Maria Sophia Aguirre, Ph. D

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VI. Helpful Initiatives in Developing Countries
1. Microcredit

Microcredit, the provision of small loans to the poor is a development approach that has gained increased attention in the past two decades.61 Some microfinance institutions or organizations, including the often-cited ACCION International in Latin America, Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), have been providing credit since the mid-1970s or early 1980s. Only in the last decade or so, however, has the popularity of microcredit as a means of fostering development attracted significant energy and resources from high profile donors. Among these donors are governments, through the support of bilateral development agencies, as well as multilateral sources such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, regional development banks, and international NGOs (Figure 7).

Figure 7

International Commitment

Note: It includes the World Bank, USAID, IDB, ADB, ADB, UN

'Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.' Microcredit services are targeted to the poor who, because of the expense of small transactions or because they lack collateral, literacy or other requirements, do not have access to the financial services provided by formal banks and other formal financial institutions. The lack of economic opportunity caused in part by the lack of access to credit and formal financial services, is a serious hindrance to initiatives made by the poor to improve their families’ quality of life and to overcome dependency. By supporting their own initiatives, microcredit provides opportunity to these families and in the process, allows them to gain both economic and personal development. It also helps them manage risk and smooth consumption in the face of sharp fluctuations in agricultural yields and prices, economic shocks, and even natural disasters. Thus it becomes a valuable means to facilitate the development of human and social capital.

In developing countries, this poorest group without access to formal economic opportunities is predominantly women. Initially, many microcredit institutions and donors focused their lending primarily to women borrowers, however it soon expanded to married men. Microcredit impact studies have shown that resources in the hands of women are more likely to be used for the benefit of the household than resources in the hands of men.62 This suggests that there are valid arguments that targeting microcredit to women borrowers more often results in the greater benefit of the whole family.

Rather than temporarily providing poor persons with donor- or government-dependent (material) capital at subsidized interest rates, effective microcredit institutions, as distinct from social welfare institutions, successfully loan to the poor at market competitive commercial interest rates. They use innovative collective monitoring methods of group lending to strengthen repayment performance and charge interest rates that fully cover operational costs. While few microcredit institutions are currently viable, i.e. not heavily donor-dependent, they are moving towards this goal and they are doing this successfully.

Microcedit has shown to be a successful dollar-efficient lending method. It has effectively opened doors to low-income populations in developing countries while generating significant financial return. Figure 8 to 11 present the return to equity, the return to assets, the debt-equity and the portfolio risk ratios for several microcredit institutions in Latin America respectively. In all cases these institutions significantly outperform the Citigroup, one of the leading financial institutions in the world. While the Citigroup reported a return on equity of 20.2% in 2003, F.J. Nieborowski reported a return on equity of 80.3%. On average, Latin American microcredit institutions generated a 22.3% return on equity (Figure 8). Similar results can be found for the Return on Assets (Figure 9). The debt/ratio reported by Citigroup in 2003 was 11.6 while the same ratio for Latin American microcredit institutions has not excided 4% (Figure 10). This last number is not surprising as one expects Citigroup to enjoy a higher credibility that this small institutions. Finally, Figure 11 depicts the portfolio at risk. While Citibank reports a low 1.4%, other microcredit institutions report lower rates and overall, they are significantly lower than commercial banks in those countries. Nevertheless, the high level of return experience by microcredit institutions has begun to attract private investors and venture capitals, thus further expanding opportunities to the poor.

Table 8

Microcredit vs Citigroup Return on Equity

Source: MicroRate Database, Sample of most profitable profiles, 2003

Table 9

Microcredit vs Citigroup Return on Assets

Source: MicroRate Database, Sample of most profitable profiles, 2003

Table 10

Microcredit Debt/Equity Ratio

Source: MicroRate Database, Sample of most profitable profiles, 2003

Table 11

Microcredit vs Citigroup Portfolio at Risk

Source: MicroRate Database, Sample of most profitable profiles, 2003

Taking advantage of the close link between microcredit activities and poor borrower households, many programs also link the provision of credit access to compliance with other social measures. In many cases, microcredit organizations require the client participation in these non-business services in order to maintain credit access. These services are designed to meet social development objectives and often include education programs in nutrition, sanitation, childcare, and family planning. Yet studies have shown that institution productivity is significantly reduced when social programs of these types are required or included. This is so because funds that otherwise could be used to help the poor through microfinance are used instead to cover overhead costs and salaries of those involved in the social programs offered, mainly NGOs. Figures 12 and 13 depict the social to financial staff of institutions by region and by institutional characteristics. They depict these effects clearly.

