Microfinance, according to CGAP, is defined as financial services for poor and low-income clients. More broadly, microfinance refers to a movement that envisions a world in which low-income households have permanent access to a range of high quality and affordable financial services offered by a variety of retail providers to finance income-producing activities, build assets, stabilize consumption, and protect against risks.
Microfinance is making its way into core finance classes but has also sparked an increase in elective courses in business schools around the world that specifically focused on the topic. The Asian Institute of Management offers a course called Banking with the Poor that focuses on financial services for the poor, understanding the low-income market for financial systems and contemplating the future of microfinance. The University of Michigan College of Business and Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University both offer microfinance courses that bring in a range of speakers working in microfinance to bring the ideas to life.
Some electives provide opportunities for hands on experience in the field. The University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business has an elective called Doing Business in Bolivia, which includes meetings with microcredit agencies and foundations and investment funds in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, allowing students to explore a range of approaches and meet funders in two very different contexts. Students then have the chance to ‘follow the money’, tracing the donations, loans and investments from their sources to the recipients in the field in Bolivia. Students enrolled in the microfinance elective at the University of Portland Pamplin School of Business Administration visit Nicaragua to see first-hand how different types of organisations are offering financial services to low-income citizens.
Fordham University’s international service learning program includes a Microfinance Consulting Project for which a group of students apply their business skills on sales, inventory, accounting and marketing of close to 100 products from artisan groups in developing countries, like Kenya.
The University of Denver Daniels College of Business has partnered with Deutsche Bank’s Global Commercial Microfinance Consortium for an elective in Social Entrepreneurship and Microfinance. Students have the chance to interact with the bank managers that oversee the fund and perform due diligence for loan requests from international microfinance institutions. Students spend their spring break visiting microfinance institutions in a developing country.
Another interesting approach is the one taken by the University of California, Berkeley Haas Business School. With faculty guidance, students created an elective around the topic of microfinance. For their final project, the class invests $25,000 in a portfolio of real world microfinance investment opportunities. Students are required to submit a 3-4 page investment plan detailing specific entities, amounts, and rationale. The investment is made based on the plurality of students’ recommendations. The Berkeley Microfinance course transmits over the web to other campuses across the country, including Cornell University Johnson School of Business and Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Learn more about: CGAP, Microfinance Gateway, ACCION and Grameen Bank. The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), the World Bank Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC), and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) offers the Microfinance Training of Trainers (MFTOT) online course based upon the interactive microfinance distance learning course (MFDL) developed by UNCDF. Also, 2005 was the International Year of Microcredit, and the website provides a wealth of information.
Does your programme have a course on microfinance? Share your experiences in the discussion area below.