The positive role of microfinance in enhancing the livelihoods of people dependent on the informal economy is generally recognised although some voices have begun to be heard about the risks of over-indebtedness.
But the simple financing (not only micro-finance) of the informal micro-entrepreneurs by the banking system also requires to be tackled seriously if the transition to the formal economy is at stake. As a matter of fact one of the main characteristics of the informal sector has always been not to rely on external sources of funding. Most of the microenterprises of the informal sector continue to start their activities with limited initial capital drawn from own or family resources. The small amount of initial capital that allows the start-up of an informal micro-enterprise mainly originates from own or family savings. Informal operators rarely seek credit at the initial stage. They do, however, regularly buy on credit from their immediate and daily/weekly providers of the goods they sell or transform.
Nevertheless, the combination of tight needs with large numbers of operators constitutes a vibrant market and has been the basis for the development of micro-finance.
Micro-finance is defined as a set of financial services such as savings, micro-credit, insurance, money transfer, adapted to the needs of low-income and poor persons (especially those who do not have bank accounts). Micro-credit is not a usual loan, it is most often combined with others elements: the borrower benefits from tips that will help him use the borrowed money in the best way, among others: how to keep accounts, calculate a cost, comply with regulations, and choose a particular approach or a project. For the World Bank, the amount considered as defining micro-credit corresponds to 30% of the GDP per capita in a country (from 250 US$ in Madagascar, to 400 US$ in Cameroon and 1,300 US$ in Tunisia). Because they have no collaterals, the poor have no access to the official banking system (see De Soto, 2003). In this sense, financial inclusion – the objective that microfinance aims at achieving – may be seen as a dimension of social inclusion. It is currently estimated at a value of 60 to 100 billion US$.
Microfinance has earned a major place in funding income-generating activities over the recent years. This is primarily due its financialisation – a process that consists in raising funds on the international capital market. This was, however, to the detriment of its value with respect to solidarity and it still far from satisfies the needs of the global poor.
Micro-finance has long existed in traditional societies under the form of rotating savings/credit schemes or clubs (known as “tontines” in Western and Central Africa or “merry-go-round” in Eastern Africa) to benefit their members. Important actors gradually emerged between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, including the Grameen bank that Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed Yunus founded in 1983. Others include the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA)’s micro-credit Bank based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat India. SEWA was founded in 1974 and has more than 2,000,000 members today. Such institutions are based on trust and solidarity and provide support to poor households, helping them in their income-generating activities. As of April 2015, the Grameen Bank, for example, present in sixty countries, has 8,673,257 members (96,1% women) and has cumulatively disbursed 17 billion US$ since its inception. Its outstanding loans are currently valued at 1,164 million US$ for more than 6,500,000 borrowers as micro-entrepreneurs and more than 78,000 beggar members (benefiting from loans with zero interest rate), for an overall rate of recovery of more than 98%.
Box 27 – Groups of savings and community solidarity in Côte d’Ivoire
The Groups of savings and community solidarity (GESCO) initiated and supported by the EU-funded project implemented by AVSI in Côte d’Ivoire (see section on social protection supra) provides a good example of a good practice at grassroots level. Inspired from traditional ‘tontines’, the GESCO are professionally based and remain at small scale in order that everybody can know and trust each other (20 to 30 members) thus securing savings. The collection of savings is organised and redistributed under the form of micro-credit (for consumption or equipment or insurance for health coverage). In this sense, GESCO constitute the basis of a micro-finance institution (with the triple function of saving, credit and insurance). The insurance function for health coverage is activated by AVSI upon demand of the individual household in order to abound an amount collected at the Professional Organisation of Handicrafts (OPA) that will help constituting a professional mutual fund as a final objective; in the meantime the amount is used to pay a contribution to an existing and functioning mutual fund that allows households members benefitting immediately from health coverage.
For more information: AVSI, 2017; and Volume 4.4, RNSF, ARS Progetti, 2016
Among the main features of microcredit is the high proportion of women beneficiaries. This is probably because many actors in the micro-finance sector target women but also because they are less likely to default on their loans than men. They borrow lower amounts than men and have a high rate of recovery for not so low interest rates (compared to formal loans).
