#tbt: The 1997 Microcredit Summit, where it all began

#Tbt_14

Dignitaries who attended the 1997 Microcredit Summit.
From L-R: Tsutomu Hata, Former Prime Minister, Japan; H.E. Pascoal M. Mocumbi, Prime Minister, Mozambique; H.E. Alberto Fujimori, President, Peru; H.M. Queen Sofia, Spain; H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister, Bangladesh; Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady, United States; Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh; Elizabeth de Calderón Sol, First lady, El Salvador; Ana Paula dos Santos, First Lady, Angola; H.E. Dr. Siti Hasmah, First Lady, Malaysia; H.M. Queen Fabiola, Belgium.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThrowbackThursday blog post, which was originally published in the 1997 Microcredit Summit Report. As we explore the Six Pathways in financial inclusion to end extreme poverty, we look back at the wise words leaders from around the world had to say about ending poverty. We’ve included just a few in this blog post.


Connie Evans*, President, Women’s Self-Employment Project, Council of Practitioners

Connie Evans

Connie Evans is now the president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity

Collectively, we represent what can be a glorious future with our voices and our vision. It is a vision for a global movement whereby poor families, especially the women in those families, are joined by practitioners, CEOs, Presidents and Parliamentarians, advocates from all disciplines and walks of life, to eradicate poverty. A global movement whereby microcredit, microfinance, and microenterprise are supported and fostered.

As practitioners, we must develop — and continue to develop — programs that directly and profoundly empower people to help themselves. We must develop and manage sophisticated data information systems so that we can strategically share best practices and avoidable mistakes. We must develop human and financial resources to sustain the best programs. We must hold accountable all those responsible for the management and administration of our governments…And, most importantly, we must incorporate our clients into decision-making positions in our institutions, our communities, and our governments…

Be renewed, be assured, have courage, and let’s all be bold. Embrace the goal of the Microcredit Summit. Speak loudly and proudly of our task to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest, especially the women, with all the tools of microenterprise…Give your voice to the vision and make your commitment to the Declaration and Plan of Action.

Fawzi al-Sultan*, President, IFAD, Co-Chair, Council of International Financial Institutions

Access to even small-scale deposit and credit services, together with other productive services, can work something close to miracles. Our experience, in a variety of conditions across the developing world, underlines that the rural poor are really bankable…

We must nonetheless keep in mind not only the benefits but also the limits of microfinance as a tool…it is not enough by itself to ensure sustainable development for the rural poor. the poor equally need access to better technologies, to health and education services, to fair markets and adequate infrastructure…

Throughout our efforts, we must make sure our work addresses the real needs and priorities of the people we want to serve. We also need to be realistic about the capacity of the microfinance providers themselves…Banking with the poor requires good management ability, especially in controlling the costs of operations and in assessing risks…

And, finally, we have to make sure the financial sector as a whole is set up to support our efforts…Interest-rate structure, monetary policy, and requirements for registration and reserves can make or break microfinance providers…

To help [the Summit’s] goal, IFAD is committed to allocating up to 30 percent of its loan portfolio, or about US$ 125 million a year, to promote financial services to the poorest…

We will integrate the microfinance strategy into our overall program planning and work with others, wherever possible to further the Summit Action Plan.

*Connie Evans is now the president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunityand Fawzi al-Sultan is now a senior partner with F&N Consultancy.

Related reading

#tbt: The Need for Pricing Transparency in Microfinance

Muhammad Yunus signs onto the MicroFinance Transparency. With Chuck Waterfield

Muhammad Yunus endorsese the MicroFinance Transparency (MFT). With Chuck Waterfield, MFT founder, at the 2008 Microcredit Summit in Bali.

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We are pleased to bring you this #ThursdayThrowback blog post, which was originally published in The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2009. This particular Box is especially relevant given the news about MFT closing down and the stakeholder meeting hosted by the Microfinance CEOs Working Group on April 21st.


