SECTION 1 INTRODUCTION: KEY CHALLENGES FOR MICRO-FINANCE
‘...impact assessment studies keep donors happy... we don’t use them very
much’ (director of a large Asian microfinance institution that has received
substantial amounts of aid-financed IA consultancy and internal IA-capacity
building quoted in Hulme 2000)
‘So we find out that such and such a percent of people have such and such a
percent increase in income. So what. It doesn't tell us what do about it.'
(participant at Micro credit summit meeting New Delhi 2001)
1.1 DFID’s approach to micro-finance
Microfinance has been defined as:
the means by which poor people convert small sums of money into large lump sums (Rutherford 1999)
Microfinance services may be seen in terms of four main mechanisms:
; loans: which allow a lump sum to be enjoyed now in exchange for a series of savings
to be made in the future in the form of repayment instalments.
; savings: which allow a lump sum to be enjoyed in future in exchange for a series of savings made now.
; insurance: which allows a lump sum to be received at some unspecified future time if needed in exchange for a series of savings made both now and in the future. Insurance also involves income pooling in order to spread risk between individuals on the assumption that not all those who contribute will necessarily receive the equivalent of their contribution.
; pensions: which allow a lump sum to be enjoyed as a specified and generally distant date in future in exchange for a series of savings made now.
DFID's work with microfinance has been a major focus of enterprise development as part of a wider involvement with the financial sector of a country or region. DFID provides a range of different types of support to Micro-finance (See Appendix 1). Particular emphasis has been given to:
; technical and financial support for micro-finance institutions in order to assist
them to become financially self-sustaining
; development of innovative credit services to extend their scale, outreach, and
; development of savings and insurance provision alongside credit to provide
economic security and maximize the mobilisation of local financial resources.
In order to counteract possible market distortions caused by donor subsidy EDD has also been developing new funding mechanisms including convertible loans,
guarantee funds, asset leasing, venture capital and other equity instruments, alongside 1other investment vehicles such as the Challenge Funds.
In addition to work at programme level there has also been increasing emphasis on:
; regulatory frameworks for micro-finance providers, ensuring that these promote
innovation and diversity as well as ensuring accountability and probity
; linking micro-finance into sector-wide approaches (SWAPs) to increase the
contribution of micro-finance to wider economic growth and poverty reduction.
The underlying assumptions in DFID support for micro-finance have been that:
; Micro finance services are a key contribution to poverty reduction
; Increasing women's access to microfinance services is desirable, not only because of experience of higher female repayment rates, but also gender equality and 2empowerment
; That the ultimate aim is therefore to develop financially self-sustaining
and specialist microfinance institutions (MFIs) which will in the longer
term be able to access private sources of capital. This will enable them to
achieve the scale of expansion necessary to reach significant numbers of
1 DFID Enterprise Development Strategy June 2000. 2 Many of the programmes supported by DFID are female-targeted or are required to reach significant numbers of women (see Appendix 1). Although the aim of empowerment is not always explicit, the word empowerment features frequently in DFID's promotional literature on microfinance. Moreover microfinance has been the main focus of gender policies (which do have the explicit aim of empowerment) in the Enterprise Development Department.
poor women and men.
1.2 Key challenges
The apparent simplicity of the above definition of microfinance however conceals important questions to be asked about:
; Whose small sums are being converted and where do they come from?
; Who receives the large sums and how are they used?
; How is the conversion done, by whom and what are the implications for
relationships between them?
; What are the costs of conversion and who benefits from them?
Experience and the findings of existing impact assessments (see Appendix 2) indicate that:
3; contributions to poverty reduction and women's empowerment cannot be assumed.
; progress towards financial sustainability has been more problematic than anticipated in many programmes
; some policies introduced to increase financial sustainability may have negative consequences for both poverty reach and gender objectives.
Key challenges include particularly:
; developing services which not only give access to services but also increase client
incomes and decrease vulnerability
; ensuring that female targeting contributes to women’s empowerment
; deepening poverty reach to the poorest and most disadvantaged groups
; resolving potential tensions between these development aims and certain
policies for achieving financial sustainability
3 In ‘Implications of Target Strategy Papers for Enterprise Development Department’ it is stated that
‘EDD's support to successful, large-scale microfinance programmes has achieved significant advances in women's economic self-determination and their status in the family. However, we have not yet developed specific gender skills and knowledge of our own in the process, nor a proper understanding of how we can further the gains in socio-economic empowerment.'
There is also an increasing recognition of the potential limitations of microfinance alone in promoting poverty reduction, enterprise development and other development aims. This is leading to a reassessment of different ways of:
; integrating microfinance with other types of development intervention to cost effectively build on complementarities
These challenges, together with the now extensive literature on ways in which different poor people use financial services in the context of complex livelihood strategies indicates that there is no one single ideal blueprint model for microfinance, but a need to develop:
; a diversity of programmes which, in combination, will address the multiple needs of different target groups in different financial, economic, social and political contexts.
