Microlending came to the forefront of the world stage in 2006, when Muhammad Yunus shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the microlending organization he founded in Bangladesh, Grameen Bank. That company alone has lent money to more than 7.6 million people around the world.
Microlending may start small, but it is big business now: worldwide, it is among the fastest-growing lending segments. In the U.S. microlending has been alive and well since 1986, when then-governor Bill Clinton invited Mr. Yunus to introduce Arkansas banks to the concept; the result was the Southern Good Faith Fund, a division of Southern Bancorp designed to assist low-income residents in starting a business, going to college, or buying a house.
Not only is microlending a growing business, it’s a profitable one. For most microlenders, nonperforming loans amount to less than 1 percent of total loans. And according to research by Deutsche Bank, the global demand for microfinance loans is about $250 billion, or about 10 times the amount that has already been lent.
The microlenders that create the greatest economic success among their customers are generally those that create borrower/lender communities, in which borrowers meet weekly to discuss their businesses and make a small payment on their loans. In some communities, if one member cannot make a payment, the rest of the group must make up the difference—creating peer pressure to stay current. In the U.S., the Small Business Administration’s microloan program provides pre-loan training for budding new business ventures and offers the services of mentors—retired businesspeople who can help small enterprises succeed. Non-financial businesses are getting into the microlending business as well—eBay has a microlending site, MicroPlace.org, and Whole Foods Market’s Whole Planet Foundation collected more than $1 million in donations from shoppers to use in the microlending programs it supports. Kiva.org provides a method of connecting individual lenders and borrowers for loans as small as $25.
Microlending is yet another way that your organization can meet the needs of the huge unbanked and underbanked population. Are you microlending yet?