Microfinance · Poverty Reading List

The Poor Always Pay Back book review

The Poor Always Pay Back: The Grameen II Story

by Asif Dowla and Dipal Barua

If anyone is interested in seeing inside one of the world’s most innovative microfinance organizations, this is a fantastic documentary of the huge transformation that Grameen Bank (founded by Muhammad Yunus) … 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winners … went through over the last few years to deliver “version 2” of the Grameen approach to microfinance.

This book is written by practitioners for practitioners. So, there are lots of details, examples, explanations and market research data presented … including some which is not all that positive (e.g. that borrowers don’t uniformly increase sending their daughters to school). This book is a must read if you’re in the microfinance field and want to see how the next generation of microfinance is being rolled out.

The book starts off with a detailed review of the first generation of the Grameen methodology now called “Grameen I” or Grameen Classic. It explains the issues/challenges faced with the Grameen Bank using this model and how many of the learnings from their approach naturally drove them to adapt for an improved model. Then it describes the new Grameen II model in detail including the open-access savings, flexible loan products, a range of deposit products, self-reliance at the branch level, no need to access donor funds, their ability to keep interest rates very low, insurance products, pension products, education loans, elimination of group loan guarantees and more.

There is also a very good chapter on how Grameen Bank is intentionally starting to serve the poorest of the poor who are generally not serviced by microfinance because they are often surviving through begging. Grameen’s beggar’s program is built into the core of staff incentives to ensure that no one is being left out of access to financial services.

My only critique of the book is that it is a bit dry. You need to approach this more as a textbook and research document. I’m glad that the authors and others involved took the time to write this up to give us an indepth look at the Grameen story!

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