I've been arguing for awhile now that microcredit has been overly hyped, even dangerously so (i.e., credit will end poverty). But now media (see The Times, The Boston Globe, Foreign Policy, articles, for examples) are beginning a backlash against microcredit (likely caused in large part by failed expectations caused by said hype) that I nonetheless find equally, if not more, disturbing (i.e., microfinance isn't working). I've never thought of credit as a panacea, but I do believe financial inclusion and access to an array of asset building financial services are essential if the poor are ever to move out of poverty.
So, I'm pleased that my colleague, Shweta Banerjee, just published an piece in Foreign Policy magazine - How Microfinance Can Change the Lives of Millions - that applies some much need counter pressure to the new naysayers of microfinance, by focusing on what is working, what might work, and why we should continue our efforts to innovate before falling back into old (and bad) development policies and practices.
In particular, the piece highlights specific programs and experiments aimed at providing the very poor with effective financial services, including WOCCUs matchsavings.org, Oxfam's Savings for Change and the Center for Social Development's AssetsAfrica pilot study, among others.
I'm interested in hearing others' opinions on which microfinance programs and services are most innovative and also worthy of a spotlight as this debate livens up. Send along your thoughts!
*******PS. I received this note from a colleague at WOCCU, with a slight correction to the description of matchsavings.org in the FP article:
"There isn't actually a physical credit union in these people's villages (a field officer from a nearby branch office travels to outlying communities 1x/month), and the reason they didn't join wasn't so much because of the membership fee. They can actually save over time to achieve full membership, and MatchSavings.org participants become full members after 2 months of saving. Some participants I spoke with didn't join existing credit union groups in their communities because they felt the savings requirement (set by the group itself) was too high for them or they didn't feel ready to join. The MatchSavings.org program, though it required a higher monthly deposit, incentivized people with the 100% match. And when they receive their match after 6 months, the group members then set their own savings goal (the same for all members) and continue on the monthly deposit schedule in their community, with access to the full range of credit union services."
To learn more about WOCCUs matchsavings.org and other matched savings programs in developing countries: http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/promoting_savings_tool_international_development