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A UN-backed boost for women-run businesses in the developing world

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A client in Cambodia supported by IIX’s WLB1 (Women’s Livelihood Bond 1)., by Impact Investment Exchange. Photo: UN

Many women running small businesses in emerging markets in developing countries have to juggle their business objectives with family obligations and personal savings goals. By supporting a women-focused bond providing loans to microfinance institutions and impact enterprises, the UN is helping women entrepreneurs facing similar challenges, to succeed in their professional and private lives.

Sokkheng, who runs a village store in Cambodia with her husband, lacked confidence when it comes to choosing the best approach to reinvest in her business, potentially making her vulnerable to economic and financial risks.

Today, her prospects have markedly improved, thanks to the support of a microfinance institution with a history of promoting the well-being of rural society, backed by a loan from the world’s first financial product focused on women to be listed on a stock exchange; the product is called the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series (WLB Series) and has been launched by Impact Investment Exchange (IIX).

Microfinance, major impact

The microfinance company approved a microloan for Sokkheng’s store and, crucially, provided expert financial advice. According to a UN-backed study, around 89 per cent of Cambodian adults find it challenging to manage their personal finances.

Financial education is an important way to ensure that more people can establish savings priorities, spend in a smarter way and, crucially for women entrepreneurs such as Sokkheng, feel more fully informed when they take out loans or look for other forms of financial support.

Armed with the information she received, Sokkheng now has better cash management knowledge, helping her to improve the profitability of her business. She also signed up for microinsurance, which now provide her with additional economic security in times of emergencies.

Forging stronger bonds

The microfinance institution that helped Sokkheng has been able to scale up its operations and help more women borrowers, thanks to IIX’s WLB1, the first in a series of gender bonds, listed on the Singapore Exchange. IIX’s WLB Series is designed to create sustainable livelihoods for some two million women in Cambodia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India.

Following the success of the first bond, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), have partnered to provide support for the second bond in the series.

This support came in the form of a grant to help IIX to undertake impact monitoring and to help scale up the WLB Series.

The second WLB (WLB2), a $12 million bond, focuses on supporting 250,000 women in the region: capital is lent to several microfinance institutions and impact enterprises (companies which look to make a positive impact to society, alongside making a profit), chosen because they improve women’s access to finance, essential goods, assets that generate income, and vocational training.

Commenting on the launch of the second bond, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said “we are proud to announce our partnership with IIX’s Women’s Livelihood Bond Series, which embodies the bold innovations that are needed to advance progress for the world’s poorest communities.”

Judith Karl, Executive Secretary of UNCDF, said, “We are excited to work with IIX, ESCAP, the Rockefeller Foundation and other key partners to demonstrate that viable investment vehicles can be created to attract finance from the international capital markets to the countries and people that need it most.”

Life for Sokkheng and her family has been transformed by IIX and microfinance: her business has expanded, and her household income has grown. She can now set aside savings every month, and look forward to a comfortable, and secure retirement.

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Estonia provides good support to jobseekers, but does not reach everybody

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The Estonian labour market has outperformed most EU countries after the global financial crisis. The employment rate of people in working age stood at 73% in the third quarter of 2020, up from 61.3% in 2010 and above the OECD average of 66.7%. Estonia provides comprehensive and targeted support to jobseekers, workers and employers. The Public Employment Service provides effective policies addressing the individual needs of the clients and cooperates pro-actively with a wide range of stakeholders. However, many people still lack stable jobs and incomes and are not in touch with the Public Employment Service to get the support they need, according to a new OECD report.

Connecting people with jobs: Improving the provision of active labour market policies in Estonia says that despite good labour market outcomes, about one quarter (26%) of the working age population could achieve better labour market outcomes through targeted support. Many of them face challenges related to their skills (68%) and family-related challenges (64%), such as care obligations. In many cases, they face several obstacles simultaneously and require an integrated approach.

Estonia’s active labour market policies (ALMPs) are responsive to labour market needs. However, ALMPs reach only 39% of people who are weakly attached to the labour market, and only 33% of people who are out of employment for more than one year.

“Reinforcing outreach to vulnerable groups far from the labour market is crucial to ensure that more people in Estonia get the support they need,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

Improved cooperation between the Public Employment Service and other relevant institutions providing social, health and education services would help reduce gaps in support to vulnerable groups. Notably, municipalities should be the “first respondents”, supporting vulnerable groups with social welfare services, and cooperating with other institutions when needed. 

Further improvements in the provision of ALMPs could be supported by a leaner regulatory framework. The current legal regulations support flexible and effective policy responses but are complex, which leads to administrative inefficiencies. A leaner regulatory framework would enable Estonia to support flexibility in policy design while maintaining the capacity to respond to labour market changes.

