« Basic Architecture | Main | Who the hell is Marlena? »

April 07, 2008



Well, "not lending to men" is the traditional Grameen model, but it's certainly not universal to microfinance - not even to Grameen any more. Some microcredit organisations are women only, some (Grameen, FINCA) lend predominantly but not exclusively to women.

I'd make three points:

1. In terms of access to credit, the menfolk are likely to be the ones with title to property anyway, and thus will be more able to borrow against it through conventional channels - microcredit is uncollateralised.

2. A lot of the microcredit companies are charities, and charities can focus wherever they want; it's quite OK to have a charity that provides healthcare or education specifically to women, so why not credit?

3. There is NO point 3.


I'm only going to comment on the substantive part of this, which is -- cheese! Check it out -- NCAA-style brackets where you can propel your fave cheese to victory: http://tomatonation.com/?page_id=2027 .


I'm going to go with queso fresco with peppers.


[You always hear in discussions of charity microlending that the default rates are incredibly low]

You also always hear that they've had to massage the data on these default rates to knock out a couple of terrible years in which the crops failed and well what can you do about that ... but ex those years, the default rates are INCREDIBLY LOW! Yunnus is a particularly egregious offender with respect to that one.

also, branding is something of an issue here; "microfinance" is very trendy, particularly since that Nobel Prize, so it is a label that tends to get slapped on all sorts of things:

Silvina Martínez started a little restaurant in her house a year ago to sell her homemade snacks to students at a nearby high school. It has grown steadily since then. With this cycle, she was going to borrow about $1,100 to paint the restaurant and expand her menu.[...] Alejandra Abúndez, 57, keeps pigs and cattle, and produces 330 pounds of cheese a day, which she sells in the local market. She and her daughter, Micaela Rivera, were borrowing $3,550 from Compartamos to buy animal feed and to stock the tiny store in her front entryway

$1,100 to $3,550 aren't microloans. They really aren't.

Doug M.

They aren't? Why not?

"Microloan" is a shifting metric. $1,000 is an insane amount of money in rural Bangladesh. In a medium-income country like Mexico or Bulgaria, not so much.

Low default rates: you do understand that microlending has become a vast universe involving billions of dollars and many, many different sorts of loans? An NGO lending a few hundred bucks to Ugandan farmers for seeds and tools and a commercially-funded institution lending a few thousand bucks to Romanian merchants for import credits are both "microlenders", but they're operating on totally different business models and will produce totally different metric results.

That said, many sorts of microlending are now profitable enough to be attracting large amounts of investor capital. So.

As to the gender issue, what the first poster said. The number of microlenders discriminating by gender is certainly under 50% now, and dropping. And while most microlenders are no longer charity NGOs, the ones that still are can do as they please.

Doug M.


"Microloan" is a shifting metric. $1,000 is an insane amount of money in rural Bangladesh. In a medium-income country like Mexico or Bulgaria, not so much

So presumably in Liechtenstein or Norway, you could get oil rigs financed by microcredit?

These aren't microloans because a $1.1k loan is clearly big enough to be a viable commercial proposition for a lender. The point of "microcredit" was that it addressed the problem that really small loans like $20 for seed in Bangladesh could not possibly be economic at any interest rate because the cost of doing the paperwork was nearly as large as the loan. So the idea was that each individual loan would be assessed to be profitable as a cash-on-cash financial asset, but that Grameen Bank would provide the administration and infrastructure on a not-for-profit basis (NB that the admin costs issue is generally the reason why APRs on loan sharking are so dizzingly high; if it costs you $5 to do the paperwork on a $50 loan for a month, then the $5 you charge to recover your costs represents 10% of the sum lent, which compounded 12 times is equivalent to a 313% interest rate).

If you're just setting up a normal lending institution that's got a focus on small business loans poor people and a bit of a government subsidy, then that's called an "agricultural bank" and they've been around for a zillion years.

a commercially-funded institution lending a few thousand bucks to Romanian merchants for import credits

is a "microlender"???? FFS, Romania is an EU country. They have credit cards there. Providing working capital loans of thousands of dollars to import-export businesses is called "banking". Doing so with a subsidy to the interest rate is called "subsidised banking". The definition is surely becoming meaningless.

