ACCION International was founded in 1961 by Joseph H. Blatchford. Initially a community grassroots development organization, ACCION began focusing on microlending in the 1970s and became a global nonprofit known for its microfinance activities.
ACCION International was founded in 1961 by Joseph H. Blatchford, a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley Law School. Moved to action by the political upheaval and poverty he saw traveling in Latin America, Blatchford viewed community grassroots development as a way to help improve lives. In 1961, he enlisted the help of two other UC Berkeley students, Jerry Brady and Gary Glenn, to recruit the first class of thirty American volunteers to work on their first projects in Venezuela.
ACCION’s initial projects involved improving infrastructure in the community through both fundraising and manual labor such as building schools and digging ditches. They also worked to provide technical support and assistance, enabling local residents to embark on their own projects. Blatchford expanded ACCION with chapters in Brazil, Peru, and New York in the late 1960s. In the first decade of ACCION’s existence, the news media frequently made comparisons between the organization and the Peace Corps. Blatchford was appointed Director of the Peace Corps in 1969.
In the 1970s, ACCION sought to address lack of economic opportunity in urban Latin America by establishing a microlending program. In 1973 the ACCION organization UNO (Recife, Brazil), issued its first loans to small, informal enterprises. ACCION’s success in microlending led to their subsequent focus on microfinance. From 1980 to 1990, ACCION established microfinance programs in fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries. In 1984, ACCION created the Latin American Bridge Fund, a guaranteed fund through which ACCION affiliates could secure lines of credit.
The Gran Salto “Great Leap” expansion campaign of the 1990s developed ACCION’s programs in the United States as well as extending their reach in Latin America. In 1991, ACCION founded the ACCION U.S. Network to create microfinance programs in the United States. The pilot program was launched in Brooklyn, New York and the program grew steadily across the United States.
In 1992, ACCION joined with nonprofit microlender PRODEM and other local banks and investors to found BancoSol, the world’s first commercial bank focused solely on microfinance, in Bolivia. ACCION established the Gateway Fund to make investments in microfinance institutions worldwide in 1996 and continued to expand its international operations outside the Americas in the 2000s by establishing partnerships with aspiring small business owners in sub-Saharan Africa and India. A partnership with Ecobank led to the founding of EB-Accion Savings and Loans in Ghana in 2007.
ACCION established the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), a think tank dedicated to taking action to ensure broad access to financial services, in 2008. CFI has collaborated with microfinance experts, financial advisers, banking institutions, investors, and a number of other stakeholders to achieve its goals of financial inclusion.