Microfinance programmes are currently undergoing a period of rapid innovation in an attempt to meet these various challenges (See Appendix 3). These include development of:
; new products: new loan packages, savings facilities, insurance and most recently 4pensions.
; methodologies for reaching new types of client: particularly the poorest and most
; new types of institution which are capable of being flexible and innovative,
including client participation, gender mainstreaming and new ways of combining cost-effective microfinance delivery with other services
; new types of partnership between MFIs and other development actors. This
includes linking with the informal and formal financial sectors, other complementary service providers and linking micro-finance groups with local political processes and advocacy organisations.
4 For an overview of savings debates see eg Michael Fiebig, Alfred Hannig, Sylvia Wisniwski, 1999; Sylvia Wisniwski, 1999; Graham Wright 1999a,b, 2000. For micro-insurance and pensions see Appendix 3.
The emerging challenges and innovations also point to changing roles for donors like
DFID in ensuring that microfinance continues to make its significant potential contribution to poverty reduction and other development goals.
1.3 The role of impact assessment and the aims of this paper
Impact assessment in microfinance has received more attention than in any other area of enterprise development. It is now generally accepted that impact assessment is a critical element in further improving micro-finance services and promoting
From a donor perspective impact assessment is necessary to make informed funding decisions in the context of increasing competition between different programmes many of whom are making ambitious claims of impact. Many organisations are attempting to justify continuing subsidy to cover delays in achieving financial sustainability on the grounds of their contribution to other development goals such as rural development, poverty reduction and women's empowerment. Impact assessment is also crucial to ensuring that donor guidelines for Best Practice support rather than undermine programme achievements in relation to poverty reduction, empowerment and other development aims.
Existing impact assessments have made an important contribution to understanding some of the complex interactions between microfinance interventions, livelihoods and different dimensions of poverty reduction and empowerment. There remains nevertheless a considerable gap between the potential contribution of impact assessment and the practical usefulness of existing findings. Most impact assessments to date have been funded or motivated (implicitly or explicitly) by the desire of donors or programmes to 'prove' the impact of microfinance per se or the impact of their own
particular programmes. The findings are frequently ignored by program managers as irrelevant to their needs (See quotes above) and it is also unclear whether they have made any changes in donor funding.
It is the view of the author, as elaborated in this paper, that the challenge for impact assessment is now to build on existing impact assessments and move on from merely measuring impact of individual programmes on incomes to developing ongoing and
sustainable learning processes within and between programmes, between
programmes and donors and also between microfinance users. There is currently rapid innovation in impact assessment methodologies in microfinance including:
; practitioner-led impact assessment to enable ongoing programme learning and
more reliable data on which to base external assessments
; grassroots learning processes which have a key potential contribution to cost-
effective assessment as well as grassroots empowerment and impact itself
These point the way to possibilities of a new and more integrated sustainable learning process between different stakeholders which can itself make an important contribution to poverty reduction and empowerment.
The aim of this paper is not therefore to duplicate other Best Practice guidelines. Guidelines for Best Practice in impact assessment have already been produced for CGAP and DFID. These are easily available from other sources to which the reader is referred (See Appendix 4). Sebstad et al 1995, Sebstad and Chen 1996, Hulme 1998 5and SEEP 2000 all produced for the AIMS initiative are particularly recommended
The main focus here is on:
; recent methodological innovations in impact assessment
; how these can be used for detailed research on current areas of policy innovation
; the challenges which the move from impact assessment to sustainable learning presents for institutional practices and relationships between stakeholders
Section 2: Existing Impact Assessment: Methodologies, innovations and continuing challenges summarises the methodologies in existing impact assessments, proposals for innovation and challenges which need to be addressed in future impact assessments.
Section 3: Framework for Future Impact Assessment: Towards a sustainable learning process summarises the main conclusions and indicates ways in which some
of the current innovations in impact assessment methodologies might be integrated to lead to a more cost-effective and sustainable learning process.
Section 4: Role for externally-funded IAs: Summary Guidelines outlines the
possible roles for donor-funded impact assessment in initiating and contributing to this
5 Assessing the Impacts of Microenterprise Interventions (AIMS) is an ongoing initiative by CGAP under the management of USAID and implemented by Management Systems International to develop poverty impact assessment methodologies for micro-finance and conduct assessments over time of selected programmes. All the papers can be accessed via the Microfinance Gateway http://www.cgap.org (See
process and points to areas on which further development or refinement of impact assessment methodologies is needed.
The main text is supplemented by Appendices giving more details of DFID-funded micro-finance projects, findings of existing impact assessments and current policy debates. The bibliography contains an annotated bibliography of selected impact assessments, references and links to Case Studies, appended papers, other websites and further sources of information.