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Towards a Pro-Poor Seal of Excellence

The below dates and associated activities outline the work completed to date to develop a pro-poor Seal of Excellence.

April 2010: The Idea & the First Conference Call

Then-Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Sam Daley-Harris delivers a speech in Spain that outlines a vision for the field focused on bringing the transformational dimension of microfinance back to its center. His speech supports the idea of reinventing microfinance, an idea that has been gaining momentum and was articulated, among other places, in Alex Count’s 2008 article “Reimagining Microfinance” published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Also in April 2010, The New York Times publishes an article by Neil MacFarquhar on the front page titled “Banks Making Big Profits from Tiny Loans”. Key questions raised in the article include “….how much interest and profit is acceptable, and what constitutes exploitation” and whether microfinance institutions are staying true to their poverty-fighting missions or drifting off course.

A conference call is held with a small group of leaders to discuss microfinance’s damaged reputation. The group discusses re-focusing the field on its poverty mission and how the industry might respond. Monthly conference calls continue through 2010, exploring the idea of developing a “seal of excellence” for microfinance.

July 2010: Concept Paper Commissioned

With funding from Grameen Foundation, Freedom from Hunger, Kiva, and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a technical expert is commissioned to draft a concept paper on the Seal: Frances Sinha of EDA Rural Systems.

November 2010: Presentation to Leading Stakeholders in Indian Microfinance

Sam Daley-Harris and Frances Sinha deliver a presentation in New Delhi. At this stage, the presentation envisaged different levels of the Seal, with an initial level requiring compliance with the client protection principles.

December 2010: Interim Structure Defined

The stakeholders hold a retreat in Washington, DC, and decide to expand their group into an Interim Steering Committee, including the Smart Campaign and the Social Performance Task Force as a step toward partnership with those initiatives.

January 2011: Consultations and Feedback on the Concept Paper

The concept paper went through a series of drafts engaging not only members of the Steering Committee but other leading practitioners and thinkers in microfinance and the development field. The Steering Committee sends a revised version of the Concept Paper to over 100 industry leaders around the world for feedback.

Spring and Summer 2011: Gaining Buy-in

The Seal is announced as part of a news conference in March, and the revised concept note is sent to over 10,000 people in the industry for feedback. The Microcredit Summit Campaign’s staff organizes an e-mail and phone follow-up process to solicit feedback from key people who received the concept note.



Frances Sinha also presents the concept of the Seal at the annual meeting of the Social Performance Task Force in Den Bosch, the Netherlands.

June 2011: Parameters for a Technical Committee

The Steering Committee reviews feedback received to date and sets parameters for a Technical Committee that will recommend the Seal’s assessment methodology.

June 2011: Parameters for a Technical Committee 

The Steering Committee reviews feedback received to date and to sets parameters for a Technical Committee that will recommend the Seal’s assessment methodology.

October 2011: Formation of the Technical Committee; Alpha Testing

Establishment of the Technical Committee with Frances Sinha as chair. Based on the draft list of indicators, the committee develops a more detailed list. Members of the three specialized rating agencies and different members of the committee, including CERISE, Freedom from Hunger and the MIX, apply these indicators to 25 MFIs in different regions, using data from social ratings that they had conducted. In addition, the MIX analyzes social performance for 87 MFIs who report poverty data. These data sets are then reviewed to show rates by different poverty lines and outreach of reporting MFIs relative to poverty rates in their countries.

November 2011: Global Microcredit Summit Conference at Valladolid, Spain

A “final” version of the concept note, incorporating feedback from diverse stakeholders, in English, French and Spanish is published in New Pathways out of Poverty. The Seal is presented in a plenary and a discussion forum is held for feedback on the concept. The Campaign staff hosts a luncheon with investors at the Summit to discuss the Seal, and incoming Director Larry Reed holds a dinner with microfinance CEOs to get their input. The Steering Committee holds a retreat with the Technical Committee to discuss the results of the alpha tests, the key indicators for the different dimensions and to discuss next steps.

January 2012: Refinement of Indicators; Selection Criteria for Beta Test MFIs

Based on the Alpha test, the Technical Committee defines the set of indicators, the framework of questions and suggests additional steps to be included in a Seal assessment. Criteria for MFI selection for Beta Test defined and ideas shared for developing a scoring approach.

March 2012 Technical Committee Call: Refinement of Beta Test Purpose and Candidates

Discussion held on the suggested list of MFIs and the purpose and goals of the Beta Test.

April 2012: Recommendation of Beta Test MFIs to Steering Committee

Short list of MFIs for Beta Test shared with and finalized by the Steering Committee. Participating institutions represent a diverse group of regions (Middle East, South and South East Asia, Latin America, and Africa) and legal forms (Bank, NBFI, Credit Union, and NGO).

May 2012: Executive Committee, Secretariat and Director

In the Steering Committee Retreat, the group votes to establish an Executive Committee to support the initiative and approves the incoming Seal Director – JD Bergeron. There is a shift in perspective to include not only recognition of excellent performance but also documentation of good practice that supports poverty outreach and transformation.

June 2012: Joint Letter, the First Beta Test and Indicator Revisions

A joint letter from the Smart Campaign, Social Performance Task Force, and the Seal Steering Committee is released to explain how the three initiatives are working together to minimize confusion while increasing options for microfinance practitioners, investors, and other stakeholders. Indicators revised to reflect final USSPM. The first Beta assessment is conducted by Planet Rating in Jordan.

July 2012: Seal of Excellence Webinar and Microlinks e-Consultation

The Seal has focused on gaining buy-in, first and most importantly, from those parts of the industry that see poverty outreach and reduction as a part of their mission: MFIs, social investors and other industry support organizations. The Seal plays a short video and hosts a webinar with SPTF to further popularize the Seal concept and begin a dialogue that encourages feedback on the initiative (59 participants join the session).

USAID’s MicroLinks hosts an e-Consultation with the Seal that discusses best and emerging practices for poverty outreach and the Seal’s role (more than 50 participants engage with more than 75 discussion posts and over 800 unique views from 48 countries).

July 2012: Launch of Social Media Tools

The Seal Blog, Facebook and Twitter are launched to engage new supporters and create the forum for ongoing dialogue on the Seal.

July-August 2012: Finalization of Beta Test Template and Second Beta Test

Further refinement of indicators (splitting out qualifying indicators and the monitoring of social goals); a beta assessment is conducted in Bolivia.

September 2012: Technical Committee Call and Third Beta Test; Steering Committee Call

Discussion of beta test results at institution #1 in Jordan and indicators (overlap with the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Principles and the Social Performance Task Force’s Universal Standards for Social Performance Management, levels of analysis, and scoring system); Beta assessment conducted in South Africa; Steering Committee discusses positioning of the Seal and the first draft of the Theory of Change is reviewed.

October 2012: Fourth and Fifth Beta Test and Technical Committee Call

Beta assessments conducted in India and Senegal; Technical Committee Call discusses draft beta test result reports from assessment in Bolivia and assessment in South Africa, as well as the draft levels of the Seal.

November 2012: Steering Committee Retreat and Creation of Advisory Council

The Steering Committee approves the creation of an Advisory Council. Members of the Advisory Council provide connections and serve as key allies of the Seal. The Advisory Council also serves as a testing ground for potential new members of the Steering Committee.


The latest information on the Seal can be found here.