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Looking ahead in global microfinance

IMG_7414 - CopyMy last week in India has come and gone, and I have been reflecting on the eight weeks I had the privilege of spending in this amazing country. In my previous blogs, I have shared some of my experiences in Mumbai and the many fascinating things I have seen. Yet, although my understanding of India is much better now, I still feel I have not been able to triangulate all the different pieces of the new things I had the opportunity to experience and learn during my time here. India is an intense country. As soon as you start discovering this country, it is easy to get overwhelmed by its contrasts, colors, food, people, religions, streets, architecture, and more. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is also an international and very fascinating city that is much more than the home of the Bollywood film industry and the main financial district in the region.

During my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work in microfinance across different places, including Latin America, Africa, the United States, and, more recently, India. Although each country and region has its own peculiarities, they all share very similar challenges to balance financial sustainability and financial inclusion, which requires continuous innovation to meet the needs of customers. In addition, providing financial services to very low-income households is just a gateway – but not a sufficient condition to – achieving financial inclusion. The role of governments and banks is increasingly important – governments through regulation, and banks through building and creating roads into markets. In this scenario, it is critical to continue innovating and learning more information about the impact that microfinance has on the lives of our customers and communities. This type of information will be useful to policymakers, donors, investors and financial services.

I would like to thank to all of the Swadhaar and Accion team, especially Preeti Telang and Nihar Jena. Also to my teammates Madhan and Pravash, thanks so much, I learned so much from you during these last eight weeks. Lastly, I would like to thank to my friends Apurva and Rathna who made my adaptation to living in India very easy and helped me so much to better understand the Indian culture. It will be impossible to remember India without a smile.

Pablo Nunez

Pablo Nunez is working out of Mumbai, India, with Swadhaar FinServe, an Accion partner and microfinance institution, on a small and medium enterprise lending project.


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Dietary differences and health in India versus the U.S.

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I was never a big fan of vegetarian food. As part of my everyday diet since I was a child, I would consume at least some meat (either beef, pork or chicken). However, when I arrived in Mumbai, I found very few non-vegetarian places to eat, and learned that beef or pork is not sold in the markets. Only chicken is available for purchase at markets, and sometimes, fish.

Although I have been in Mumbai for almost two months now, I still find the respect cows receive here fascinating. In this city, they live freely in the streets and are not threatened by human presence.  Hinduism (which is the main religion in India) preaches that human beings should care for everything that lives and the cow falls into the highest honor category as a sacred beast. Some people believe that cows play a big role in daily life because the cow provides people with milk and the dung may also be dried and burned to cook or warm the house during cold season. Across the state of Maharashtra, indeed, selling beef is prohibited and killing cows is a major offense by law. Those who violate the law face up to five years in jail.

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The magic of the auto-rickshaw in Mumbai

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When you’re in a hurry when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re stuck in horrible traffic, your best transportation option is one of the more than 300,000 auto-rickshaws (also called autos) that operate in Mumbai. Well, at least that is what I was told when I first arrived to this frenetic city. These small three-wheel cars play a very important role in the complex public transportation system operating in Mumbai that includes buses, trains, trams, monorails, taxis and more recently, Uber. Continue reading


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3 Key Insights on Disability Inclusion from India

Since I’ve written a good bit about microfinance these last weeks, I want to turn back to disability inclusion for my last post of the summer, and think beyond financial inclusion a bit. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a program that’s supporting not just the base of the pyramid in India, but a particularly vulnerable segment of it. As can be expected, though, there is much more work to be done. Disability inclusion is hard – really hard. Just as they are in many other social institutions, people with disabilities (PWD) are frequently excluded from the benefits of well-thought through and intentional development (including financial inclusion) programming. While disability inclusion is definitely on the international development agenda, it’s certainly not the day’s hottest topic or sexiest research agenda. A few of the main challenges I noticed during field work, in talking to disability NGOs and in desk research are as follows: Continue reading


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Tea and Its History in India

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When you walk on the streets of Mumbai, you can find on every corner typical street tea stalls, which are also called cutting chai corner. I never considered myself as a tea lover, but every time I passed any stall, I could not resist feeling attracted by the wonderful smell of tea. Although many people cautioned against trying street food, it was just impossible for me to withstand the tempting scent that arose from that the tea stalls. Continue reading


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8 Weeks Spent 8,000 Miles Away

This last blog entry was penned in no-man’s-land. My passport has been stamped – I’ve officially departed India. And, I now occupy an in-between space. I’ve “officially” left this country yet I haven’t gone anywhere. The hour or so before my flight, stuck in limbo, seems like an appropriate venue for a reflection of my time spent here. Continue reading