A Journey towards Smart Certification: DAWN’s Milestone in 2021

Since its inception as a program of the Save the Children in 2002, DAWN has been driven by the vision to be “the best microfinance institution in Myanmar, improving the lives of families we serve”. In 2015, Accion International, the Dutch Development Bank, FMO, and Triodos Investment Management came together to invest in DAWN and established an independent microfinance institution that implements international best practices, improves its services with innovative models, and influences the development of the sector in Myanmar. Over the years, under the guidance of Save the Children and its new shareholders, DAWN has become a leading MFI run by Myanmar people for Myanmar people, and remains committed to employing a client-centric approach to providing a wide range of high-quality financial services. 

As a responsible financial institution, DAWN has endorsed and applied the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Principles (CPP) throughout its operations from the beginning, from the work done by branch staff in the field to back-end head office support. The seven core principles are: 1) appropriate product design and delivery; 2) prevention of over-indebtedness; 3) transparency; 4) responsible pricing; 5) fair and respectful treatment of clients; 6) privacy of client data; and 7) mechanisms for complaint resolution. After several years of continually improving institutional practices to align with the CPP, it was time for DAWN to progress from a Smart Campaign endorser to becoming certified. 

DAWN’s journey to Smart Certification kicked off with a self-evaluation to identify initial gaps in meeting specific CPP criteria, followed by an Accompanied Self-Assessment (ASA). The ASA was conducted in early 2020 with guidance from an independent, accredited assessor to objectively review our progress and identify any further gaps. The latest and most crucial phase involved building on the outcomes and lessons learned from the previous assessments, and executing an action plan to implement the remaining improvements required to prepare for the certification mission. 

To facilitate a collaborative and holistic approach to preparing for the mission, a “CPP Committee” was formed with representatives from different departments across the institution. The committee’s main agenda was to implement the recommendations for closing the final gaps identified in the ASA in time for the mission in November 2020. 

Our operations manager, Daw Su Ngal Htwe, one of the CPP committee members, shared her own experiences in this journey: “I contributed by supporting the operations department to update operational procedures to meet the client protection principles, including the final certification requirements defined by the certifier. There were not many challenges as DAWN has already employed all these core principles and standards since it was founded. But, we didn’t have all of the official documents to prove that we are actually exercising the CPP standards in practice. I cooperated with the CPP committee members to update necessary documents and issued the official orders. And also, I discussed with branch staff to implement updated orders and then, checked with them to see whether they are in practice or not, the updated operation procedures at the field level.”

During this period, DAWN and the CPP Committee were not only challenged with implementing the final CPP requirements while keeping up with day-to-day activities, we also had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 presented all sorts of new challenges that required DAWN to adapt while maintaining client protection practices. DAWN’s pandemic response included modifying existing procedures to facilitate loan disbursements and repayments while accommodating restrictions set out by authorities, offering new products to clients to help them adapt to their difficult situations, rescheduling repayments, and providing prepaid loans and considering the necessary health precautions for clients and staff. 

Another committee member, Daw Julia Kham, the deputy training manager, talked about how the training team overcame the challenges to implement the CPP improvements for training amidst the pandemic. She said that we provided online training during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Unstable internet connectioins and limited time and resources made it difficult to coordinate the training and delayed the training progress. However, “our team spirit, perseverance, and hard work overcame all these obstacles,” she said.

Indeed, all our effort, commitment and persistence paid off in the end. DAWN proudly received “Smart Campaign Client Protection Certification” in March 2021 and now has globally recognized credentials to demonstrate its commitment to client protection, being a reliable financial partner, and operating at a high level. Mudon Branch manager shared her feeling about achieving Smart Certification: “Smart Certification is an award recognized internationally, and I’m deeply proud of DAWN for receiving it. I am glad to be an employee of such a qualified institution. I believe this recognition enhances the brand image of DAWN”. 

In these unprecedent times filled with ongoing challenges and uncertainties, we at DAWN feel fortunate to have something to celebrate. We thank all of our clients, partners and other supporters who have encouraged us along the way and helped us achieve this milestone. Special thanks to Accion Technical Assistance, the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)’s Responsible Inclusive Finance Facility for Southeast Asia (RIFF-SEA) and MicroFinanza Rating (MFR) for their direct support on this initative.

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