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UNIDO works to scale up the ICT start-up ecosystem in Iran

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photo: UNIDO

Together with its national counterparts from the Information Technology Organization of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and in partnership with the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is taking the next step to implement the project, “Promoting and upscaling innovative SMEs in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

The project aims to nurture the entrepreneurial ecosystem for ICT start-ups and scale-ups through international exposure and fostering technology and know-how exchange. In this context, a comprehensive dialogue between governmental institutions and leaders in the private sector has been launched, thereby providing a mechanism for Iranian startups to connect with institutional actors and successfully start scaling up.

An ICT ecosystem mapping exercise has revealed that Iran already possesses extensive scientific, technological, financial and highly qualified human capital to boost its SME sector. However, it is currently not living up to its potential and there is a need to provide a mechanism for establishing linkages with key stakeholders, including access to finance and relevant advisory support. This way the project builds competitiveness and supports the development of innovative enterprises.

Amir Nazemi, Deputy Minister at Iran’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, said, “Aiming to diversify its economy and attract foreign investment, Iran has made a considerable effort to develop a dynamic national innovation system and is moving steadily towards a knowledge- and innovation-based economy. As a result, our human capital is now comprises highly educated and motivated workforce, including scientists, entrepreneurs and business people. Knowledge-based entrepreneurship is a key tool in Iran for employment generation, providing new opportunities for labour market integration of young professionals and serving as a powerful impetus for knowledge-based development of the country’s economy as a whole.”

Based on the findings regarding the existing constraints and opportunities of the ICT sector, the UNIDO project team has proposed a roadmap that envisages short-, medium- and long-term interventions in both public and private sectors, addressing several problem areas, such as knowledge generation and transfer; access to finance; nurturing of entrepreneurial talent and skills, as well as stimulating interaction and collaboration within the ICT ecosystem.

“The level of engagement from prominent public and private sector representatives related to the ICT sector has demonstrated the importance such initiatives have in making the ecosystem for ICT startups more vibrant and sustainable,” said Maryam Javan Shahraki, UNIDO representative in Iran.

She added, “UNIDO looks forward to further extending our support to the government of Iran in its efforts to promote internationalization of ICT-related entrepreneurs through the virtual entrepreneurship hub that will become a major platform for knowledge exchange and support services for ICT startups, as well as facilitating partnerships with domestic and foreign partners and inter-institutional networking.”

As part of the public-private initiative, in cooperation with its national and international partners, UNIDO conducted a two-day workshop for major ICT sector stakeholders, including government entities, entrepreneurs and other key players, to present key findings of the initial phase of the project and the forthcoming action plan, while also providing an opportunity for a thorough exchange on how to reduce the existing  development gaps between science and industry thereby raising Iran’s profile as a knowledge-driven economy.

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Should You Be Worried About A Coming Bitcoin Crash?

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Do you already have a wallet full of Bitcoin and are worried about them losing value in a crash like what happened three years ago? Or, are you afraid to open a Bitcoin account today as you don’t want to buy before a crash, either?

Both of those fears are valid, but you may have nothing to worry about. There are a few factors that go into crashes that can usually be seen ahead of time. Of course, nobody can make an accurate prediction based on what has happened in the past because sometimes a wildcard comes into play that nobody could have seen coming.

Should you be worried then? In this article, we are going to take a look at what is different with Bitcoin this time around so you can decide for yourself if this is a good time to buy in.

Why Bitcoin is worth so much right now

Bitcoin has always promised to one day become a global currency that would be adopted by the masses. After the crash of 2018 when Bitcoin lost almost ⅔ of its value in a matter of weeks, it looked like its promise would go unfulfilled.

At that time the people buying in were basing their decision more on the fear of missing out than on actually believing in the cryptocurrency as a mainstream currency that could be used instead of fiat.

At that time you could pay for things using Bitcoin, but because the value kept growing, nobody wanted to part with their Bitcoins.

Now, it has become far more mainstream with a couple of big factors leading the way. For one, many big institutions were buying the currency and even some stores and businesses would accept it as a form of payment. There were more signs of it becoming a viable currency in the year or so after the crash.

Then, more recently, Paypal announced that they would start offering the service for people to buy some cryptocurrency with their Paypal account. This validated the currency in the eyes of many as they trusted Paypal for years already. It suddenly became very easy for people to acquire Bitcoin where before the process may have been intimidating.

Then, Elon Musk announced that Tesla had bought over a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin and that it could be used to buy their cars. This also served as validation and the value jumped very high after the news.

Will it continue to rise?

Anything that goes up must come down, so, yes it will continue to rise but will one day either dip or crash. It is inevitable.

What’s different this time around is that more people are using it for its intended purpose and that is to pay for things. It is finally being adopted. And, if history is a guide, then it will bounce back after any crash and then rise again. Maybe even higher than ever if there is more adoption by the masses.

*This article has been contributed on behalf of Paxful. However, the information provided herein is not and is not intended to be, investment, financial, or other advice.

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