Microfinance Can Be…
By Laura Dick (Chairperson, Board of Directors, La Ceiba MFI)
The Month of Microfinance has become a global movement in only a few short years. It has humble roots and maintains its scrappy attitude and no budget. But, how did it get started? Students involved in La Ceiba Microfinance (the US’s only student-run microfinance institution extending loans and teaching financial literacy classes internationally) were supplementing their practice of microfinance by doing what students do best: research. We began researching the policies and practices of other MFIs working in Honduras and internationally, and what we found, far from impressing us, began to give us doubts.
The microfinance we knew intimately was about relationships with clients, about having open, honest conversations with clients and then from that designing products that would meet their financial needs. Every conversation about programs began with an exercise in empathy, doing our best to put ourselves in the place of our clients and working from there. But all too many MFIs around the world seemed to be more interested in telling the world about their repayment numbers, or other institutional goals. La Ceiba understood that to be sustainable, we had to pay attention to those, but it felt like in the development of microfinance as a global industry, somehow the people it was trying to serve had gotten left behind. Digging a little deeper, we found other like-intended MFIs around the world, but in our quest for balance between the client and the institution [which caused convulsions within La Ceiba], there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance from the ‘experts’. So, we decided to create the platform ourselves: to both share our continual struggles as an institution in trying to find our equilibrium, but also to invite others around the world to do the same.
We believe in the power of microfinance (done right) to improve the lives of the poor. Now it’s a matter of figuring out what ‘done right’ means, and spreading that around the world. So the Month of Microfinance is our way of inviting you, whether you are a multinational MFI with an enormous loan portfolio, a microfinance client, loan officer, a student of the effects of microfinance on the lives of the poor, or a microfinance heretic, to join in this conversation, to help us figure out what doing microfinance right means, and how we can all put that into practice. Throughout this process, the Month of Microfinance aims to keep the spark of a student organization – that same unwillingness to accept the way things were when we knew they could be better – while building a global coalition that can radically transform microfinance from the inside out.
So if you believe in what microfinance can be when it is at its best, when it is client-centered, we ask you to join our #MicrofinanceCanBe Campaign. Take a photo of yourself holding a #MicrofinanceCanBe sign (but design it any way you want!) and post it on the Month of Microfinance Facebookpage and on Twitter (use the #MicrofinanceCanBe hashtag so we can find it). If you are not on Facebook or Twitter, email your photo to email@example.com
We will be collecting and sharing all the content throughout April on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!
Finally, a huge thank you to all of our coalition partners.