3.1 New actors and financialisation of microfinance
In addition to these major and early actors in the field, Islamic micro-finance institutions have started to play an important role (especially in East Asia and in Middle East North Africa). Governments have become more and more involved in the financing of initial capital for the micro and small entrepreneurs and it is a major dimension of their active policies of employment creation mostly targeting the young unemployed graduates. Governments may also engage in the provision of small assets and working capital for income- generating activities through programmes dedicated to poverty alleviation. Revealing itself profitable, microcredit has attracted international investors. A major change during the past decade has been the entry of micro-finance institutions into the capital market through partnerships with international banks, investors and investment funds. These have started to invest in the micro-finance market in search of profit and changed the overall landscape of micro-finance institutions.
The search for profit has progressively taken precedence over the solidarity motivation. There are many observers now who think that financialisation of micro-finance institutions (MFIs) is not compatible with their basic values. All the more so because of stories of indebted farmers in India and elsewhere who commit suicide because they were not able to repay their debts. These stories have made the headlines and suggested that trust and solidarity have lost ground to these newcomers in search of profit so that it is difficult to say if it actually creates wealth or, on the contrary, if it encourages indebtedness (see for example Isabelle Guérin, 2015).
However, these microfinance institutions in search of profit can also play a role in supporting the poor and vulnerable people dependent on the informal economy, even if they firstly seek after the most rewarding loans.
Box 28 - Supporting microfinance institutions for enhancing the livelihoods of vulnerable people dependent on the informal economy
The EU-funded project implemented by PlanetFinance “Market Access through cooperative action” in Ghana has helped sensitising and motivating Micro-finance institutions to reach the poorest and most vulnerable and has provided project support to refine and develop new credit products for clients among the poorest).
It is generally taken for granted that microfinance institutions are by nature dedicated to the support of the poorest and the most remote populations. This is not quite true in practice, however. Microfinance institutions are usually not (or no longer) non-profit institutions. They are institutions like others, and consequently often do not address the concerns of the poorest, particularly those of poor rural women engaged in gathering and agro-processing activities. Like other institutions MFIs need motivation, support and training. They need to be sensitized and incentivised to reach the poorest population. They need to be strengthened to do so and develop new credit products.
The project supported not only women producers in the shea nut and butter value chain, but also MFIs as one the actors of its holistic approach to development. Building on earlier initiatives of MFIs and the experiences of beneficiary communities, the project helped MFIs to target poor rural women engaged in agro-processing and whom traditional financial institutions normally avoid.
One of the actions carried out was to provide technical support to partner MFIs to refine and develop new credit products for clients. Such new products enabled clients to acquire appropriate business inputs, pay the premium of the NHIS (health insurance), and stabilise their incomes throughout the year.
Several lessons were learnt from previous experiences: 1) MFIs providing group loans, need to develop specific internal competences in order to effectively provide financial services in a value chain framework; 2) MFIs sustainability also depends on their capacity to offer better timely loans in relation to the Shea value chain financial needs; 3) MFIs can feel harmed by some actors in the value chain (e.g. bulk buyers) who have the potential to offer more competitive pre-financing services. Also, the burdening of MFIs loan officers limits the effectiveness of their actions.
The participation of MFIs in the formation of production groups was decided in order to increase sense of ownership and willingness to provide financial services. It was also decided to improve their efficiency through the provision of training in specific software for the management and monitoring of the loan process.
A total of four loan products were developed and used: nuts working capital loan, butter working capital loan, roaster loan and grinding mill loan. The use of roasters has led to an increase in quality and productivity in butter processing.
The project organised Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop on group dynamics and business management for nine staff of the two MFIs. The project supported the activities of the MFIs involving meetings, workshops and experience sharing. The MFIs indicated that this has been very useful in carrying out their planned activities.
With PlanetFinance support, the MFIs have been able to provide their staff with motorbikes, laptops and Micro Loan Management (MLM). Staff of the MFIs described this assistance as highly beneficial because it provided them with an enabling environment to operate. The MFI staff explained that their capacities in key areas such as loan management were improved.
The MFIs took the initiative to conduct needs assessments after which loans have been disbursed to women.
Feedback from staff of the MFIs further shows that they used knowledge gained from the training to design and carry out follow-up monitoring. They indicated that they have been able to raise some additional funds from other sources to support product refinement and new products development for clients.
