Accion International is a global nonprofit organization that supports microfinance institutions in their work to provide financial services to low-income clients. Over more than 50 years, Accion has helped build 63 microfinance institutions in 32 countries on four continents. Accion also engages in impact investing initiatives to support start-ups that are working to create models for improving the efficiency, reach and scope of financial services for the poor. Today, Accion works with an active network of 29 microfinance institutions in 23 countries found in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. As of March, 2014 those institutions were collectively serving 4.96 million people with microloans and 3.64 million people with savings products.
Accion provides management services, technical assistance, governance, debt and equity investment, and training to microfinance institutions and microfinance support organizations. Accion promotes the commercial model of microfinance, in which microfinance institutions adhere to a double-bottom-line – achieving both social and financial goals.
Accion was founded as a grassroots community development organization in 1961 by Joseph Blatchford. In the beginning, young, college-educated Americans volunteered in Venezuela, and then Brazil, on community-development projects. The objective was to enable people living in poverty to help themselves by organizing their own efforts and talents. Early projects included building schools, community centers, and roads.
In 1973, Accion began experimenting with microlending – the provision of credit to small-scale, informal economy entrepreneurs – in Recife, Brazil. Following this pilot, the organization increasingly focused its efforts on developing microfinance institutions, and the microfinance industry. In 1983, Accion founded Red Accion – the first international network of microfinance institutions – in order to strengthen and develop the microfinance community in Latin America.
Creation of the U.S. Network
Accion worked exclusively with microfinance institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean until 1991, when it piloted a microfinance program in Brooklyn, New York. This program was aimed at empowering small-scale entrepreneurs in New York City, and it would later become the first member of the Accion U.S. Network – Accion New York. The U.S. Network expanded in 1994 with the creation of Accion Texas in San Antonio, Accion New Mexico in Albuquerque, Accion Chicago, and Accion San Diego.
In 2000, Accion began working with microfinance institutions in Africa through a partnership with Canadian NGO Calmeadow. In 2008, Accion established its Africa hub and training center in Accra, Ghana as a central office for operations in the region. In April 2010, Accion launched EB-Accion Microfinance in Cameroon.
In 2005, Accion expanded to India, where it now works with two partner microfinance institutions: Mubai-based Swadhaar FinServe and Patna-based Saija Finance. In addition, Accion also established a regional training center in Bangalore, India.
In early 2010, Accion established a microcredit company in China, Accion Microfinance China in Chifeng Prefecture, Inner Mongolia. Since then, it continued to expand in China through partner Grassland Finance.
In 2013, Accion expanded into the Philippines, joining other investors to create a $24-million holding operation company dedicated to building capacity in provincial banks focused on underserved areas of the country.
Microfinance Investment Funds and Other Initiatives
With the Gateway Fund eventually fully deployed, Accion then sponsored the creation of Accion Investments, in 2003, a for profit investment company chartered to deploy equity into microfinance in Latin America and Africa.
In 2008, Accion created the Center for Financial Inclusion, an “action tank” that supports modern microfinance practices and addresses challenges related to financial inclusion. The Center launched the Smart Campaign in October 2009 to advance client protection across all microfinance practices. In 2013, the SMART Campaign launched its Client Protection Certification Program to formally certify retail financial institutions that uphold standards of client protection as they provide services to financially excluded or underserved populations.
In 2010, Accion launched its Frontier Investments Group, whose mandate is to invest in early-revenue companies with disruptive business models – technologies, products, and services – that enhance the efficiency, reach, and scope of products and services for the unbanked.
In 2012, Accion launched its Venture Lab initiative, a program that provides seed capital and management support to financial inclusion start-ups. This fund promotes experimentation and provides nascent microfinance institutions with capital, technical resources and industry experience through access to the Accion network.
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