By Robert Lowry, Unitus, Guest Author
Microfinance reaches fewer than 20% of the people who could benefit from it. Only 2% of microfinance institutions serve more than 100,000 clients. Why is the impact of microfinance, after more than 30 years of effort, still so limited?
A big reason is efficiency—or lack thereof. Inefficient microfinance institutions (MFIs) simply don’t have the operational capacity to reach large numbers of clients. Moreover, inefficiency saddles MFIs with high costs and limits their capacity to offer a wider range of products. To address these problems, Unitus, a microfinance organization in Washington State, created the Unitus Efficiency Project, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Formed in September 2006, the project team of five experienced analysts is in the process of identifying obstacles to efficiency, developing solutions and helping microfinance institutions implement those solutions.
Focusing its analysis on four Unitus microfinance partners, in India, Mexico and the
Philippines, the team is looking at efficiency improvements in operations, finance and productivity. Following its conclusion the results of the project will be disseminated across the industry. The team has already identified a number of efficiency bottlenecks. For example:
The Unitus Efficiency Project team is now creating specific plans to improve efficiency in these areas. For example, the team appointed “Employee Champions” at the MFI partners participating in the project to serve as liaisons to the project team and as the go-to people within their organizations on all matters relating to efficiency. Moreover, the team held a series of innovation workshops with the MFI partners on the project to identify specific objectives to focus on and create excitement about the benefits of greater efficiency. Finally, a number of breakthroughs in efficiency have been identified in the course of the team’s work, which will be outlined at the conclusion of the project.
The industry’s focus on efficiency is great news for microfinance clients. With more and better products offered at lower cost, millions more people currently trapped in poverty will have access to the tools they need to transform their lives.