The MFI staff also provided support to the project through business management training for some communities and monitored the development of women’s groups through their field visits. The training was facilitated through interactive lectures, group discussions and presentations as well as individual assignments focussing on group by-laws, leadership roles, conflict resolution and identifying shea as a business, increasing income through shea and selling to large-scale buyers.
For more information: Volume 4.1, RNSF, ARS Progetti, 2016
3.2 Extension of microfinance and potential for growth
The number of users (borrowers, members) of the services of Micro-finance institutions is estimated at 200 million at global level. This large number is still to be compared to the three billion poor. The fact is that the majority of informal sector enterprises and income-generating activities that mainly mobilise the family network remain dependent on usurers. Those figures also indicate that ways and means for the transition from the informal to the formal economy have to be found and that a larger access to funding is still an issue to be solved. Micro-finance can be a solution for such a transition.
Box 29 – Enterprise Development for Rural Families Programme’s Evaluation in Kenya
In Kenya an evaluation of the Enterprise Development for Rural Families Programme for the SIDA ‘Hand in Hand’ Eastern Africa’s Enterprise Development for Rural Families (EDRF) showed that access of poor people to financial services has become the focus of increasing political, business and development attention over the last five years (Dondo et al., 2014). Despite its modest direct impact reached so far, micro-finance continues to receive considerable attention from donors and more significantly and increasingly from the government. The micro-finance sector in the country is changing and new commercial players are entering the lower-income segment of the market, backed by new investments, increasing competition and bringing economies of scale, lower costs of funds and introducing new practices and products. Change has also been brought about by a more enabling government policy and regulations of the financial sector. Technological innovation has also been a major driver too, permitting the spread of electronic banking, such as SMS-based banking, electronic point of sale devices in retail outlets across the country.
In parallel to mainstream banks entering the low-income market segment, three of the more successful NGO Microfinance providers (KWFT, Faulu Kenya and SMEP) have transformed into regulated Deposit Taking Microfinance Institutions. Driven by the quest to mobilize deposits and grow in scale and professionalisation, to enable them to offer a fuller range of financial products, investors have also discovered opportunities to earn a return in micro-finance. Six Deposit Taking Microfinance Institutions were established by such investors.
On the beneficiaries’ side, the evaluation also found that, to facilitate access to finance, the project introduced and promoted approaches such as merry-go-round, piggy banks, individual savings and enterprise incubation funds in the training modules. All groups were trained on saving methods and encouraged to start savings as a pre-condition for further support. Although some of the groups that were started before they were referred to the project were involved in saving, the survey conducted to evaluate the impact shows that 91% of the members of the groups had started saving. The survey also shows that in 2010 when the programme started, 75% of the savers were in small category, 17% in medium and 8% in large. By 2013 the majority of savers were in medium category (54%), while those in large category increased to 10% and those in small decreasing to 35 %.
Furthermore the project’s Enterprise Incubation Fund was an important tool for supporting emerging groups and group members to start and expand their enterprises. As set out by the Hand in Hand’s website, the enterprise incubation fund provided poor people with loans and not grants, acting as a catalyst for enhancing group and individual saving that improve on financial access in the rural areas. The project ensured that the fund was only benefiting the poor who had no chance of accessing financial services from the formal or informal service players. Targeting is important because if it is wrongly targeted, then there are likelihoods that there will be market distortion in the sector and moreover, the intended target group will miss out. The evaluation thus recommended that, in order to promote further expansion of the enterprises being undertaken by the groups, the incubation fund support small and medium enterprises with strong backward linkages to beneficiary economic activities.
For more information: Volume 4.2, RNSF, ARS Progetti, 2016
There are various ways and means to ensure success in providing microfinance services to vulnerable populations. The following examples are extracted from Zegers (2017).
- Provision of a broad range of micro finance products including package with diversified interest rates and loan periods (Turrall, 2013): In the design of loan packages to heterogeneous clients including women, innovative ways of meeting client’s needs can be explored, such as by varying interests and loan periods. Karlan and Zinman (2007) worked with a South African lender, using randomized interest rate offers to over 50,000 clients. The analysis found that offering different rates and loan conditions had a strong bearing on clients demand for credit. Changing the duration of the loan, affected the size of the loan requested. This would assist women who need a longer duration of loan, dependent on the gestation of the crop. In a project in Sichuan (Zeng, 2013) it was also found that, in some cases, loans were not sufficiently large and/or the loans were not adequate or needed longer repayment periods. It might have been better if the loan mechanisms address the needs of different types of businesses while clearly identifying the loan conditions in line with actual needs so that the provision of guidelines clearly defining the loan repayment mechanisms, setting the most suitable amount and length of loansfor different types and scale of businesses would be recommended.
