CONCLUSIONS

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Despite the extensive spread of micro-fi nance, research studies on the actual

impact of MFIs are often more ambivalent about their impact than is the aid

community. In part this refl ects the methodological problems of establishing

appropriate statistical controls and in part no doubt also the range of

variation found in practice in the way in which micro-fi nance operates.

Our view is that, despite the diffi culties, more good poverty impact studies

that address adequately problems of bias in comparisons of borrowers are

important to sharpen understanding of its role as an anti-poverty tool, to

assess its impact in different environments and to shape the debate on ways

forward for MFIs.

Amongst practitioners there is widespread acceptance of the view that it is

necessary to both diversify the products of micro-fi nance and adapt them to

local circumstances. Any simple replication of formulae successful elsewhere

is rightly treated with suspicion. The evidence surveyed here suggests that

the conclusion from the early literature, that whilst micro-fi nance clearly

may have had positive impacts on poverty it is unlikely to be a simple

panacea for reaching the core poor, remains broadly valid. Reaching the

core poor is diffi cult and some of the reasons that made them diffi cult to

reach with conventional fi nancial instruments mean that they may also be

high risk and therefore unattractive micro-fi nance clients.

There has been an extensive debate that we do not touch on here, on

the fi nancial sustainability of MFIs. We would simply make the point that

just because an institution needs a subsidy to cover its costs, this in itself

is no reason for not supporting the institution. The issue would be what

benefi ts in terms of income gains for the poor can be achieved with the

subsidy and how the ratio of subsidy to benefi ts compares with that for

other interventions. Detailed cost-effectiveness studies are rare, and those

that are available show both high and low scores for MFIs in the same

country. Hence there is a need to continually improve design and outreach

and to see MFIs as part of the package for targeting the poor, rather than

the whole solution.

Our view is that despite the diffi culties, poverty impact studies of MFIs

can provide important information and that continued efforts should be

made to sharpen understanding of the impacts of different forms of MFI

activity on the poor, including their cost effectiveness.