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Accion –happy 50th birthday to a “smart” MFI

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When you’re interested in microfinance, it’s hard not to know about Accion International. This Microfinance Institution (MFI) is a member of what Esther Duflo calls the “big six”, the six largest MFIs in the world. This American NGO has had an amazing history, starting in 1961 in Venezuela, before granting its first microloan in Bresil. 50 years later, the NGO, now a MFI, has, along with its partners, more than 4 million active borrowers and 1.6 million savers.

When the American Joseph Blatchford created it in 1961, Accion started out by sending young volunteer students into a poor district of Caracas. The NGO was trying out a local development programme aimed at improving residents’ living conditions. This programme was extended to neighbouring countries and to Brazil. Eight years later, at President Nixon’s request, Blatchford left Accion to head the Peace Corps, the international volunteer service supported by Washington, but Accion continued on its mission without its founder. It launched its first microfinance project in 1973 in Recife, Brazil.

Today, Accion states that its supports 62 microfinance institutions in 32 countries. The MFI based in Boston, Massachusetts was also responsible for the Smart campaign, an international campaign aimed at safeguarding microfinance customers’ interests.