For the most part, Grameen Bank models typically have non-business social programs attached to their lending activities and these are required. Most of these institutions are found in Asia, some in Africa, and only few in Latin America. Figure 12 shows the ratio of social staff to financial staff by regions. Not surprisingly, the highest ratio is shown in Asia and the lowest in

Figure 12

Ratio of Social to Financial Staff by Regions

Source: Paxton, Julia. A Worldwide Inventory of Microfinance Institutions.

Washington, DC: Sustainable Banking with the Poor, The World Bank, 1996.

Figure 13

Ratio of Social to Financial Staff by Regional Institutional Characteristics

Source: Paxton, Julia. A Worldwide Inventory of Microfinance Institutions.

Washington, DC: Sustainable Banking with the Poor, The World Bank, 1996.

Latin America. Similarly, Figure 13 present the same ratio but by type of institution. The highest ratio corresponds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as they tend to have the highest quantity of social programs attached to the microcredit operations.

Two ways in which the productivity of microcredit employees is often measured are the number of borrowers per staff (NBS) and the number of client per credit officer (NCCF). Figure 14 present these ratios by regions. Institutions that follow the Grameen Bank model capture Asia, for it in here where the majority of these institutions are operating. Consistent with previous measures, Grameen bank institutions are the least productive while Africa shows the highest productivity, followed by Latin America. One institution that, because of its characteristics, has been extremely successful biases the results in Africa. If this is removed, the results are closer to the Latin American case but still outperform it by a small margin. It is worth noting, however, that this one African institution does not follow the Grameen Bank model. Clearly, a group-lending model without attached non-business social objective programs is the most successful and efficient model of microcredit to help the poor and their families are to be helped.63

Figure 14

Productivity Indicators

Source: MicroRate and Grameen Bank

NBS = number of borrowers per staff and NCCF = number of client per credit officer

Microcredit, also has something else valuable to offer. By design, it fosters development by instigating habits that are fundamental for economic growth: responsibility, accountability, trust, market operations, education, and creativity. Because of the environment in which typically the poor find themselves, these habits are often lacking in many of the institutions they encounter or live in. Thus, by providing this opportunity, microcredit institutions effectively contribute to the building and strengthening of both human and social capital in a small yet very significant way.

While microcredit is not the answer to all the many and various problems faced by the poor, it can be said that it is a tool with real potential for helping to lift the economic resources trapped. All the same, without denying the need for a holistic approach to poverty and acknowledging that lack of access to credit is not the sole problem faced by the poor, it is not necessary to assert that microcredit programs must be the source of all types of development services for the poor. In fact, productivity measures suggest otherwise.

2. Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries Program

For so many years, concessional lending to the developing world has been a central point in the issue of debt, but despite all this, most poor countries could not meet their debt obligations. In the 1980s and early 1990s, strategies to ease up repayment terms for poor countries were pursuit, including further concessional relief.64 However, it became clear that countries’ repayment problem was not temporary and that a more comprehensive solution was needed. In 1996, a new debt relief program was initiated called the Heavily–Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). This initiative is today under the leadership of the IMF and the World Bank.

HIPC is relevant, because it is the first comprehensive approach to reducing the external debt of most heavily indebted countries, as it includes both macro-economics and social programs. Because of this, the initiative has the potential to place debt relief within an overall framework of poverty reduction. A mix of debt forgiveness and debt relief funds from creditors is activated at the completion point, i.e., when reforms are implemented correctly and a period of adequate performance is completed. It is the hope that this new approach would actually help heavily indebted countries shift from endless debt restructuring to enduring debt relief. External debt servicing has been predicted to be reduced by approximately $50 billion and the World Bank has committed itself to reduce its debt claims by nearly $11 billion.

In order to qualify for the forgiveness of debt, a country must: 1) be eligible for concessional assistance from the IMF and the World Bank; 2) face an unsustainable debt burden, beyond available debt-relief mechanisms; and 3) establish a track record of reform and sound policies through a well defined Strategy for Poverty Reduction Program (PRSP), which includes domestic macroeconomic adjustments as well as structural social policy reforms as previously mentioned.

Of the 40 countries eligible, most of them in Sub-Sahara Africa, ten have acted upon it. Of these, five countries reached their completion point by 2001 (Burkina Faso, Uganda, Bolivia, Tanzania, Mozambique) and the other five countries still in the process of implementation (Senegal, Nicaragua, Guyana, Mali, Benin). Strategies for Poverty Reduction Programs vary by country as, the initiative requires each country to delineate their own strategy. Evidence from these countries thus far indicates, that some have been more successful than others in both their macro-economic and the social policy design and efforts.

