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People’s views and experiences of participating in microfinance programmes: A systematic review of qualitative evidence

What do we want to know?

This qualitative systematic review aimed to develop a greater understanding of peoples’ experiences of participating in microfinance programmes in South Asia; their motivations for participation, their motivations for non-participation, and the views and attitudes of other household and community members toward those who participate.

Who wants to know and why?

This systematic review provides stakeholders, including policy makers, practitioners, and researchers, with a clear picture of how people experience microfinance participation, and the meanings of this participation for individuals, families, and communities. An in-depth focus on the South Asia context was needed to explore opportunities in, and possible challenges to, designing and implementing microfinance programmes in this context. Developing an in-depth understanding of people’s experiences of their involvement in microfinance interventions is necessary to identify issues that might influence the delivery and impact of microfinance in South Asia.

What did we find?

Nineteen studies were included that contained qualitative evidence on beneficiaries’ experiences of the perceived or apparent benefits/negative consequences of participating in microfinance programmes in South Asia, their motivations for participation, their motivations for non-participation and/or data around the views and attitudes of other household and community members toward those who participate.

Studies were conducted in India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan with mainly women beneficiaries and reported upon beneficiaries’ experiences of participating in a range of microfinance programmes. Microcredit was the most common model offered and was delivered in the majority of studies using group-lending and self-help group models. In some studies, microcredit was offered along with additional programme elements such as educational, skills and/or training components. Microsavings, group microsavings, and microinsurance were also offered in a small number of included studies.

The evidence included in this systematic review is deeply contextual and based upon the often unique experiences of individuals embedded within distinct local communities and cultures. Peoples’ experiences of microfinance are complex in nature and the pathways to different experiences are a nuanced interplay between the characteristics of beneficiaries, families, communities, providers, and programmes as well as the characteristics of their social, economic, cultural, and religious contexts.

What are the conclusions?

Beneficiaries of microfinance programmes in South Asia experience a range of positive and negative consequences as a result of participation. Many of these experiences can be understood as constituted by three interrelated areas: empowerment; social and personal impact; and financial and economic impact. Household and community attitudes and beliefs contribute to how beneficiaries experience microfinance programme participation within these three areas. Ultimately, it appears that the interplay between beneficiaries’ positive and negative experiences and the views of other household and community members is an important factor for how beneficiaries decide to initiate, continue or terminate their microfinance programme participation.
Positive experiences of microfinance appear to be based upon three fundamental principles:

  • Microfinance should enable the most vulnerable to become co-contributors to their family and community where empowerment is intrinsic to the positive experiences of women in particular.
  • Microfinance programmes should aim to include strategies that assist beneficiaries to develop social capital through the development of relevant skills and knowledge.
  • Financial and economic management experience is cumulative, and has a key role in improving beneficiaries’ self-confidence, their households’ level of support, and positive wider community sentiment.

Without the integration of these themes, beneficiaries may be more vulnerable to negative experiences and outcomes such as loss of family/community support or social status.

How did we get these results?

Based upon an a-priori protocol, a comprehensive and systematic search of the international literature was conducted. Bibliographic databases and websites relevant to microfinance were searched. The reference lists of the final set of included studies as well as the reference lists of identified key papers and systematic reviews were also searched. A total of 20 relevant papers (19 studies) that included qualitative evidence which met the inclusion criteria were included. These papers were critically appraised by two independent reviewers. Qualitative data were extracted and were subjected to a thematic narrative synthesis underpinned by a framework based upon the review’s focus questions.

This review should be cited as: Peters MDJ, Lockwood C, Munn Z, Moola S, Mishra RK (2016) People’s views and experiences of participating in microfinance interventions: A systematic review of qualitative evidence. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London. ISBN: 978-1-907345-87-6

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