economic crisis deepens, countries continue to search for new ways to expand their economies. Now is an ideal time to support women farmers’ efforts and capitalize on this untapped economic resource as a way to expand the economy and lift people out of poverty.

In order to scale up agricultural production, efforts should be made to understand the unique challenges women face in the larger policy and trade arena. At the program level, gender components need to be integrated in the design phase rather than considered “add”-on components. Incorporating gender in the design phase of projects will stimulate a necessary shift in they way the development community views the role of women farmers and will hopefully stimulate a clear plan of action and concrete recommendations for further improvements.

There is also much to be gained through better facilitation of women’s access to credit, land, and technology. As women are more likely to spend their income on the well being of their families, providing more targeted training including technical assistance, financing opportunities, and better inputs such as seeds and fertilizers not only has a direct impact on agricultural production but also on improved livelihoods for producer communities

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Change the Global Community Can Believe In

President Barack Obama has challenged us to remake America. Asking Americans to “choose hope over fear and unity of purpose over conflict and discord” his words spoken during the inauguration continue to echo beyond the borders of the United States, reaching communities in nearly every corner of the globe. As the global economic crisis continues, it has become even clearer that the challenge President Obama and his Administration has set forth—to re-imagine and re-create our nation—cannot be accomplished if we only look inward. The process of re-making America must be accomplished in partnership with the global community.

Globalization has rendered our economy increasingly more interdependent and our security challenges more complex, yet America still has a currency and influence that resonates abroad. The alliances that we repair, modify or forge in this unprecedented era of global transformation will shape the future of the United States. As a global leader, this country has the responsibility and the capacity to promote innovative policies and development efforts that result in sustainable economic and social outcomes. However, if America is to successfully assume a leadership role in the poverty reduction arena, we must act in partnership as members of the global community and re-think our engagement with developing countries. This Administration must take concrete actions to improve the effectiveness of our foreign assistance dollars not only by increasing our commitment to global development, but also through a shared vision of global engagement that aligns development assistance efforts with larger trade, diplomatic, security and investment priorities.

Improving U.S. Foreign Assistance through coordinated Global Partnerships

The Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) is an international NGO based in Washington D.C. whose mission is to promote a more equitable, sustainable approach to globalization. In working towards our goal of improving livelihoods of the working poor, GFI strategically engages partner governments, businesses, worker, and civil society organizations. Operating precisely in the space where theory meets practice, GFI looks to inform national and international decision makers based on real life, development experiences and programs.

The Obama Administration provides an opportune moment for America to closely examine and improve our foreign assistance framework. As the new administration looks for guidance on effective development and poverty reduction efforts, a first step is to reach out to those on the ground experiencing our policy in action. The design and implementation of foreign assistance strategies, would benefit greatly from a more grassroots perspective that includes the experiences of local and international NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and foreign governments partnered with the United States in capacity building programs and poverty reduction initiatives. Knowledge and identification of synergies with existing programs , leveraging best practices, and the experience of field staff and partner organizations can only enhance national decision makers’ abilities to create effective structures that support our broader development and foreign policy goals.

Prioritizing Development in U.S. Foreign Policy
Development efforts must be placed on a similar level as other U.S. foreign policy tools. Furthermore, the Administration should define a unified vision for global engagement that integrates the goals and priorities of each U.S. Government agency. It is certain that unless America draws on and coordinates the wide range of diplomatic, trade, defense, investment and development tools at our disposal, challenges such as economic instability, climate change, the food crisis, and terrorism will never be resolved. By creating a shared vision of global engagement across agencies, the temptation to respond to narrow interests is avoided and political space created for developing Bi-lateral relationships based on an integrated approach that strategically engages a wide range of actors across sectors. In better understanding the links between development and economic stability, a broader range of national and foreign policy objectives can be achieved.

As GFI strives to promote inclusive economic relationships, our work on labor rights and informal sector development in the DR-CAFTA countries has revealed firsthand the necessity for prioritizing development as a complementary element for other U.S. policy tools. Beyond engagement in traditional labor rights dialogue, GFI seeks a broad approach that not only raises the voice of poor workers internationally, but also works to help Governments, employers and all members of society develop a competitive economic structure inclusive of these individuals including those in the informal economy. While much work remains to be done in order to make substantial progress towards labor rights and other development goals, current programs in the DR-CAFTA countries can be a starting point for achieving greater poverty reduction impacts through coordination of bilateral engagement across, trade, development, diplomacy and security initiatives.


The United States will continue to be judged by its development efforts and ability to expand economic opportunities both at home and abroad. Broad global challenges require a new approach, and strengthening our commitment to foreign assistance will require opening ourselves to suggestions from our developing country partners as well as drawing on the vast experience of foreign and U.S. development professionals operating on the ground. It is time for global development objectives to be given their proper place in the Government’s agenda and key partners from all sectors engaged to produce tangible poverty reductions impacts with sustainable results.

Whitney Simon
Program Manager,
The Global Fairness Initiative

Friday, March 6, 2009


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