The Microfinance Network of Arab Countries (SANABEL)

May 12, 2014
1. Could you briefly introduce Sanabel? Sanabel is the first and only regional network designed to serve microfinance institutions in the Arab world. It is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2002 aimed at being the leading institution that promotes financial inclusion in Arab countries. To achieve this goal, Sanabel has as its mission to support the provision of sustainable financial services to low income people and to contribute to capacity building in the microfinance sector in Arab countries. Over and above its mission, as an organization, we pursue the following objectives:
  • To build capacity of the microfinance sector in Arab countries to achieve best practices, transparency and client protection;
  • To advocate for an enabling environment (regulatory, operational, and organizational) in order to provide sustainable financial inclusion to a wider segment of low income people;
  • To support and encourage the establishment of national networks in Arab countries and increase of membership base (countries & institutions); and
  • To become sustainable financially and operationally through a qualified team.
Since the inception of its operations in 2002, Sanabel is steadily growing in terms of services supply and membership numbering about 90. The organization is present in 12 Arab countries namely Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. 2. What are your main activities and services? Given that microfinance environment is evolving all the time in the region, Sanabel provides services and products that better fit the needs of microfinance institutions and that take into account the operational environment of these institutions. The main activities and services carried out by the organization revolve around:
  1. Training and capacity building: this activity entails the development and covering of subjects aiming at enhancing performance and practices in the microfinance field in the Arab world.
  2. Social performance management (SPM): the purpose of this training course is to promote and expand SPM practices in the Arab world, and especially amongst Sanabel members. As a member of the Steering Committee of SMART Campaign, Sanabel is also eager to work with its members to advocate Client Protection Principles and the implementation of Universal Standards for Social Performance in Arab countries.
  3. Transparency & research activities: these encompass activities on data collection, preparation and standardization; benchmarking and analysis; creating and updating MIX Market profiles for Arab's MFIs; documentation, research, report-writing, and dissemination; and training on transparency and benchmarking.
  4. The Arabic microfinance Gateway: is a platform set up in partnership with CGAP in order to provide resources in Arabic language and to respond to the needs and interests of Arabic-speaking practitioners and stakeholders.
  5. Annual conference: The conference is intended to Arab microfinance practitioners and it is the occasion to take stock on progress made and challenges to face.
Moreover, Sanabel is also involved in other various activities among which "the campaign for client protection" in microfinance industry partnering with the Global Campaign for client protection. Since 2011, the organization has joined "Imp-Act Consortium", a worldwide structure that seeks to influence practice through training, advocacy and research. Additional activities that Sanabel is deeply involved in, is the development of new materials through translating various SP related documents, reports, and tools into Arabic in order to have this material readily available for Arabic speaking practitioners. 3. What are some of your major achievements and lessons learnt? As the first and only structure of this kind in the Arab countries, Sanabel has made important accomplishments over the past years in order to improve microfinance environment in that region. As such, several initiatives have been set up by the organization to enhance microfinance environment and their performance, which include:
  • The publication of MFIs data and the endeavours towards their standardization for the entire Arab region;
  • The dissemination of best practices among MFIs and stakeholders involved in the sector;
  • Several trainings and workshops are regularly organized to strengthen practitioners skills and performance;
  • The implementation of a virtual platform aimed at sharing information among stakeholders regarding MFIs in Arab countries; and
  • Research and surveys are regularly conducted in order to assess the sector's development and eventually pave the way for policy reforms in each Arab country.
4. Could you outline some key challenges Sanabel is facing? Sanabel's wide representation can be viewed as both an opportunity, but also as a challenge. The microfinance sector in the member states is quite diverse, as well as the level of maturity of the individual member institutions Sanabel represents. This presents a challenge to Sanabel and its ability to respond to all the different levels of needs and expectations of its members. In addition, the different regulatory environment in each state limits our initiatives that are aimed at contributing towards financial inclusion in the region. The majority of our members operate in environments, which do not have any regulatory guidance for the microfinance sector and its activities, which in turn results in limited product diversification to the end clients. Another challenge is outreach; one of the approaches Sanabel has adopted recently is supporting national networks build their internal capacities in order to be in a position to decentralize some of our activities and increase the outreach of the services we offer, namely in terms of effective and tailored capacity building, as well as lobbying and policy advocacy. Languages; although Sanabel is the regional network of Arab countries, in practice the official languages of our member institutions include Arabic, English and French. While this is a manageable task, it does require additional resources and generally causes unnecessary delays. Timely documentation, transparency and research remain to be challenges that Sanabel faces. Other than adequate resources, the response rates are generally weak which at times forces us to depend on secondary data and / or limit our publications due to insufficient inputs. Stability in the region is becoming an increased concern for Sanabel and its members. While some of our members suffer from weaker productivity, Sanabel is facing challenges implementing activities in the region due to security concerns and instable environments. Planning simple events is becoming a big challenge and at times makes it difficult for our members to participate. Sustainability of not for profit networks, including Sanabel, remains to be a challenge which at times limits our ability of meeting the expectations of our members and the stakeholders in the region in general. Ultimately, Sanabel aims to be a resource centre for the region and is eager to continue its evolution as necessitated by its members and their ever-changing environments. Our partners and members remain to be supportive and we look forward to exploring innovative ways towards overcoming these challenges, sometimes through strategic partnerships. 5. How can Making Finance Work for Africa (MFW4A)
support your work?
Being a flagship organization that promotes financial sector development in Africa, Making Finance Work for Africa (MFW4A) can be an important vector of information dissemination for our activities within Africa and across the world thanks to its large audience. Hence, one of the first steps will be the publication of our events and other promotional activities on the website, A closer collaboration with MFW4A might be helpful to promote microfinance in Arab countries and to attract potential donors for our future activities.