My point about default rates referred to Grameen Bank and is a staple of the microfinance industry narrowly defined; they don't half lie a lot about their default rates.


FFS, Romania is an EU country. They have credit cards there.

This is an interesting point: if credit cards were more widespread - and the accompanying infrastructure such as bank accounts - would anyone really need microcredit at all? The key point seems to be more microbanking - setting up accounts for businesses that take in a couple of dollars a day or whatever. Though this runs into the same paperwork/overhead problem.


Just wandered into your blog via some random search - I've also been thinking a lot about microloans recently, because I'm unconvinced about the "social good" that for-profit micro-loan investment vehicles provide. (There are a few: one actually went public a few months back.)

(1) I believe that the microloans tend to focus on women precisely because they lend to women in patriarchal economic systems that do not trust the financial acumen of women entrepreneur. Since you are in Singapore, surely you know of the Chinese "hui" system whereby neighbors pool their resources and the pool is then lent out to one member at a time? These credit mechanisms have traditionally not been available to women.

(2) I think that the new for-profit microloan funds require a great dose of scepticism. First, from what I know, i/o the original model, where the fund actually goes into the field and manages the loan, these new funds are so big that they tend to outsource the actual lending. So on some level, as an investor in a microloan fund, you can never truly know the on the ground lending practices. What are the collection practices? Are these secured lendings?

Also, unlike many "doing well by doing good" initiatives (ie. corporations reducing their electricity consumption --> reduces their costs) this is one of those situations where for a microloan fund to do the best (and on a fiduciary duty level, that is what they must strive for), they would charge absolutely the highest interest rates that they can get away with without triggering default conditions. Microloan rates were already high to begin with, because of their inherent riskiness and because of the high relative transaction costs. I shudder to think what interest burdens these third world entrepreneurs may have to shoulder under these new loans.

(3) It's like the U.S. Haven't you always wondered why it is the very poorest that have to pay the highest rates of interest on things like credit cards or home mortgages? We have a system that absolutely rewards pre-existing wealth. On a business level, I understand that it is prudent. But nevertheless, it makes me ill to think that we are exporting this structure all over the world.


pOqLU9 xf78fg623fv0skghlq56fd

The comments to this entry are closed.

Email John & Belle

  • he.jpgjholbo-at-mac-dot-com
  • she.jpgbbwaring-at-yahoo-dot-com

Google J&B

J&B Archives

Buy Reason and Persuasion!

S&O @ J&B

  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Squid and Owl. Make your own badge here.

Reason and Persuasion Illustrations

  • www.flickr.com

J&B Have A Tipjar

  • Search Now:

  • Buy a couple books, we get a couple bucks.
Blog powered by Typepad

J&B Have A Comment Policy

  • This edited version of our comment policy is effective as of May 10, 2006.

    By publishing a comment to this blog you are granting its proprietors, John Holbo and Belle Waring, the right to republish that comment in any way shape or form they see fit.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you hereby agree to the following as well: by leaving a comment you grant to the proprietors the right to release ALL your comments to this blog under this Creative Commons license (attribution 2.5). This license allows copying, derivative works, and commercial use.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you are also granting to this blog's proprietors the right to so release any and all comments you may make to any OTHER blog at any time. This is retroactive. By publishing ANY comment to this blog, you thereby grant to the proprietors of this blog the right to release any of your comments (made to any blog, at any time, past, present or future) under the terms of the above CC license.

    Posting a comment constitutes consent to the following choice of law and choice of venue governing any disputes arising under this licensing arrangement: such disputes shall be adjudicated according to Canadian law and in the courts of Singapore.

    If you do NOT agree to these terms, for pete's sake do NOT leave a comment. It's that simple.

  • Confused by our comment policy?

    We're testing a strong CC license as a form of troll repellant. Does that sound strange? Read this thread. (I know, it's long. Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Ah, there.) So basically, we figure trolls will recognize that selling coffee cups and t-shirts is the best revenge, and will keep away. If we're wrong about that, at least someone can still sell the cups and shirts. (Sigh.)