A reading list produced by the Center for Financial Inclusion (aka Accion) was recently re-Tweeted. It is boldly entitled “5 Great Books About Microfinance and How the Poor Use Money”. The list is bizarre to anyone with a remote interest in actual microfinance research. It lists generally promotional, one-sided books preaching the miraculous benefits of indebting poor people. In no way does it represent a balanced reading list. It does, however, exclude some of the traditional “microfinance hype” books, such as those by Yunus, Counts, Robinson and Harris. Elizabeth Rhyne’s 2001 book is, of course, mentioned, and they kindly provide a photo and link to purchase this particular manifesto. It is presumably coincidence that Rhyne works at Accion. The list also excludes an industry-standard text: Portfolios of the Poor.
Acknowledging that some people may appreciate a more balanced view of microfinance, I have compiled a list of 13 books challenging the wisdom of microfinance. Ten of these were published since 2010, but I include three definitive texts prior to this period, demonstrating that concerns regarding microfinance had emerged as early as 2001.
I have followed the example of Accion and made no attempt to provide a balanced reading list, but I state so explicitly. However, in order to be as un-opinionated as possible, I list these in publication date order (newest first) and provide the Amazon.com book description, date, price (as of July 30th 2013) and the number of reviews. Where I know of other reviews I provide a link to these also.
I trust this will serve as a counter-balance to the hype that typifies the microfinance sector, and will empower people to discover the other side of the debate: microfinance is not a panacea, and by learning where we have failed we may have an opportunity to learn from prior mistakes and better serve the poor. Finally, I would ask readers of this list to provide comments, particularly if they are aware of other relevant books, reviews to the books listed, or merely to share their opinions of these texts.
Philip Mader, Leonhard Dobusch & Sigrid Quack, April 2013, $5.82 (Kindle only)
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