This past week at the summit a major topic was interest rate transparency, as some MFIs have come under fire for charging relatively high rates and allowing "mission drift" to move them to a priority of high profits instead of the original mission of poverty alleviation. Long time microfinance insider Chuck Waterfield has taken the initiative to address these concerns, launching MicroFinance Transparency.
A highlight for me was the lively discussion between Professor Muhammed Yunus, Damian von Stauffenberg (the founder of MicroRate), and Chuck. They debated the importance of the profit motive in growing microfinance, with Yunus holding firm to the ideal of not making a profit, seeking only to break-even and pass any potential profits back to the clients. In my view microfinance has always been a profitable business proposition, with profit driving the ability to expand the reach of poverty alleviation efforts. Perhaps the debate should be reframed around reinvesting profits to expand reach vs. passing profits on to outside investors. Or is it possible to do both?
The topic is getting great press in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and many more (100+ stories listed when I searched Google News). It's great to see this positive move coming from inside the Microfinance community to address these issues now rather than later.
With current energy price pressures, environmental degradation, and climate change looming, we at GreenMicrofinance hope to lead a similar movement among MFIs, disclosing standardized metrics of environmental impact and sustainablility.