Webinar recap: Is it too late for microfinance to be pro poor?

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On April 21st, the Microcredit Summit Campaign co-hosted with Uplift a webinar discussion focusing on the promise that graduation holds for sustainably reaching the ultra-poor. Our featured speakers were Debasish Ray Chaudhuri, CEO of Bandhan Konnagar in India, Rachel Proefke, a research associate with BRAC Uganda, Mark Daniels, the Philippines director for Opportunity International, and Allison Duncan, CEO of Amplifier Strategies and founder of Uplift. Anne Hastings, a global advocate with Uplift, moderated the webinar.

The conversation looked closely at the experiences that each of the three practitioners on the panel have had in implementing the program as well as the global advocacy message supporting the graduation approach being delivered by Uplift and its allies.

We hope you will get engaged with this promising avenue for reaching those living in ultra-poverty and be inspired by the potential it holds for helping microfinance institutions to reconnect to their original purpose. Some final thoughts from speakers on the webinar follow.

Anne Hastings noted,

We weren’t really able to address in depth how a pro-poor MFI, struggling for sustainability in a competitive, regulated environment can attain sustainability while operating the graduation program. In the models we saw, the institution was either an NGO or a regulated MFI that had formed a non-profit foundation for the graduation program and perhaps the delivery of other non-financial services. We shouldn’t be surprised or embarrassed that donor funding may still be needed, but partnerships with government safety net programs and other NGOs can also be very helpful in paying for the program. As the 6 RCTs funded by the Ford Foundation concluded, “Although more can be learned about how to optimize the design and implementation of the program, we establish that a multifaceted approach to increasing income and well-being for the ultra-poor is sustainable and cost-effective.” (Science Magazine, 15 May 2015, Vol 348 Issue 6236, p. 772.)

Rachel Profke added,

I think the point that I would stress, which we begun to address in the discussion, is the importance of finding the right partner for the implementation of components that an MFI does not have the core capacity to implement. While BRAC is able to leverage both microfinance and additional programming in the areas that we operate all programs, this is not always the case for us or other MFIs that will be interested in implementing graduation programming. Often, MFIs can provide the scale in identifying communities and in providing financial services, but linkages with implementing partners providing similar programming is fundamental to ensuring best practices in programming — as Mark highlighted. However, aside from NGO implementers, governments are often running existing programming that can be leveraged not only in identifying beneficiaries through such channels as social protection programming but also in providing some components through existing service provision, in terms of health or extension services. We find it helpful to look at what is already at place — and at scale — through government programs is useful, as we have done in Tanzania. This is also useful as we think about scaling because, apart from donor buy-in, governments offer larger potential through larger budgets and capacity.

Thank you to all panelists for contributing to this important conversation about the importance of the graduation approach. We also wish to thank all participants who submitted thought-provoking questions and comments to help make the session a very lively and interactive discussion!

Couldn’t join us? Watch the session recording!