Microfinance in Pragati

September 2, 2008

I have an article in this month’s Pragati (PDF, 3.8 MB) about microfinance. I’ve written about how there’s more to microfinance than microlending, how broadening access to savings accounts and small insurance is much more important than lending, and how the most significant impact of microfinance so far is not necessarily the financial bits but the organisational bits.

If, as is likely, you find this incredibly dreary and boring, do read the issue anyway for Harsh Gupta’s excellent article on liberal solutions to protests in Kashmir.


More on Finance and Inclusive Growth

June 17, 2008

Suddenly, the idea that financial sophistication leads to inclusive growth seems to have caught on (well, except with the Ministry of Finance, which is actually in a position to do something about it). First there was my Pragati piece. Yesterday, Nivirkar Singh’s column in Mint also touched on this:

Petia Topalova of the International Monetary Fund has recently examined the links between policy and inclusiveness of growth. In particular, she uses variation across states as well as three time periods, spanning 1983 to 2005, to examine these links. Inclusiveness is defined as the difference between the consumption growth rate of the poorest and richest 30% Indians.

First, higher financial development, measured either by real credit per capita or by a larger initial share of agricultural labourers with loans from formal financial institutions, is significantly associated with more inclusive growth.

(Mint)

OK, this is interesting. One of the points the Raghuram Rajan report raises is that access to credit is actually only one leg of financial inclusion, and is the most overused one. The other two legs – access to savings instruments and access to risk management instruments like insurance – have traditionally been missing. So there are two ways to read this:

  1. The correlation between credit and inclusive growth doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a coincidence that this turned up, and might be caused by something else – more urbanisation, say, or might even run in the opposite direction – financial inclusion leads to more demand for credit (though I personally think it’s a positive feedback loop – they cause each other)
  2. The research is right. Credit might be only one leg, but it still has an impact. And we haven’t even seen what would happen once savings and insurance also get taken up. In that case, the gap could close in a stunning way.

Moving on. After Nivirkar Singh’s column, there’s also the cover story in today’s Business Standard the Strategist. It’s about FabIndia, and how they’re encouraging artisan communities to set up private limited companies where the shareholding is split between the artisans themselves, their employees, FabIndia, and outside private investors.

The concept, now a Harvard Business School case study, is simple. A fully-owned subsidiary of FabIndia, Artisans Micro Finance, a venture fund, facilitates the setting up of these companies, which are owned 49 per cent by the fund, 26 per cent by the artisans, 15 per cent by private investors and 10 per cent by the employees of the community-owned company.

The artisans gain in many ways. The value of their shares goes up. They earn dividends when the company is in a position to declare them.

The shares offer the artisans a divisible asset class (land can be divided but its divisions are often disputed and jewellery is largely indivisible) and community-owned companies help convert FabIndia’s artisan base into an asset.

“If he wants to get his daughter married and needs money, he can sell his shares and realise the appreciation. He can also take a loan by offering his shares as collateral,” says Bissell.

(the Strategist)

The article is worth reading even if you aren’t interested in finance, and you’re more interested in social entrepreneurship or marketing or traditional handicrafts. Axshully it is worth reading even if you are a metrosexual and only buy organic muesli as you will get to know about new and exciting opportunities to buy it as FabIndia expands.

By the way, William Bissel mentions in the article that the co-operative system imposes too many restrictions on the artisan and the private limited company makes more sense. This is a massive understatement. The legal and accounting procedures for co-operatives in India are so totally broken that co-ops inevitably end up in the hands of regional politicians. That, however, is the subject of another post, and by someone else.


In Pragati

June 4, 2008

I have an article on how finance is actually infrastructure and financial sector reforms¬†out in this month’s edition of Pragati. The link to the article gives you an excerpt and you’ll have to download the PDF version (slightly less than 2 MB) to read the full thing.

The article had a¬†checkered history. I had almost finished researching it when I suddenly had to dash to Delhi. When I returned to Bangalore I fell sick and told Ravikiran and Nitin I wouldn’t be able to write it after all. The fact that I had no furniture in this point and writing would have to be done propped up against a wall may have contributed. Then I came to Bombay where I had a guesthouse with a dsek, and called up and offered to write it after all.

By this time I was five days over deadline and had to write it in a mad rush between ten and two in the morning at my guesthouse. The next day I had to check out of the guesthouse and didn’t have a new one to shift to, so I finished the article between noon and three in the afternoon while squatting in an unoccupied cabin next to an FX dealing room. Sadly, I had finished the bit about currency markets and was writing about financial inclusion and regulation by then.

Anyway, the result of all this was that I wrote the article in practically stream-of-consciousness style. As a result, not only was it a week over deadline, it was 1200 words over the word limit. It is a tribute to Ravikiran’s mad editing skillz that the article is now within the limit and still readable.