As the G8 summit looms near and the publicity for more aid and grants reverberate more than ever, I am reminded of the unassuming yet important cousin in the developmental policy family that everyone tends to forget – microfinance (mF).
2005 is the year of microcredit, but one will be hard pressed to find many large-scale mF projects on a global level. I can’t help thinking its because they are less jazzy – giving away a billion dollars in loans, be they micro or not, just doesn’t sound as noble as giving away a million dollars, just like that. And the politicians are, as usual, swayed by jazz. Sad, but true.
However, I think the common man stays away from supporting mF only because it seems to be too distant a concept and perhaps, inaccessible. Like something only banks, governments and NGOs should be worried about and can do something for. It also doesn’t help that a lot of mF literature are full of jargon. But there are several things, albeit small, that we can do about mF – after all, it takes many little drops to make the vast ocean.
So, heres my list of how we – you and me – can help in promoting mF:
1) Choose banks that support mF activities – just like you frequent cafes that use recycled paper cups and buy shoes that are not manufactured in sweat shops.
2) When you support NGOs or non-profit organisations, consider one that has mF activities. Or when a company tells you that they donate, say 1% of their profits from you, to a non-profit of your choice – choose one that supports mF.
3) When your less fortunate household help or painter or plumber or farmhand or anyone that you might know, asks you for a loan that you are unable to provide, take the time to help them find out mF institutions in your locality, educate them about it and get them in touch with the right people.
4) And if there is no NGO in your locality that supports mF, perhaps you could spare some time and the initiative to get one started. Or maybe campaign for starting one. Or when the next Panchayat or Municipality elections are round the corner, bring this up with the candidates. Or when a non-profit asks you for donations, talk to them about including mF initiatives in their activities.
5) The next time you invest, consider securities that are microfinance related. (Disclaimer: Please don’t construe this as financial advice), but consider contributing a small percentage of your investible cash to funds that may be supporting mF funding. Most financial advisers may not proactively suggest these, but ask them to find out and readjust your financial portfolios (according to their well-informed advice).
6) Be aware – and educate.
If you are not convinced that you should support mF, read some of my arguments here. Or better still, imagine yourself in the shoes of a less fortunate person. Wouldn’t you rather receive loans than alms? Wouldn’t you rather be given the helping hand to be an entrepreneur than be a beggar? Wouldn’t you rather be taught fishing that be given a free fish today?