MICROSOFT Corp. said it’s willing to give away for free more than $1-million worth of software to encourage microfinance groups to adapt technology and make poverty alleviation programs and services more efficient.
“It’s a sweet spot,” global community affairs program manager Lindsay Bealko told reporters, at the sidelines of a two-day conference the software giant co-organized with the Grameen Foundation Inc.
Bealko said they are prepared to give more as the offer is open to any nongovernment organization (NGO) that requests for such product.
“We won’t stop at $1 million. It all depends on the demand,” Bealko said, adding the grant requires a NGO to fill up and submit eligibility forms at any time of the year. The amount she cited was what the company reserved only for the day.
The conference, entitled Microfinance Leadership Summit 2009, drew more than a hundred NGOs from Luzon and Visayas, according to Microsoft Philippines Inc. executive Mae Rivera-Moreno.
She said the company awarded $78,000 worth of software to NGO Alalay sa Kaunlaran.
The move is part of what Bealko said is her company’s goal of “helping NGOs understand and figure out the benefits of technology, especially in microfinance.”
Grameen market development director Matt Duncan said the summit was organized targeting mainly executive directors of NGOs in microfinance “so that they can insist in their organization to adapt lessons from the commercial world, which is technology.”
Duncan said while there have been inroads in microfinance in the country, “this is still not reaching the remote communities and not advancing enough.”
“If we can apply technology, especially in making efficient credit, we can advance to adding more value-added services to clients, especially women.”
Grameen Philippines country director Christopher A. Tan said that the pitch for technology adaptation is based on the efficiency gains in automation.
“It will decrease costs to borrowers, and allow us to reach the harder-to-serve areas.” Tan, a former Development Bank of Chicago executive, said current estimates point to some 300 to 400 microfinance institutions in the country.
However, he notes there is a tepid acceptance of technology among these groups.
“Some don’t have that mentality that technology is strategic and not an expense. They see the cost of maintaining rather than the benefits it would accrue to their work. Mindset is the first barrier in adaptation.”
Citing a case study of the Iloilo City-based Saint Elizabeth Community Development Enterprise Philippines (Secdep), Duncan said the adaptation of technology allowed Secdep to increase loan officer productivity, saved time in searching for information and in end-of-month reporting.
Secdep has automated its six branches manned by 64 employees who are managing accounts of a total 7,773 clients 99 percent of whom are women.
Duncan said Grameen also announced a return-on-investment model for technology adaptation based on the results of this and other studies.