Thursday, April 15, 2010

Microfinance ... more on the NYT article

Dear Colleagues

Brian Gately has pointed to other material ... and especially a webcast conversation between Neil MaqFarquhar, the author of the article and Alex Counts, President of the Grameen Foundation. The conversation may be accessed at this link:

I listened carefully and my response was to comment as follows:

There are many problems. Two of them are:

(1) modern media's inability to spend enough time to understand what they are writing about ... this is evidenced by the lack of serious research by Neil MaqFarquhar. Frankly I am appalled at the lack of depth that is apparent,

(2) there is a misplaced focus on money financial metrics to assess microfinance and socio-economic performance . Based on observing development since 1974, I have concluded that progress out of poverty is undoubtedly helped by microfinance ... but other things are needed as well. Multi-sector relevant interventions are key ... but there is little funding for this ... and the value metrics that would show how good this is are totally missing.

My work with Community Analytics (CA) has the potential to bring change to metrics ... and paradigm shift relative to socio-economic progress!

Peter Burgess

I think Professor Muhammad Yunus had it right when he observed that when poor people work hard for a long time and still remain poor, this is a systemic problem and not a poor people problem. The success of organizations like Grameen Bank and BRAC in Bangladesh is very much because they approached the poor with services that they thought the poor needed, and had considerable success.

I am sure that one of the reasons why microfinance became such a "darling" of the socio-economic development industry over a good number of years is that it was about the only thing the industry could point at that had any kind of success. There are, of course, some other examples of success ... but the big story is that the official development assistance (ODA) industry has funded much more failure than success ... a very serious matter that has been off the radar for obvious reasons. The Zambian writer Dambissa Moyo talking about her book Dead Aid, said about aid in Africa: "A trillion dollars and 60 years and essentially nothing to show for it! There has to be a better way!"

In my view microfinance is part of the "better way" ... but only a part. There is no "single silver bullet" solution to having widespread "progress out of poverty" but this superficial dialog about microfinance is not helping much at all!

Peter Burgess

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