Friday, 14 August 2009

Microfinance: trading Real Futures

One powerful moment in the Leadership Summit was an appeal by Andrew Rugasira, founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, social enterpreneur from Kampala, for Trade not Aid. He drew attention to the distorting effects of aid on economies with significant proportions drawn from overseas aid, that could unintentionally suppress the life and economic skills of poor people, whilst feeding a huge and sometimes corrupt panjandrum of dependency. We need a new paradigm that will read Africa in terms of potential as well as need and deficits.

This is not to say all aid is simply bad, but that it has to be applied for emergencies, short term or infrastuctural pump priming, not as a substitute for regular economic activity. By analogy, you can employ people in a social or vokuntary enterprise, but there is a law of diminishing returns about the benefit, and whatever you do, it is important to build, not kill off the voluntary capacity of the organisation.

This put a great context around the session with, IMHO, the most impressive entrepreneur at the summit, Jessica Jackley, founder of, a microfinance site that lets anyone with computer access invest small loan sums in a targeted way, mainly in the developing world. The clever bit is marshalling all the agents into a slick process that connects loaner and entrepreneur as directly as possible, making it easy for anyone with a credit/debit card or paypal to get involved at the click of a mouse.

This is not an entirely rose-tinted process — some have criticised Kiva’s recent inlusion of US small businesses in its portfolio, as well as some interest rates the other end (not astronomic by UK small finance standards, but high and largely dictated by the partners who make it happen, in a way that’s almost inevitable with microfinance). Potential collywobbles some feel about child sponsorship might apply; Microfinance investing from home may not be for everyone. That said, Kiva does boldly go to places conventional banks don’t and makes the connections. Kiva would be the first to say microfinance is not the magic bullet to end poverty — but some involvement in microfinance certainly seems as defensible as sitting around on your spotty behind, beefing up the bottom line of conventional banks to the tune of £3,000 a taxpayer, which is what we’re all compulsorily doing anyway.

In terms of Leadership learning, shows how someone in their twenties can impact world development to the tune of 86 Million dollars in four years with a good idea, creative use of technology, and the guts and stickability to pursue her vision out of Sunday School, through Business School, and out onto the streets.


Erika Baker said...

If you want to get involved personally you can check out MyC4 on

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks so much, Erika. This Danish site looks like a really good resource, and at first sight th interest rates the other end are lower. Although off work right now and not in the office, I'll chase it up more properly when I can, and want provisionally to endorse very strongly the Europan microfinance site...

Steward said...

Alan, one minor typo in your last paragraph. So far Kiva has raised $86 million, not billion ... if only ;-). Data from Kiva's website a few moments ago

Ian C

Erika Baker said...

The interest rates are what you determine for yourself.
Once you’ve created an account you have access to the listings of all the small businesses looking for investors. You then place bids for lending the full amount or parts of the amount, and you set the interest rate you wish to charge for your share in the loan.

The bid then enters a bidding process. As new bids come in, the higher interest rate ones are being knocked off the the list of potential lenders.

When the bid is closed you are allocated your share of the loan, and for it you will receive the interest rate you have asked for.

So you could lend at 0% if you wanted to.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Steward, many thanks for correction/ typo. Freudian slip? I wrote “m“ in my notes at the itme, but wouldn't it be nice.... Let's go for it!

Erika this sounds really fascinating, and I will check out carefully, as it does address the interest rates issue.

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