he Virtual Library on Microcredit (formerly the Informal Credit Homepage) is a library, journal and think tank rolled into one. It contains tools, in the form of practical ideas, guides, strategies, courses and methodologies; success stories, in the form of case studies, comparisons, inspiring ideas, and best practices; articles, in the form of theoretical and practical analyses of the issues of interest; and resources, in the form of organizational and operational information on current policies, programmes, projects and other initiatives.
The concept of "Microcredit" is as much about money as it is about information. With sustainability and non-dependence on external resources being key to the growth of microcredit programmes, the website focuses on providing pertinent and timely information in the form of strategies, tools, ideas and guides, to grassroots and intermediary organizations, and at the same time, educating the larger public on broader issues related to microfinance and microcredit.
The website is, in effect, a repository of information on alternative, non-conventional financial systems and microcredit. Community mobilization and enviro-economic development also find a place here.
Walking along the street of any low-income settlement in developing countries, one is struck by the apparent contrast of dwelling and habitat. On one side of the street is a dilapidated, single story, windowless house of tin sheets and open drains; across the street is a fine two-storied brick and concrete house with glass windows, paneled doors, and painted walls. While there are many reasons for such contrasts, one variable that repeatedly surfaces as a common denominator is the accessibility to different sources and types of credit.This is also true if one looks at products and services.
The website attempts to facilitate a broader and deeper understanding of the quality and quantity of credit that low-income households prefer - aptly illustrated by the title of F.J.A. Bouman's book, Small, Short and Unsecured 1. The website also highlights the viability of microfinance schemes to satisfy their financial needs.
A binding conviction that the poor will never remain poor, that economic development will take place, and incomes will increase, has provided much of the strength to develop this website
The "micro" of credit
Banks and other financial institutions have systematically kept low-income households outside their credit delivery networks, forcing them to resort to informal and non-conventional systems of mobilizing credit. The positive features of such loans are only now being understood:
- Loans are small in size since money is acquired only for a part of a larger activity. These small amounts contrast starkly with loans from banks, which tends to be large, and for lump sum investments.
- Loans are usually made for very short periods. Borrowers prefer to repay loans quickly to avoid long-term commitments in repayments. This also reflects the insecurity of borrowers' jobs and income.
- Loans are unsecured, with little or no collateral or guarantees. Lenders rely on personal information and close proximity links to "keep an eye" on borrowers' expenditures and ensure repayment. Since services are localized, and only well- known borrowers serviced, the rate of repayment is also very high.
There is much we can learn from the people, listening to them and
understanding and comprehending the solutions that they themselves have developed. These solutions have used resources that local, sustainable and accessible to them, transcending barriers that typify formal institutions.
But microcredit is more than just money and access to credit. As the contents of the website reflect, a broader perspective needs to be taken, emphasizing roles for local governments, NGOs, community development issues, and networking. Education and training, including the design of microcredit policies and programmes should also receive prominence. Of greater significance from a long term and broader view is the role and effect of microcredit on environmental problems and sustainable development. Supporting and inspiring these objectives with pertinant and timely information has been the key activity of the website.
The world's seven richest men could wipe out global poverty. Their combined wealth is more than enough to provide the basic needs of the poorest quarter of the world's people. According to the UN's 1997 Human Development Report (HDR), it would cost just $80 billion to provide access to basic social
services and income transfers to the poverty-stricken - less than the net wealth of these seven billionaires. In fact, the top ten billionaires have 1.5
times as much money as the combined national incomes of the 48 poorest countries, home to 10 % of the world's people.
- Anuradha Vittachi in OneWorld
Some of the keywords that have guided the development of the website include (and not restricted to) -
- Operational aspects:
- replication, scaling up, innovations and best practices, Capacity Building for Microfinance, micro-credit, community credit mobilization, informal credit markets, community participation, credit access for women, microenterprises;
- Organizational aspects:
- NGOs, community groups, people's organizations, self-help groups, credit unions, cooperatives, commercial banks, international NGOs/agencies;
- Regional specificity:
- low-income countries, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe.
1 Bouman, F.A.J. (1989), Small, Short and Unsecured - Informal Rural Finance in India. Oxford University Press. Delhi, Oxford, New York.