Investors boost the ’missing middle’

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

William Foote had gained a place at Harvard Business School and was ready to go when he had what he calls an “existential crisis”.

He had already spent some time working at Lehman Brothers (NYSE:LEH) as an analyst in the Latin American corporate finance group. Then followed two years in Mexico on a journalism fellowship, reporting on socio-economic development.

But neither his work on multimillion-dollar deals, such as securitisations of Mexican toll-road revenues, nor his time spent interviewing people in rural Mexico, convinced him that cash was reaching those who needed it the most.

The small businesses, too large and often too far away from urban areas to attract microfinance loans, but considered too small and risky by local commercial banks, were being left out. As Mr Foote puts it: “I saw the missing middle for myself. I interviewed farmers who were two days drive from the nearest city, were too remote to be reached by MFIs [microfinance institutions] who had no other option but to pay the fire sale prices demanded by middle men.”

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