Study finds microfinance can help, even if goals aren’t met

Friday, August 18, 2017

University of Oregon political scientist Erin Beck thinks development organizations aren’t asking the right questions if they want to truly understand what the money they spend trying to help lift poor people out of poverty around the globe is actually doing.

Her new book, “How Development Projects Persist,” outlines her takeaways from researching nongovernmental microfinance organizations for poor rural women in Guatemala and challenges standard ways of measuring the success of development projects. She argues that organizations rely too much on numbers and often overlook critical human interactions, which are not as easily measured but are central to understanding how development projects function and persist.

“We can’t just think about what the projects are doing for people but should also examine what people do for projects,” Beck said. “We need to look at how policies get transformed on the ground.”

Which is exactly what Beck did, for seven years. She embedded herself into two microfinance institutions in Guatemala—Namaste and the Fraternity —and found that the local beneficiaries and employees were both very influential in the way development work unfolds, which the sponsoring organizations didn’t recognize.

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global development, microfinance, poverty alleviation, public policy