- Adaptation to women’s specific finance needs and habits at different life cycle moments and in accordance with their physical mobility opportunities (some are able to be more mobile than others) : Women’s life cycle and their priorities and circumstances also need to be taken account of when targeting credit. In addition financial services should offer opportunities to save. Alkire et al. (2013) argue that women should not be locked into micro-finance alone – but need access to a ‘ladder’ of finance. Women also need access to more ways of making and receiving payments such as through mobile phones. This is particularly important for situations where women’s mobility is restricted, and women rely on family and friends to access banks and markets. More generally a life cycle approach can help design projects that are relevant and appropriate at different stages and transitions of a young person’s life. This includes designing financial products for different life stages (starting with savings for minors) and for different rural financial needs (farm and non-farm) (Kasprowicz and Rhyne, 2012 and IFAD, 2015).
- Identification of innovative ways of reaching borrowers, especially in remote, rural areas and/or where they have low educations levels. Opportunity International’s bank in Malawi (OIBM) has used creative ways to reach its clients. They offer a biometric smart card that enables illiterate customers to open and manage a savings account using only their fingerprints for identification. Then, they have developed a mobile banking van which visits villages on certain days of the week for men and women to use (Stuart et al.,2011).
- Furthermore policymakers often prescribe that microfinance institutions increase interest rates to eliminate their reliance on subsidies. This strategy makes sense if the poor are rate insensitive: then micro-lenders increase profitability (or achieve sustainability) without reducing the poor's access to credit. The study by Stuart et al. (2011) tested the assumption of price inelastic demand using randomized trials conducted by a consumer lender in South Africa. The demand curves are downward sloping, and steeper for price increases relative to the lender's standard rates. They also found that loan size is far more responsive to changes in loan maturity than to changes in interest rates, which is consistent with binding liquidity constraints.
- Different and adapted types of micro finance services may need to be designed in line with specific socio-cultural, political contexts. It is necessary to verify the specific situation prior to planning new projects and avoid simple replication of methods used in other settings. In Afghanistan, adaptations of financial products are needed to comply with local culture and to gain acceptance by both male and female members of society. The USAID project’s “Zahra” micro finance product (a locally adapted special women’s loan product that caters specifically to female farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs) consisted of specialised operations, products, and distribution mechanisms which were required to reach and retain certain target groups like women (Mucheru-Karuri et al., 2015).
It may sometimes happen that the development of micro finance systems compete for the same market segment as existing service providers. For example, in Ghana, the WB’s Independent Evaluation Group – IEG (2014) observed that strategic business plans were developed for 15 selected rural and community banks and three training manuals were developed. Ten rural and community banks reported putting their plans into action with a resultant increase in the number of micro-finance clients and size of micro-finance portfolios. All participating rural and community banks became operationally self-sufficient. Overall some 8,000 rural and community bank staff were provided training in customer care, treasury and credit management, anti-money laundering, internal controls and check clearing. Some 468 Micro-Finance Institutions received training, as compared to a target of 500, of which about 348 received training more than once. In addition, 17 good practice training manuals were developed that could be used by future generations of trainers. However despite these positive aspects, IEG found that informal community based organisations and the formal Rural and Community Banks in Ghana both competed for the same market segment and were not in complementary roles.
Also linking NGOs together with banks or Micro Finance institutions is more likely to be associated with success (as opposed to delivering programs solely through banks or Micro Finance institutions). A meta-analysis (Cho and Honorati, 2013) concluded that, compared to having multiple agencies involved in program delivery, the programs delivered solely through banks or Micro Finance Institutes are less likely to be associated with program success. NGOs are associated, though weakly, with better performance. This finding suggests that programs could work better when delivered by providers that have strong connections with the beneficiaries and are familiar with local contexts.
