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"Poquito a Poco: Little by Little" – how blended finance facilitates change for low-income and rural households

As MEDA's flagship blended finance program, INFRONT (Impact Investing in Frontier Markets), is in its final year of implementation, the team is focusing its efforts on dissemination and learning. We recently launched two exciting media and communications products to showcase how the project is having an impact in frontier and emerging markets through a combination of investment and technical assistance. This blog will focus on a short film that was created, that features a portfolio company based on Colombia, Rayco and describe the following aspects of the film initiative: process, partner, and promotion.

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Last summer the INFRONT team started working with Twice Upon A Time to produce two short documentary films featuring Rayco and Maureauto Colombia, two companies based in Colombia that received a Sustainability Innovation Grant through the INFRONT project. The goal of these two films is to create awareness, generate empathy and present the business case of sustainability and environment, social, and governance (ESG) practices.

 Before describing the process, partner, and promotion of the short film, here's a brief definition of blended finance, as described by the OECD and World Economic Forum.

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1. Process

The first film that was recently completed, features Rayco, a retailer that specializes in selling household appliances to low-income Colombians through affordable credit. Rayco has a total of 84 stores and approximately 900 employees across Colombia. In 2015, Rayco was awarded a Sustainability Innovation Grant through INFRONT, to facilitate the diversification of offering income-generating assets to Rayco's customers, with the aim of creating economic opportunities for rural and low-income communities. The general process Twice Upon A Time proposed including pre-production, production, post-production, where each stage of the process also had sub-stages and multiple rounds of discussion and approvals.

For this film in particular, in pre-production, the team determined that we wanted to feature a client that has benefited from the services and products offered by Rayco. The production schedule was fixed over a five-day period in October in a very rural area of Colombia, with no guarantee that a transaction that fit our objective would occur during the time that the team was in the field for the shoot. Thankfully, the team captured the story of a client named Alison, who was interested in purchasing a power generator. She described the frequent power outages where she lived, which posed challenges for her household and the multiple businesses she ran. Through a combination of Rayco's proactive outreach strategy and in-house financing options, customers like Alison can apply for credit and have access to appliances that benefit their micro-businesses and overall quality of life.

In post-production, there were six distinct stages that took longer than expected and planned. This was because we went through multiple rounds of different versions and cuts, to refine the storyline, music, title cards, subtitles, and images. One major lesson learned through this creative process, is that pro-active coordination and communication between multiple stakeholders is required from the pre-production/concept stage all the way to post-production. In this case, the creation of this film involved members and advisors of the INFRONT team, the Twice Upon A Time team, and Rayco staff and customers. Another complexity of this film was to ensure the messaging remained core to the objective and goal of INFRONT, and to describe blended finance in a way that is accessible and understandable to various audiences and stakeholders, while at the same time keeping the integrity of the story.

Lastly, the entire process took place in a remote format, as in, The Twice Upon A Time team worked from Colombia, while MEDA staff worked from Canada and in some instances from abroad if we traveling. This meant all communication took place via email and Skype, and the review of different versions utilized YouTube and Vimeo for providing comments and feedback. It’s amazing how technology can facilitate a project such as the creation of a short documentary film, and to successfully do so across different countries and languages. We decided to go with a Spanish title, “Poquito a Poco” which translates into “Little by Little”.

2. Partner

Twice Upon A Time is a boutique studio that believes in the unique power of non-fiction storytelling, specialized in highly sophisticated, short form, branded documentary content. The founder, Juan Baquero, is a Toronto-based director, story consultant and producer. As Juan is originally from Colombia, this partnership presented a compelling opportunity, as we wanted to focus the films on Latin America. Working with Twice Upon A Time has been a positive experience, as the feedback loops are participatory and iterative. As we have one more film to complete, there are also lessons to be learned through this partnership, as storytelling and showing impact in blended finance projects is much needed.

3. Promotion

With the recent launch of the film, we had the opportunity to do a screening of the film a few weeks ago at Humber College, as part of the Global Citizens Forum, organized by the Ontario Council for International Cooperation (OCIC). This forum was titled “Mobilizing Leadership for Global Sustainable Development” as a platform to share and further thought leadership and implementation strategies to the 17 interconnected Sustainable Development Goals from practical, academic, community and polity perspectives. We co-presented a breakout session titled ‘Innovating in Finance for Change’ with Oikocredit Canada to present examples and approaches of microfinance and blended finance. The question and answer period made it evident that further dialogue, awareness, and case studies need to be shared with the public, to mainstream and make the case for blended finance in contributing to development outcomes.

Little by Little (Poquito a poco) from MEDA on Vimeo.

As a member of MEDA’s Investment Technical Team, it’s exciting to work on projects such as INFRONT, and contribute to communication and dissemination efforts. With the upward trend of blended finance and impact investing, MEDA is faced with an opportunity to leverage private and public resources for greater development outcomes with its history and expertise in the field, with its first investment in 1953. The Investment Technical Directorate has the mandate to keep MEDA on the leading edge of investment practices by collecting, updating and creating guidelines, policies and best practices. I’m grateful to participate in initiatives such as the creation of short documentary films, and the development of a data visualization that enables users to understand INFRONT through an interactive experience. I believe telling the stories of what our projects are achieving and the lessons we are learning along the way, are critical to raising awareness, building knowledge in the industry, and contributing to best practices in the field of blended finance.

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