Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A different kind of story - win big, think small

Have you noticed how the stock market never goes up or down? It soars or plummets. Somehow hyperbole hustles us to the same stories over and over. So whenever I see mainstream news with a story truly different I feel the need to applaud. Such is the case with CBS news story on micro-lending. Bigger is not always better. Think micro-loans. And how they are giving good returns when banks are loaded with "toxic assets" of large loans. The CBS story, on location in Peru, is one of the best explanations of micro-loans (features MicroPlace, Ashwini Narayanan) and truly inspiring. Another big player in this space is Kiva and there is a nice blog with details about the two. But here's the main point: Micro-finance isn't so much about the fact that the loan amount is small - its about the fact that loans are being made to people who the banks have declared "not creditworthy". It means loans are made to people normal banks don't give loans to. Banks, using metrics based on collateral (i.e. how much they already own), decided that these people could not pay back their loans. In other words, you have to be rich already to get a loan. Now isn't that backwards? This is the Big Idea; The Big Win of micro-lending phenomenon. Micro-loans and the fact that they get almost 99 percent payback prove that establishment thinking is wrong; can be wrong. So it is really unfortunate that micro-finance still remains in the "boutique" category (yes- just calculate the percentage of money in micro-loans versus total lending) and seems a long way from becoming mainstream. There are entrepreneurial efforts (e.g. UnitedProsperity) to make lending to the poor more viable by raising money for guarantees and this is change in the making.

Change doesn't just happen - It needs faith and cheerleaders - and -yes mainstream media can do a lot by uncovering stories like this one. Cheers for CBS.

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