Table 4 presents a summary of the SPRP components followed by the countries that reached the completion point in 2001. As one can see, programs vary widely from country to country, but they center mainly around three issues: education, health, and governance. These three areas essential as they facilitate or hamper the development of human, social, and moral capital.

Table 4

Strategy for Poverty Reduction Program







Burkina Faso

- New Schools

- Policy reform for hiring and retention of teachers

- Immunization

- Staff in primary health care facilities

- Reduction of corruption

- Training of government personnel


- Reduction of Illiteracy

-Increase number of teachers

-Expand technical education

- Staff in primary health care facilities

- Renovation of hospitals

- Increase spending on health

- Increase police and prison numbers

- Job evaluation pay increase

- Main road program


-Expand quality and coverage of basic education

- Expand the coverage of quality health

- Introduce pension

- Expand sanitary infrastructure and



- Expand Rural education

- Reduction of gender disparities

Increase funds

- Transparency in the distribution of drugs

- Reproductive health

- Social safety nets

- Disaster relief

- Expand provision and quality of water

Some of the positive effects found in both African and Latin American Countries include an increase of social expenditures to government revenue of 6% (from $4,407 in 1999 to $6,897 in 2001) in addition to an over all improvement of social indicators. In addition, on average, per capita real spending on education and health increased by 3.4% and 3.3% respectively, which in turn contribute to increasing awareness of the relevance that education has for the expansion of human capital. According to the strategies defined thus far, on average 40% of the countries annual interim relief will be spent on education and 25% on health care.

Programs that directed resources towards education and health (children and tropical diseases) were especially successful such as those implemented in Uganda, Tanzania, and Bolivia. Also helpful were anticorruption programs, although with different degrees of success. Burkina Faso reports better results than Uganda. Programs addressing infrastructure issues and labor training in Uganda and Bolivia also performed well. Overall, however, much is still left to be done.

On the other hand, programs that report negative results include those directed to fund armaments, those who failed to define clear processes for accountability, as it was the case of Mauritania and Mali. Also negative results were reported by programs that focused mainly on reproductive health and AIDS at the cost of more fundamental needs. Countries reporting negative results in this area include Zambia, Mozambique, Senegal, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Mali. This last case is especially serious because limited budget savings, led these countries to transfer more funds to creditors than they were able to invest in basic services. Most of the medicines and tools of reproductive health and AIDS proceed from developed countries.

VII. Conclusions

Economic development is an outcome of more than economic processes. It is an outcome of economic, social, and political processes that interact with and reinforce each other in ways that worsen or ease the achievement of economic development. To achieve economic development, opportunities need to be promoted, empowerment at all levels facilitated, and stability ensured. This requires actions at local, national, and global levels. How can priorities be decided in practice? What framework is needed to ensure sustainable development? Data from across countries and sciences seems to suggest clearly that it is the family that should be the point of reference if sustainable development is to be achieved. This is so not because the family is a problem to economic development but rather the contrary. It is the solution, for it is within the family where human, moral, and social capital, all sine qua non conditions for an economy to develop, are supported or hampered. Children develop best within a family that is functional, i.e., with biological parents in a stable marriage. This means that the family is a necessary good for economic development and thus it should be promoted and protected if sustainable development is to be achieved.

At the same time, data across sciences also show that the breakdown of the family damages the economy and the society since human, moral, and social capital is reduced and social costs increased. Today, when the family is in need of assistance to be strengthened, solutions that assume Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian theories are not helpful. This is so, because these theories are seriously flawed on many levels and policy actions based on such assumptions are inefficient and hampers real sustainable development. They lead to: an aging trap, the weakening of the family, the creation of health problems as well as the worsening of health problems that already exist, and the inefficient use of resources that otherwise could be use to foster real economic development by providing education, infrastructure, training, etc. This last effect has proven not only to waste resources, but also cause serious financial burden for governments. This effect should not to be underestimated. Developed countries today are straggling with the burden of such financial pressures and they are not only wealthy economies but they have savings. One can see, what a disastrous effect these financial burdens would have in less developed countries, where not only wealth is insufficient, but savings are rare. The future of these poor countries relies on their population. Thus, forcing these countries into a population trap, would condemn them to unsustainable development.

Actual priorities and actions need to be designed for each country’s economic, sociological, structural, and cultural context, even each community. But even though choices depend on local conditions and circumstances at a given time, generally it is necessary to always consider what would be the impact of any policy on the family, as it behooves countries its promotion and protection. There is hope. Some of the recent reevaluations of family policies in developed countries in favor of healthy families seem to point in the right direction. Microcredit and the HIPC initiative are other example of how funds can be used efficiently to provide opportunities to those most needed, and by doing so, strengthen families in distress.

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