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Making Money Off the Poor? Microfinance Institutions Going Public Creates Controversy

Shweta Banerjee's picture

Microfinance originated in South Asia in the 1970s when pioneers such as Mohammed Yunus of Grameen, introduced the idea that providing small loans to the poor, especially women, can help generate income. In the last thirty years, after many experiments from around the world, the term microfinance now not only includes credit but also savings, insurance and cash transfer services for low income families.

An explosive growth of microfinance institutions (MFIs) has been seen within the last decade, both in India and globally. In fact, following the recent financial crisis, both Grameen Bank and Kiva have started lending in the United States.

The largest MFI in India, SKS made its first public offering on July 28, 2010. Backed by powerful funders like George Soros and Narayan Murthy, this is only the second “pure” MFI in the world to go public. The first one was the Mexican MFI, Compartamos, in 2007.

The Microfinance Gateway is the most comprehensive online resource for the global microfinance community and recently features an article based on eleven interviews with diverse experts on what they think the IPO could mean for the poor. Here’s a sneak-peek:

First Semester: The Challenges of Growing Up

Lauren MacDonald's picture

International Youth Day is a time to celebrate the youth of countries from around the world. The United Nations announced the theme for this year as Dialogue and Mutual Understanding, emphasizing the importance of communication not only within their generation, but among different generations as well. Only through conversation and open dialogue can opinions and perspectives be understood, cultivating ideas for change and developing aspirations for the future.

Financing Living Wage in Bangladesh’s Garment Industry

Zahid Hussain's picture

The Wage Board on garments in Bangladesh nearly doubled minimum wages on July 29, 2010. The minimum wage at the entry level will be raised to Tk 3,000 a month (or about $43) from Tk 1,662.50 ($24). The new pay structure, proposed to be effective from November 1, maintains the existing seven grades with the highest pay fixed at Tk 9,300 ($140) per month. About 3.5 million Bangladeshis work in the garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports. International companies like Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Zara, Tesco, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger all import in bulk from Bangladesh.

Garment workers apparently are unhappy over their wages, even after the proposed increase. They protested by smashing vehicles and blocking traffic in various garment sites in Dhaka following the announcement of the wage increase. Why has the frequency of violence increased?

Bangladesh sets a world record – 5 million CFLs in a day, one bulb at a time!

Ashok Sarkar's picture

CFL bulbIf you were in Bangladesh in June, you would have found teachers in schools, preachers in mosques, and ads in newspapers, television, loudspeakers and pamphlets, encouraging people to bring in their incandescent bulbs to exchange with new Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – and encouraged they were! On Saturday, June 19th 2010, at over 1,400 rural and urban distribution centers spread across 27 districts, manned by teachers, utility workers and other volunteers, Bangladeshis collectively took home about five million high quality CFL bulbs, in the first round of distribution.

 

They broke a record set by the British in January of 2008, for the most number of CFL bulbs distributed in a single day―some 4.5 million. In June, the Government and people of Bangladesh were inspired to do even better … and they did!

 

Let Good Sense Prevail in Bangladesh’s Garment Industry

Zahid Hussain's picture

The garment industry in Bangladesh has been subject to several tests of resilience in recent years—global recession, energy shortage, input price increases, and labor unrest. Of late, the labor unrest has escalated apparently triggered by disagreement over re-fixation of minimum wage. The workers, for quite some time now, have been pressing for adjustment in minimum wage that was last increased in 2006, after 12 years, from Tk. 930* (about $60 in PPP) per month to Tk. 1,662 (about $108 in PPP) per month. The government in April 2010 committed that a new pay-scale for the RMG workers will be announced before Ramadan, and formed a Wage Board for making the wage recommendations. For reasons not yet fully understood, the labor unrest was reignited recently without waiting to hear what the Wage Board’s recommendations are. However, it is abundantly clear that dissatisfaction with the nominal level of the minimum wage is at the center of the discord between garment owners and workers.

Have Librarians Missed the Bus?

Dilinika Peiris's picture
Photo Courtesy of Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA)

As the Sri Lanka Library Association celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, it’s time for us to reflect on the contributions of the Library and Information professionals to the development of Sri Lanka. At the same time, given the explosion in the sheer amount and sources of information now available especially through the internet, I found myself asking; do librarians have a role in the digital world? How are they adapting to this change? And are organizations and policymakers still making effective use of their knowledge and expertise while making decisions?

A recent Sunday Island piece captures the challenges and exciting opportunities that Librarians face in Sri Lanka today; I agree with them that with the expansion of information and sources, professional assistance is vital to identify trusted and accurate information. As a result, we should more actively recognize and involve Library and Information professionals as partners in policy consultations and working groups.

Bangladeshi Communities Build "New Lives"

Meena Munshi's picture

In 2008, I sat with a focus group of about 15 women in a rural village of Bagerhat district in southern Bangladesh. I and some colleagues had visited their village the day before and saw their desperate living conditions and the family conflicts that erupted because of it. This village, and many others, had been hit by cyclone Sidr four months earlier.

We asked the women about their aspirations; they responded with blank stares. But after just two hours of discussion, these women had absorbed and understood the importance of savings, of credit, of good governance, and how they could rebuild (and improve) their lives and livelihoods. At the end of the meeting, one woman told us, “We came here because we thought you would give us food, but we’re not hungry anymore. We have hope.”

The women in Bagerhat and 7 other districts are part of the Social Investment Program Project (SIPP), which has been working in Bangladesh since 2004, when it started as a US$18 million pilot, to introduce community driven development to the country’s rural communities.

The Little State that Could

Muthukumara Mani's picture

It is not often that you find forest officers sitting face to face with mining officials to discuss environmental sustainability—especially in a state which is rich in both minerals and forest resources. Nor do you often see fishermen walking toe to toe with farmers in sweltering 48° C heat to be heard alongside tribal chiefs and industrialists. And it is not often that a state, dubbed as the disaster capital of India, and which lags behind on every conceivable development indicator, comes out on top by being the first to consult with its people on how to tackle the onslaught of climate change.

Well, this happened last week in India’s coastal state of Orissa, one of the poorest states in the country. While the richer states - Maharashtra and Gujarat - were busy building fancy climate models to predict temperature and rainfall changes fifty years from now, Orissa focused on what it can do today.

The New Normal? South Asia Looks East

Dipak Dasgupta's picture

The world South Asia will face after this crisis is not going to be the same as in the past. The trend that is accelerating after the financial crisis is that of the “new normal”: the shift in traditional engines of growth from industrial countries to emerging markets.

The crisis is accelerating this fundamental change in economic order in which developed countries have to save more and spend less, while emerging markets, such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa begin to play much bigger roles in driving the global recovery. According to our estimates, by 2020, in just ten years---Asia may see its share of world GDP (in nominal dollars) climb to over one-third, replacing North America and the European Union as the biggest region. Underlying this is an expected sharp rise in shares of China and India, and indeed, that of all emerging markets may climb to nearly one-half of global output.

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