I was recently interviewed by Levi Hug, look an economics student at Eastern Oregon University. Here’s a sampling of the Q&A…
Levi: What do you see that’s particularly special about microfinance, when compared to other forms of development?
Dave: I write a blog (defeatpoverty.com) and one of the things I’ve been particularly interested in and been doing a lot of research on is things that can help people get out of poverty on a sustainable basis, versus simply putting bandages on situations—helping someone through a short-term thing, but not necessarily helping them long-term. These things aren’t bad, there are lots of needs for people to be given relief in dire circumstances. But, ultimately what’s much better is to have people be sustainably out of poverty.
Number two, I’m really interested in things that have the potential for scale. One of my heroes is Muhammad Yunus, and one of things he talks about in his book is how some people haven’t liked his approach in pushing for very high volume in serving people. Some people say, “small is beautiful.” And, Yunus’ response is, “well, the reality is that small is small.” Helping five or ten or even 100 people is fine and good, but it’s still small impact. If you want to help a village, an area, a state, a community, a country, whatever scale you’re thinking of, that’s going to require something that can scale. So, microfinance has demonstrated, and it’s one of the few tools that I’ve been able to find historically that has had a large impact on actually lifting people out of extreme poverty on a sustainable basis and at a large volume. So, I’m really interested in things that meet that criteria and microfinance is one of the most interesting ones that I’ve observed. But, there are other things that are starting to be experimented with and are starting to show promise that may have the same characteristics.
2 thoughts on “Interview on microfinance”
Dave, in the interview you mentioned: “microfinance has demonstrated, and it’s one of the few tools that I’ve been able to find historically that has had a large impact on actually lifting people out of extreme poverty on a sustainable basis and at a large volume”. Do we have any hard evidence of that? In 2006, Economist magazine concluded that while “heart-warming case studies abound, rigorous empirical analyses are rare”. Bangladesh is not one of the development success stories by any standards. Out of 7,000 MFIs around the world, fewer than 100 claim self-sufficiency. I am not trying to criticise microfinance as such but it looks like the claims that it as a successful development tool are really exaggerated.