Posts Tagged ‘Aspen Institute’

What’s the ROI in U.S. Microfinance?

posted: 2011-05-20 @ 1:16 pm EDT

By: Elaine Edgcomb, FIELD at the Aspen Institute (Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination)

While client stories bring poverty alleviation strategies to life and display the human element and connections to an individual program’s work, data is required to document the overall outcomes and impact of microfinance.  One panel at the conference will report on emerging research from developing world impact studies that raise a set of questions for those engaged in the international field.  In the United States, impact studies are few. In fact, one of the most well-known dates back to the 1980’s and looks at the effects on unemployed insurance recipients allowed Elaine Edgcombto apply their benefits to business creation compared to those not provided that option. (The results are complicated but the headline is that there was a statistically-significant, favorable difference in one state and a non-statistically significant favorable difference in the other. The states used different models.)

Since then, the majority of U.S. research has focused on outcomes research that offers a pre-and post-comparison of client status on a range of measures. Many of these studies are done by practitioners using protocols, training and tools offered by MicroTest, a suite of products offered by the Aspen Institute to help programs assess their performance. Akin to past USAID-sponsored work to help practitioners evaluate their efforts for program improvement, these studies have also been used to provide accountability to donors and other stakeholders, and when aggregated  give a strong picture of what clients are reporting after participating in microenterprise development services.  It is work like this that has served as the base for return on investment calculations, which will be discussed in the panel on ROI at Microfinance USA. We’ll both be exploring different models of measuring ROI in U.S. microfinance, summarizing their results and discussing the issues they raise.

As participants to the session will learn, there is no one definitive model, nor definitive results. Yet the findings are intriguing in many ways. Participants will  hear about ROI from three different perspectives—from a practitioner, a funder, and an intermediary in the industry.  The practitioner perspective will be offered by ACCION New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, which commissioned an economic impact analysis that estimates microloan impact on overall economic activity, with indicators that focus on the economic multiplier effects of loans invested in enterprises.  The funder perspective comes from Robin Hood, which has developed a model to enable it to compare the results from microfinance investments to those from other poverty alleviation strategies the foundation supports.  The model has ten components focused on both short- and long-term benefits. The final approach is ours, drawn from our MicroTest approach—where we’ve looked at a range of programs relating their reported costs to a few key outcomes such as improvements in client income, job creation, and contributions to state revenues.  We hope to take this work one step further as we collect more data through a newly emerging interactive data website called

Given the changing donor environment and the competition for funding with other poverty alleviation strategies, illustrating solid data and ROI could prove ever more critical in the years ahead. Join us at the session and take part in the conversation.

Elaine Edgcomb has been the Director of FIELD at the Aspen Institute since 1998. She is also the author and editor of works on evaluation practice, institutional development, financial analysis, and on microenterprise strategies implemented both internationally and in the United States.

What’s Happening Domestically in the For-Profit Microlending Space?

posted: 2011-05-19 @ 1:09 pm EDT

By: Luz Gomez, consultant for FIELD at the Aspen Institute (Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination)

Luz GomezThe debate around the happenings in India among for-profit microfinance institutions (MFIs) has been raging for months now. Clearly the scope and scale of problems linked to a few unethical actors made the world stop and take notice. But, what does the picture look like domestically? Certainly, the context and market, as well as the players are different, but some of the questions are the same.

We’re looking forward to seeing those questions explored in the upcoming panel at Microfinance USA, Balancing Act: Mission, Profit, and Impact in Microfinance, which brings together a variety of perspectives on the topic from international MFI’s like Compartamos that have gone the for-profit route in Mexico, to Opportunity Fund’s recent experience partnering with a company in Southern California.

FIELD recently released a white paper,“A Newly Crowded Marketplace: How For-profit Lenders are Serving Microentrepreneurs”,where we begin to describe the landscape of for-profit microlenders in the U.S. It looks at several emerging for-profit companies that are not only serving microenterprises but that also were growing their portfolios significantly during the recession.

Much of the way the debate has been framed internationally paints the issue as black-and-white, suggesting that for-profit and non-profit models represent competing visions of microfinance. Yet, like many debates set up in such a schematic, this one also contradicts the complexity and nuance of particular market contexts. Although this white paper provides just a brief introduction to U.S. experience,  it explores questions such as: What’s the implication of a for-profit mission on target markets, pricing and customer service? How are these companies positioning themselves? What enables them to scale rapidly? Are these initiatives competitors to mission-driven nonprofits?  Or, could there be opportunities at collaboration between the sectors?  We look forward to learning in what I’m sure will be a lively discussion.

Luz Gomez works as a consultant with FIELD at the Aspen Institute and has been engaged in U.S. microenterprise for over 11 years.

Session Summary: Funding U.S. Microenterprise: Why Now?

posted: 2010-05-26 @ 6:20 pm EDT

By Joyce Klein, “Funding U.S. Microfinance: Why Now?” panelist

Many of those who gathered in San Francisco last week wondered why there was a donors-only session on the agenda.  While the session organizers (the Microenterprise Funders Group and Silicon Valley Community Foundation) well understand the attraction of being in a room full of donors and investors, we also know through our work in donor education that there are some issues and questions that donors can discuss more freely when only their funding colleagues are in the room – questions such as:  What directions are you thinking to move in with your grant-making?  How do you evaluate the budgets your grantees are presenting?  How do you interest your trustees in this issue?

The group of donors and investors that gathered for this session reflected the diversity of those who support microenterprise in the United States:  individuals engaged in giving circles, family foundations, city government, financial institutions, regional and national foundations.  As we had hoped, some in the room were long-time funders of U.S. microenterprise programs, and some are just considering whether and how to support this work in the United States.  And while some are providing grant support, others are providing investment capital.

I started the session by providing some basic information about the U.S. microenterprise field, some of which was based on the results from FIELD’s recent field-wide survey.  Amanda Feinstein described the Walter and Elise Haas Fund’s support for microenterprise development; the Fund has been supporting a number of Bay Area programs for several years as part of its economic security program.  Ash McNeely then shared her recent experience in educating herself and her trustees about microenterprise development, as part of the Sand Hill Foundation’s recent entry into the field.

We then moved into a lively discussion about some of the questions and challenges faced by donors, such as:  Are you expecting the microenterprise lenders you fund to become self-sufficient?  How do you evaluate the costs and cost structures of the organizations you fund?  What size grants and investments are you making? What’s more important – providing general operating funds or support innovation? To stay true to the intent of the session, I won’t share the answers here.  But it was clear that the funders in the room valued hearing each others’ experiences and perspectives, and we look forward to continuing these conversations with donors, both new and established.

Joyce Klein is a senior consultant to the FIELD program of the Aspen Institute, which staffs the Microenterprise Funders Group.