Frequently Asked Questions

What is microfinance?

Microfinance is the practice of extending small loans and financial services to low-income borrowers who traditionally lack access to banking services. Over the past three decades, microfinance has become one of the anti-poverty tools widely used around the world.


Microfinance is Not a Silver Bullet

“Microfinance is but one strategy battling an immense problem.

“In the last two decades, substantial progress has been made in developing techniques to deliver financial services to the poor on a sustainable basis. Most donor interventions have concentrated on one of these services, microcredit. For microcredit to be appropriate however, the clients must have the capacity to repay the loan under the terms by which it is provided. Otherwise, clients may not be able to benefit from credit and risk being pushed into debt problems. This sounds obvious, but microcredit is viewed by some as “one size fits all.” Instead, microcredit should be carefully evaluated against the alternatives when choosing the most appropriate intervention tool for a specific situation.

“Microcredit may be inappropriate where conditions pose severe challenges to standard microcredit methodologies. Populations that are geographically dispersed or nomadic may not be suitable microfinance candidates. Microfinance may not be appropriate for populations with a high incidence of debilitating illnesses (e.g., HIV/AIDS). Dependence on a single economic activity or single agricultural crop, or reliance on barter rather than cash transactions may pose problems. The presence of hyperinflation, or absence of law and order may stress the ability of microfinance to operate. Microcredit is also much more difficult when laws and regulations create significant barriers to the sustainability of microfinance providers (for example, by mandating interest-rate caps). (http://cgap.org)

Microfinance Pyramid

While microfinance can not reach all economic segments of society, it has been shown to reach segments previously un-serviced by other financial markets.

– “Evidence of Microfinance’s Contribution to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”,http://freedomfromhunger.org

Examples of Some Alternative Strategies

Investments in infrastructure, such as roads, communications, and education, provide a foundation for economic activities. Community-level investments in commercial or productive infrastructure (such as market centers or small-scale irrigation schemes) also facilitate business activity.

Employment programs prepare the poor for self-employment. Food-for-work programs and public works projects fit this model. In many cases, these programs may be out of reach for cash-strapped local governments but within the purview of donors.

Non-financial services range from literacy classes and community development to market-based business-development services. While non-financial services should be provided by separate institutional providers, there are clear, complementary links with the demand for and impact of microcredit. For example, improved access to market opportunities stimulates – and depends on – securing credit to cover the costs (product design, transport, etc.) of taking advantage of those opportunities.

Legal and institutional reforms can create incentives for microfinance by improving the operating environment for both microfinance providers and their clients. For example, streamlining micro-enterprise registration, abolishing caps on interest rates, loosening regulations governing non-mortgage collateral, strengthening the judicial system, and reducing the cost and time of property and asset registration can foster a supportive climate for microfinance.” (http://cgap.org)