>> Authored by Chuck Waterfield, the developer of Microfin, a business planning tool used by microfinance institutions worldwide, and MicroFinance Transparency (MFTransparency), which was launched at our 2008 Microcredit Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

Microfinance has long been a highly transparent industry, and rightly proud of it. Unfortunately however, the true price of microfinance loan products has never been accurately measured nor reported. For an industry born to displace the moneylenders by providing low-cost credit to the working poor, this is hard to imagine and even harder to explain.

Many countries require commercial lenders to state true product pricing using standards such as the APR (Annual Percentage Rate) formula mandated forty years ago in the US Truth-in-Lending Act. Such laws were enacted to help consumers make informed decisions regarding choosing loan products with different pricing. Currently, the same disparity that existed prior to Truth-in-Lending laws can be found in the microfinance industry. For example, a quoted interest rate of 3% per month can, depending on how this rate is applied, result in an APR between 36% and 96%, and beyond. Unfortunately, such misleading claims are commonplace in microfinance today. Why should the same principles of transparent pricing applied within the commercial finance industry not be applied to the microfinance industry?

The widely practiced non-transparent pricing in microfinance has evolved and perpetuated for two reasons. Firstly, there is no single market interest rate for micro-loans. The industry recognizes that interest rates on micro-loans must be higher than interest rates on larger commercial loans, but it is seldom recognized that there is no single “market rate” for micro-loans. In a market where all MFIs deal with the same cost structures, the smaller the micro-loan, the higher the interest rate necessary for that MFI to cover the costs of that loan and achieve sustainability. Due to the challenges of explaining why MFIs need to charge higher interest rates than the commercial sector, and to charge the highest interest rates to the poorest clients, the easiest alternative has been to use non-transparent pricing, where a quoted price is generally significantly lower than the actual price.

Secondly, once the industry began widely employing confusing product pricing, it became very difficult for MFIs to convert to transparent pricing. To do so, the MFI would advertise what appeared to be the highest price in the market, even though their true price could actually be the lowest. As a result, the vast majority of MFIs practice non-transparent pricing even though many would prefer to do otherwise.

In recent years the industry is shifting from the goal of “sustainable microfinance” to the goal of “high-profit microfinance.” When MFIs are operating in a very opaque pricing environment – where nobody knows how the price of one product compares to the price of another product – there exists the opportunity for MFIs to charge a price that results in very high profit levels. High profits generated off of the poor by charging non-transparent prices can create a bad public image for the microfinance industry and result in a strong backlash.

Given this reality, the industry has been in intensive dialogue and several initiatives are underway to address non-transparent pricing. One initiative is the “Campaign for Client Protection” that began after an April 2008 conference that produced the “Pocantico Declaration.” Transparent and fair pricing is one of the six core principles advocated in the campaign.

The second initiative is MicroFinance Transparency, a non-profit agency that will address pricing transparency through two joint activities. First, MFTransparency will collect product prices on all micro-loan products around the world and report those prices by a common, objective measurement system. Second, MFTransparency will undertake the equally important role of developing and disseminating straightforward educational material to enable microfinance stakeholders to better understand the concept and function of interest rates and product pricing.

It can be argued that an industry-wide effort towards transparent pricing is essential to the long-term survival of the microfinance industry. The mainstream public media is already reporting the interest rates typically charged in microfinance, but there is little explanation or understanding of why microfinance interest rates are higher than previously believed, nor why there is significant variation in interest rates among different institutions. What non-transparent pricing has kept hidden for years is no longer hidden. A forum for the industry must be built in order to report – in a clear, consistent and fair fashion – what actual interest rates are and why interest rates in competitive microfinance markets need to be higher than in commercial finance.

By practicing pricing transparency, a healthy and vibrant market for microcredit products can be built, providing a valuable component necessary in free markets and currently absent in microfinance – transparent, open communication about the true cost of products.

Over 100 microfinance industry stakeholders have endorsed MFTransparency. You may view the list and choose to sign up and endorse at the website.
Chuck Waterfield, Founder, MFTransparency, http://www.mftransparency.org/endorsements.