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Archive for April, 2011

In 2002 I visited Ashrai, an NGO in northwest Bangladesh that was forming savings-financed ‘self-help groups’ among some of the world’s poorest women. I was referred to Ashrai by Stuart Rutherford, and I was writing an article about them for a microfinance journal.

Empowering women?

Picture this: it is mid-day in a Naogaon village, and a group of 20 women are seated in a loose square on woven bamboo mats. Clean, brightly coloured saris are draped over their shoulders, and flow down their legs.

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Cash? Can I take it in lumber, please?

A number of mobile banking experts have been envisioning the ‘cash-less village’, in which villagers pay for groceries and services on their mobile phones. But, in his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist at Duke University, shows how the degree of abstraction of our currency can lead us to experience greater and greater distance from our ethical values, increasing moral hazard.

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The work of Denise Schmandt-Besserat is reshaping our concept of the origins of writing and counting, shedding new light on both the challenges and opportunities in village finance practice.

A scholar of ancient Near Eastern studies at the University of Texas, her books provide strong evidence of her thesis that writing in Mesopotamia came long after strong institutions. It evolved from “a system of tokens – (more…)

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Quietly watching us.

Imagine if, each morning as you pulled out of your driveway, you were touched by the gaze of the same child, watching you from the sidewalk. Her gaze is as open and undemanding as the earth, and as curious and deeply conscious as any you’ve received from your own children. She is also visibly poverty-stricken.

I took this photo while visiting a small village bank in Cambodia. Whenever foreigners enter a village there, curious children gather to watch. These two stood quietly on the fringe of my meetings with the village adults for over an hour. (more…)

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Poor villagers in the developing world are a distinctive, underserved microfinance segment. There are nearly a billion rural people who make less than $1.25 a day, and most are illiterate or marginally literate, so microfinance documents are inaccessible to them.

There are three widely neglected factors that make rural microfinance fundamentally different from urban microfinance. (more…)

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