More ambiguous, waffly writing at Foreign Exchange. Promise to write something rich and conclusive this coming week. But for now, a slightly different take on the Indian microfinance mess:
First, a brief summary of the situation: In October, the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP), a state in the south of the country and home to A. all those call centers B. 30% of the country’s microloan industry, decided to blame microfinance institutions (MFIs) for a series of debtors’ suicides. [The relationship between poverty and suicide is not a new political subject in India: the left-wing newspaper The Hindu has made a business of chronicling in harrowing and tragic detail the suicides of bankrupt farmers in the last few years.] The suicides pointed to a growing trend, in AP and elsewhere, of over-indebted borrowers, many of whom had loans from multiple sources, a sign of the intense pressure that these mega-lenders put on loan officers to grow their portfolios. As others have noted, the ban also reflected the fact that the government oversees its own lending scheme, the Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and that the suicides presented a great opportunity to shut down competitors.
But the ‘pox on both their houses’ critique that has emerged from these facts is not helpful, not least because it doesn’t engage particular closely with what either MFIs or SHGs actually do.
Rather it seems to me that the whole sector got into trouble because it was insufficiently localized. As practiced in India, both the MFI and the SHG model have neglected the key piece that made microlending in Bangladesh work so well.