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Microfinance vs. Loan-Sharking

For those of you, like me, who weren’t able to make it to the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City last month, I wanted to draw your attention to a great debate about microfinance.

Below is a video — “Profiting from the Poor?” — in which Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of microfinance, challenges his former protege and the founder of SKS Microfinance, Vikram Akula.

As described in the above post, SKS, one of the world’s largest microfinance organizations, in 2005 changed from being a non-profit to operating as a for-profit, and recently went public with an IPO, seeking shareholders. Vikram argues that this is the best way to expand access to microfinance worldwide.

Yunus thinks too much focus on shareholder profit risks “mission shift” — turning microfinance from an anti-poverty scheme into just another profit-oriented “loan-sharking” scheme preying upon the poor.

If you want to enrich shareholders rather than put the surplus back toward funding the poor, Yunus says don’t call it “microfinance.”

Literally in the middle of the debate is Mary Ellen Iskenderian, head of Women’s World Banking.

The debate is very entertainingly moderated by the co-host of NPR’s Planet Money, Adam Davidson.

Watch live streaming video from cgi_plenary at

About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.