Can microfinance institutions (MFIs) achieve financial sustainability and reach the poorest of the poor? What are the tradeoffs in pursuing these two goals simultaneously? These are among the key questions addressed by David Hulme and Paul Mosley in their recent book, Finance Against Poverty (London: Routledge, 1996). The findings of this book have sparked a lot of discussion among microfinance specialists. The objective of this note is to bring these findings to a wider readership. It is not a review of the book and should not be considered as such.
The conventional view has held that microenterprise finance helps poor people and therefore is a desirable development activity but that it cannot be financially viable. Small loans, it is said, are simply too costly to administer, and the profits from such lending too meager to permit profitability. However, a study examining some of the best microfinance institutions concludes that this conventional wisdom is quite wrong.
The paradigms, approaches, and recommended actions outlined in this report represent a strong consensus among the world’s financial leaders who participated, the world’s leading microfinance institutions, and the world’s low-income entrepreneurs.