Role of microfinance in reducing poverty and vulnerability
At its core poverty is about risk and vulnerability. The livelihoods of poor people are characterised by occasional demands for large amounts of money that they cannot cope with, which undermines their livelihoods. These events may be foreseen – as in the case of weddings and funerals – or unforeseen, as in the case of disasters or emergencies. Either way, it is the risk of these events occurring, and the vulnerability to them that makes poverty so dynamic and unpredictable. Thus it’s common to hear about a destitute person who was living comfortably until a sudden illness or disaster occurs. Similarly, as people move out of poverty they remain vulnerable to falling back down. In microfinance we focus on providing appropriate services to different client groups. But do these services reflect the complexity and dynamics of poor peoples' livelihoods?
The challenge is to work in a way that helps poor people overcome their vulnerability and establish secure livelihoods. To do this, we need to understand the pathway out of poverty, and its implications in terms of designing interventions which address both the financial needs and developmental needs of poor people. Microfinance can be a powerful tool to reduce poverty and vulnerability through the provision of financial services, savings, microinsurance or transfers. In addition, well-designed microfinance programmes can and should also promote and protect poor people's livelihoods by reducing risk, strengthening financial livelihoods, empowering clients and providing a platform for broader development interventions around issues such as health and education which damage poor people's livelihoods and increase their vulnerability.
Role of the Imp-Act Consortium
Achieving the social development objectives of microfinance goes beyond merely providing more services to more clients. Experience shows that the way services are provided is just as important: they need to respond to the real needs of clients and be appropriate to their capacities. Well-designed microfinance programmes that deliberately address clients' needs have great potential to bring a wide range of benefits to poor and excluded people's lives, and to do so in a sustainable way. Some microfinance institutions (MFIs) prioritise financial targets and don't feel the need to prioritise social goals, assuming that they will follow automatically. But evidence from the field shows that this is not the case.
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We influence practice through advocacy, training, and knowledge management. Our core competencies include all aspects of the social performance management agenda, from strategic planning to social rating.
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