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For more details on this topic, see "Impact of microcredit.
The impact of microcredit is a subject of much controversy. Proponents state that it reduces poverty through higher employment and higher incomes. This is expected to lead to improved nutrition and improved education of the borrowers' children. Some argue that microcredit empowers women. In the US and Canada, it is argued that microcredit helps recipients to graduate from welfare programs.
Critics say that microcredit has not increased incomes, but has driven poor households into a debt trap, in some cases even leading to suicide. They add that the money from loans is often used for durable consumer goods or consumption instead of being used for productive investments, that it fails to empower women, and that it has not improved health or education. Moreover, as the access to micro-loans is widespread, borrowers tend to acquire several loans from different companies, making it nearly impossible to pay the debt back. As a result of such tragic events, microfinance institutions in India have agreed on setting an interest rate ceiling of 15 percent. This is important because microfinance loan recipients have a higher level of security in repaying the loans and a lower level of risk in failing to repay them.
The available evidence indicates that in many cases microcredit has facilitated the creation and the growth of businesses. It has often generated self-employment, but it has not necessarily increased incomes after interest payments. In some cases it has driven borrowers into debt traps.
There is no evidence that microcredit has empowered women. In short, microcredit has achieved much less than what its proponents said it would achieve, but its negative impacts have not been as drastic as some critics have argued. Microcredit is just one factor influencing the success of small businesses, whose success is influenced to a much larger extent by how much an economy or a particular market grows. For example, local competition in the area of lack of a domestic markets for certain goods can influence how successful small businesses who receive microcredit are.
Mission Drift in Microfinance
Mission drift refers to the phenomena through which the MFIs or the micro finance institutions increasingly try to cater to customers who are better off than their original customers, primarily the poor families. Roy Mersland and R. Øystein Strøm in their research on Mission Drift suggest that this selection bias can come not only through an increase in the average loan size, which allows for financially stronger individuals to get the loans, but also through MFI's particular lending methodology, main market of operation, or even the gender bias as further mission drift measures. And as it may follow, this selective funding would lead to lower risks and lower costs for the firm.
However, economists Beatriz Armendáriz and Ariane Szafarz suggests that this phenomenon is not driven by cost minimization alone. She suggests that it happens because of the interplay between the company’s mission, the cost differential between poor and unbanked wealthier clients and region specific characteristics pertaining the heterogeneity of their clientele. But in either way, this problem of selective funding leads to an ethical tradeoff where on one hand there is an economic reason for the company to restrict its loans to only the individuals who qualify the standards, and on the other hand there is an ethical responsibility to help the poor people get out of poverty through the provision of capital.
Role of foreign donors
The role of donors has also been questioned. CGAP recently commented that "a large proportion of the money they spend is not effective, either because it gets hung up in unsuccessful and often complicated funding mechanisms (for example, a government apex facility), or it goes to partners that are not held accountable for performance. In some cases, poorly conceived programs have retarded the development of inclusive financial systems by distorting markets and displacing domestic commercial initiatives with cheap or free money."
Working Conditions in Enterprises Affiliated to MFIs
There has also been criticism of microlenders for not taking more responsibility for the working conditions of poor households, particularly when borrowers become quasi-wage labourers, selling crafts or agricultural produce through an organization controlled by the MFI. The desire of MFIs to help their borrower diversify and increase their incomes has sparked this type of relationship in several countries, most notably "Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of borrowers effectively work as wage labourers for the marketing subsidiaries of "Grameen Bank or "BRAC. Critics maintain that there are few if any rules or standards in these cases governing working hours, holidays, working conditions, safety or child labour, and few inspection regimes to correct abuses. Some of these concerns have been taken up by "unions and "socially responsible investment advocates.
In Nigeria cases of fraud have been reported. Dubious banks promised their clients outrageous interest rates. These banks were closed shortly after clients had deposited money and their deposits were lost. The officials of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) have warned customers about so-called "wonder banks". One initiative to prevent people from depositing money to wonder banks is the mini-series "e go better" that warns about the practices of these wonder banks.
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