Friday, April 01, 2011

Grameen Miracles

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 01:  Grameen Bank Mana...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
New York Times: Grameen Bank and the Public Good: it’s important to protect successful social institutions from political maneuvers that could be damaging to them, and that an abrupt and forced removal of Yunus could damage confidence in the bank, which has 8.4 million mostly women borrowers and holds $1.5 billion in villagers’ savings. ...... Yunus was being targeted for political reasons. ....... others said that there were people within the government, as well as across Bangladeshi society, who opposed the work of the Grameen Bank on principled, if ideological, grounds. Simply put, many people don’t think that microfinance helps the poor and they believe that socially-minded businesses, like the Grameen Bank, undermine the work of government. ....... The question: ‘Does microfinance work?’ has been posed increasingly in recent years — sometimes in accusatory tones because microfinance, and its leading practitioner, Grameen, have received so much praise. ....... microfinance — including both loans and savings services — is, in fact, good for microbusinesses ....... microfinance is not, itself, one simple thing. It may involve loans, or savings, or a combination of the two, plus training, insurance or other services ...... the way poor people manage their households is far more complex than anyone had previously understood. ........ If microfinance doesn’t accomplish anything positive, then why are 128 million poor families busy taking loans? ....... what it really means for most people to be poor: to live with perpetual uncertainty. ....... the problem of living on $1 or $2 a day is that you don’t actually earn $1 or $2 every day ...... Some days you receive $5 and then nothing for two weeks. Life is unreliable ...... what we saw microfinance was doing for people was offering them a reliable source of money. With microfinance, you get a sum of money that’s promised on the day it’s promised in the amount that’s promised. It’s often the only reliable service that poor people have — and that’s incredibly powerful. ........ contrary to the depiction of poor people as passive victims of microlenders — as the field is often portrayed by its critics — Morduch and his colleagues found that the families they followed were “strategic” in their use of credit, often mingling a variety of formal and informal sources. “They weren’t always making the best choices — some did well, some didn’t — but they were very actively managing their affairs,” he said. “Our view is that there’s a lot more going on with microfinance — that it’s helping people keep an income flow, deal with health problems, keep their kids in school, get food on the table every day, and perhaps invest in businesses.” .......... self-employed women in Kenya were able to invest more in their businesses and increase household spending when they had access to savings accounts ...... “extending basic banking services could have large effects at relatively small cost.” ....... a middle path: the social business — the business that seeks not to maximize profits but to maximize some form of social impact. ...... Social businesses seek to harness market forces to provide essential goods and services to people who are typically underserved. ...... social businesses provide things like loans to small farmers, rural electricity and access to potable water. They also supply health services like ambulance care or cataract surgery. In addition to microfinance, Grameen has helped establish an array of for- and not-for-profit companies such as Grameen Danone, a joint venture with Danone (known to us as Dannon), which markets an affordable fortified yogurt product to address micronutrient deficiencies among the poor and Grameen Shakti, a renewable energy company. ....... Social businesses have evolved to address both the operational weaknesses of many government agencies and the lack of affordable products and services available to the poor through the market. By and large, they are a new invention .......... , it appears that social businesses can bring things like renewable energy, mobile technologies and affordable housing to poor people faster and more efficiently than governments ...... However, ongoing access to safe water for all is not something that can be guaranteed without the leadership of governments.

The debate if microfinance helps alleviate poverty is even stupider than the debate if Yunus should be kicked out of the bank he started, if not the country itself. Of course microfinance helps alleviate poverty. But, thank God, it is only one of many tools at our disposal. Instead of wanting to undo the bank, the corrupt, inane, incompetent government of Bangladesh should works side by side, and do things the bank can not do for education, health, infrastructure, and job creation.

Microfinance is an evolving industry. Look at how the look of the computer has changed over the past three decades. Microfinance is the same way. Things will change. We will learn. We will experiment. We will try new things. We will introduce new practices. But overall it has been a force for good, no doubt. Can it be made into a much greater force for good? I, for one, am betting on it.

Grameen Under Attack At Home
Jagdish Bhagwati: Misplaced Criticism Of Yunus
Yunus Should Launch A Political Party
Leave Yunus Alone
Microfinance Alone Can't Cure Poverty
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