Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Climbing out of the Aid Trap

Although I would probably disagree with Glenn Hubbard about a lot of things, I am very eager to read his new book questioning the efficacy of past international aid initiatives.

The simple truth is that billions have been spent on aid, and billions are still left in poverty. Something clearly isn’t working. I understand that Hubbard looks at the post WWII Marshall Plan for inspiration on what could be done in the 21st century to address global poverty. Interesting idea.

Here’s a great quote talking about why microfinance isn’t enough. I’ll pre-empt the quote to say that I agree. Microfinance is great in certain instances, the rural poor for example, to help people on the path to economic development. But microfinance doesn’t really help SMBs and there is a real gap in the market there. Often SMBs are too big for microfinance, but too small for a regular bank loan, so they’re stuck. Happily, this gap seems to be filling in in many countries

Microfinance can be a catalyst for entrepreneurship up to a certain stage of business development, but the businesses launched through microfinance need to develop into full-fledged small businesses if they are to promote greater economic growth. Small and medium-sized businesses are the source of growth in all countries. Eighty percent of China’s employment, for example, is in small business — not in microfinance.

The barriers to growing past micro-entrepreneurship are formidable. Starting a formally-recognized business can require months of waiting, and paying enormous fees — including bribes — as the Doing Business rankings show. An example we use in the book is Mozambique, where starting a business requires forms 12 government agencies; you also have to pay bribes to each of the 12 government employees who stamp your documents. When you have 12 stamps, you can — at last — run your business without fear of being shut down. Similar hurdles in other countries mean that micro-entrepreneurs have a very difficult time becoming a political or economic force strong enough to challenge the status quo.

The bright spot is that micro-lenders are increasingly expanding their loan programs to serve not only individuals, but also established small and medium-sized businesses. Our proposal includes provisions for supporting existing small and medium-sized businesses through microfinance institutions.

Climbing out of the Aid Trap

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