microfinance model is not sustainable due to its overdependence on
the government, the huge subsidy given by the state and the lack
of a regulatory framework to check the exploitation of the poor, sectoral practitioners from Bangladesh say.
They are of the opinion that the Bangladeshi model is more
sustainable as it is run professionally and is yet pro-poor, with
civil society and NGOs playing an active role at the grassroots
level and the government acting only as a facilitator.
The experts said while the Indian model is limited to providing
credit, Bangladesh has NGOs and microfinance institutions (MFIs)
working in the areas of education, health and gender.
This comparison is despite the whopping 27 percent interest
charged in Bangladesh against a meagre three percent in Indian
states like Andhra Pradesh, which has the highest number of people
- 10 million - covered under micro credit.
An international summit on microfinance and inclusive development
held here last week provided an opportunity to delegates from
various countries to share their experiences and gain first-hand
knowledge of the working of women's self-help groups (SHGs) in
Talking to IANS, Atiqun Nabi, Asia head of the International
Network of Alternative Financial Institutions (INAFI), and Humera
Islam, executive director of the Shakti Foundation of Bangladesh,
voiced their doubts on the sustainability of Indian microfinance.
"Unlike in India, where the state is playing a very important and
active role, in Bangladesh it is basically civil society and NGOs
who take microfinance to the ground. That is why microfinance in
Bangladesh is still pro-poor," said Atiqun Nabi, who is from
"What if the government here stops supporting the programme,"
asked Nabi, who also saw the danger of the party in power using
the SHGs to further its political agenda and the groups suffering
with the change of government.
He also pointed out that the microfinance programme in India lays
more emphasis on economic development but is not so concerned
about issues like women's empowerment, health and education.
"The whole thing here is government-sponsored. The government is
supposed to work at the macro-level, but they are stepping into a
domain that is clearly not theirs. The question is how far a
government can carry on because it has much more important things
to do," Humera Islam of the Shakti Foundation, one of the largest
MFIs in Bangladesh, told IANS.
She pointed out that Bangladesh has brought well-thought of
regulations allowing free market institutions like NGOs and
private enterprises to operate at the micro-level but protecting
the interests of poor by fixing the upper limit of interest.
Justifying the 27 percent interest rate, she attributed it to the
administrative and operational costs and the capital funds the
MFIs need to create to take loans from banks.
"These are financial calculations and this has nothing to do with
exploitation. You have to have money in the first place to run a
Atiqun Nabi attributed the success of microfinance in Bangladesh
to the regulatory framework for MFIs with the condition that they
can't charge beyond a certain percentage.
However, interest didn't matter to him so long as there was no
exploitation and the needs of the borrowers were met in a
professional manner. "The borrowers here are used to three percent
interest but what will happen if it is withdrawn? You may have a
formative stage of one or two years but ultimately you have to
compete with the market rate," Nabi pointed out.
Humera Islam said that since women in Andhra Pradesh and other
states in India were dependent on the government, they are not
likely to really become empowered. "If you're not taking ownership
of the process of development, the rate of recovery is bound to be
bad and there will be no sense of responsibility," she said.
She also found that the SHGs comprise women of the same
socio-economic status and perhaps do not involve the poorest of
The micro-credit practitioners feel that the sector in Bangladesh
had matured to an extent that even the departure of Noble laureate
Muhammed Yunus from Grameen Bank had no impact on the movement.
"This is the beauty of Bangladesh microfinance. Every time there
is a big crash, people say it will affect MFIs but what happens at
the macro-level makes no difference. We are very supportive of
Mohammed Yunus as he is our national leader but the government has
done its job," Islam said.
(Mohammad Shafeeq can be contacted at email@example.com)