Microfinance – 40 years on

Tandi asked a great question so I thought I would make a posting of my response rather than burying it in comments. A word of warning, I am no expert on microfinance, or Bangladesh.  The following is based on a number of conversations I have had in the past month.  The interesting thing is I am spending a day with a microfinance team from BRAC on Thursday, out in the field where the practical work is done.  Should be a great experience, and also interesting to keep in mind the comments I have heard from mostly academics and researchers from the devloping world, who do not necessarily get their hands dirty in the trenches.

Microfinance 40 years on – the primary aim all those years ago was to give people access to credit to lift them out of poverty and make them self-sufficient. The talk here is it has not really done that. Why?

The women keep coming back for additional small loans once the previous loan is paid off. They get into a cycle of debt akin to credit card debt that we see in the developed world. The husbands continue to take the cash the women get as loans, leaving the woman with the debt and no way to earn money to pay it back. She then may be forced to go to another institution to get a loan, to repay the initial loan. Or worse still, go back to the moneylender who charges higher interest rates but whose loan is ‘off the record’ and therefore blind to the microfinance institutions.

So in effect she is credit surfing which puts her in a worse rather than better position. Women being women, they pay back the loan hell or high water but it can be to the detriment of the wellbeing of the family.

The thinking here is, better to set up co-operatives, buy communal equipment (crafts, farming, fishing etc) for the extended community to use so that the whole community can benefit …. including the men who are “good” yet who are not supported because most of the aid programs are directed towards women. The tables have turned on gender discrimination it seems. Food for thought.  But much more to come.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to Microfinance – 40 years on

  1. Tandi says:

    Very interesting Kate. What an unexpected twist on the initial vision.

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