Box 30 - UNIDO support to credit facility in Iraq and Armenia
The presence of a credit facility to support trained entrepreneurs to start/expand or diversify their business was found to be a valuable tool to complement the technical assistance provided by UNIDO in Iraq. The inclusion of a loan facility within the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) served not only to finance the expansion of the existing client’s businesses but helped ease the transition of EDIP clients from small businesses to mid-size enterprises beyond the life of the EDIP program. Beyond the EDIP program the establishment of the facility was the first in Iraq to partner a UN technical assistance program with an Iraqi lending institution. Then, UNIDO’s decision to adopt an interest free loan as opposed to a grant to the implementing institution was a timely move towards breaking the dependency of micro-finance institutions upon international donors and also brings in accountability. Interest free loans are an interim solution between grants that are often provided during start up years and accessing financing on the international markets, which still remains difficult considering the high perceived risks associated with Iraq and the on-going credit shortage as a result of the international financial crisis. It should also be noted that lending without interest rate is particularly adapted in Muslim countries because of the reluctance towards interest rate.
Another interesting recommendation by UNIDO is to make long-term repeated application for loans accessible to everyone with reasonable pre-condition criteria. Giving the opportunity to re-apply for a loan only to those entrepreneurs who have showed high growth in a short time is not conducive to strengthening. New firms may actually need more time to develop and become eligible for new loan facilities. The report draws attention to the rules for lending to Armenian young entrepreneurs. In accordance with the regulations of the Government of Armenia, an individual youth entrepreneur can access a start-up loan only once, irrespective of the amount granted. This implies that certain segments of the youth entrepreneurs are likely to face difficulties to realize their growth potential. In fact, youth entrepreneurs showing potential for strong and comparatively quick growth will be supported to further develop their business plan to apply for an additional loan from another loan facility, the SME Development National Centre. Most youth entrepreneurs will show potential for moderate but stable growth which is not sufficient for approval of additional loans from the loan facility. The evaluation states it is highly recommended to look into the possibility of revising laws and regulations (possibly on a pilot basis) to allow all approved youth entrepreneurs to apply for loans in several steps.
Source: UNIDO (2010), UNIDO (2015).
3.3 Youth and microfinance
Beyond the poor or among them, the youth is a population that needs to be targeted: there is emerging evidence that youth have the capacity to repay loans and that youth loans are not riskier than adult loans. Young people do have access to money, though their sources of income might be small and irregular; they do save, often irregularly and in unsafe places; they do borrow, most often informally, to start a business or continue with their education; and they do want access to formal financial services that can better meet their growing needs.Market research studies and demonstration projects conducted over the past several years across different continents have demonstrated that youth do have the capacity to save (SEEP, 2013). According to IFAD (2015) youth loans continue to be very limited. Despite some innovations and emerging evidence on the viability of youth loans, financial services programmes remain reluctant to offer youth loans at scale because youth are still perceived as being too risky. This creates a vicious cycle, where a lack of large demonstration projects prevents more extensive evaluations of effective mechanisms for offering credit to young people. Young people need however to tap into formal savings accounts prior to using other types of financial services, especially loans. This savings-first approach builds young people’s capacity and confidence in using formal financial services and serves as a basis for building assets for the future (Erulkar et al., 2006 ; IFAD, 2015 ; Kilara and Latortue, 2012 ; Kilara et al., 2014).
For enterprises – be they micro or small – access to credit is essential for any perspective of growth and consequently for their transition to the formal economy. But they lack collaterals (lands, buildings, equipment) and mainly resort on family funds, credit from suppliers and advance payments from clients.
Most government policies addressing the micro-businesses of the informal sector have put easier access to credit at the forefront of their agendas because it could not be left to the sole rotating community savings associations as beneficiaries should not be locked to micro-credit only. On the other hand these rotating savings associations can offer a set of financial services such as savings, micro-credit, insurance for health coverage or old-age pensions, money transfers, adapted to the needs of low-income and poor persons, especially those who do not have bank accounts. Moreover micro-credit is not usually a simple loan: it is often accompanied with tips such as light training on how to keep accounts, calculate a cost, select the best project for use of the credit. In this regard, micro-credit can play a major role for the expansion of financialisation among poor populations depending on the informal economy for their livelihoods.
- Alkire, S., Meinzen-Dick, R., Peterman, A., Quisumbing, A., Seymour, G., and Vaz, A., 2013, The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, OPHI Working Paper.58, OPHI (Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative), Oxford.
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