Earlier this week, I learned that Root Capital, an innovative non-profit financial institution, reached an important milestone: its portfolio of loans to small and growing businesses in low- and middle-income countries topped $100 million, the highest balance in the organization’s 15-year history. This milestone is significant as it shows that organizations like Root Capital have developed the scalable and innovative approaches required to overcome the inherent challenges facing corporate buyers and commercial financial institutions in providing financing in rural areas.
Citi’s partnership with Root Capital is long and diverse. We conduct joint research and collaborate closely on opportunities for large global corporations to partner with Root on developing more inclusive supply chains in rural communities – with a colleague sitting on Root Capital’s risk committee.
Like Root Capital, improving the state of financial inclusion and access around the world has been core to Citi’s mission. From deploying new platforms in the Dominican Republic so that small business owners can pay their merchandise suppliers through mobile transactions, to Citi’s longstanding partnership with the U.S. Government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which has provided $386 million to 43 microfinance institutions in 23 countries and reached more than 1.1 million micro-borrowers (91 percent of which are women), Citi embeds investments that make impact into our core businesses and policies.
I have had a front-row seat to observe the growth and success of Root Capital. I recall early conversations I had with Willy Foote, Root’s founder and CEO, about the unique challenges around rural finance. Rural enterprises like coffee cooperatives or grain processors are often the linchpin of rural economies. They pay higher and more stable prices and provide market access to small-scale farmers, many of whom live on only a few dollars a day. Yet without access to working capital and long-term financing, these enterprises are unable to purchase crops from the thousands of smallholder farmers from whom they source, thereby jeopardizing their livelihoods.
Since they started their journey in 1999, Root Capital has disbursed nearly $800 million to 550 rural businesses. In 2014 alone, the enterprises Root Capital financed paid farmers more than $1 billion for their products, from coffee to quinoa. For those farmers and their families, that means access to education, health care and improved nutrition – the critical building blocks of long-term prosperity. In addition, with a 98 percent repayment from its borrowers and 100 percent repayment to its more than 150 investors, Willy and his team have mobilized some of the world’s leading impact investors, including OPIC, the InterAmerican Development Bank, Starbucks, the Skoll Foundation, and the Citi Foundation – which has supported Root Capital for over a decade.
As we celebrate this major milestone that has generated positive environmental and social impact, I know that Root Capital is mindful of the tasks ahead. The World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database finds that just 22 percent of rural residents in low-income economies have an account with a formal financial institution. Expanding financial access, especially in rural areas is therefore essential to ensuring sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
The good news is that with the development of new digital and mobile financial services, supply chain solutions and payment technologies, we increasingly have the tools to overcome the barriers that prevent broader and more inclusive financing in rural areas.
A market this big requires many types of providers, and we need more organizations like Root Capital to deploy these new tools and the necessary financing.
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