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The Myth of Microfinance? Why MFIs Shouldn’t Be Freaking Out (Yet)

This is a joint post with Michael Clemens.

The headline in the Boston Globe on September 20, 2009 was catchy: "Billions of dollars and a Nobel Prize later, it looks like 'microlending' doesn’t actually do much to fight poverty." The article referred to the findings of two recent impact evaluations in microfinance in India and the Philippines conducted by researchers at MIT and Yale, respectively. The studies, which were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of microfinance interventions, found “weak and in some cases nonexistent effects” of microfinance on profits, expenditures and well-being. Privately and publicly, donors, MFIs and practitioners are expressing concern about the impact of these studies on the future of microfinance. Are they right to be worried?