IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

The triangle of microfinance

Listed author(s):
  • Zeller, Manfred
  • Meyer, Richard L.

The initial success of microfinance programs in the 1970s led pioneers to think that many essential problems of the poor might be resolved by access to credit alone the ability to acquire assets, to start businesses, to finance emergency needs and to insure against illness and disaster. Part of that vision has certainly been realized. But much remains to be done. Most microfinance institutions (MFIs) are still small and vulnerable to constraints on their resources and to the risks inherent in single-issue portfolios. Most depend upon donors and governments to remain in operation. There is much waste and duplication, and some mature programs have declining loan recovery rates, even as competition for borrowers rises from conventional banks and finance companies. Analyzing the failures of credit programs aimed at small farmers and the successes of other programs showed the need for new understanding of the ways that poor households make spending, borrowing, and saving decisions. This area was previously neglected in policymaking on food security issues. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) supported household surveys in nine Asian and African countries during the 1990s that analyzed formal and informal financial transactions, and it also evaluated the success of innovative approaches at some MFIs. The overall goal was to clarify the conditions under which state investment in microfinance programs might improve life for poor people more than state investment of the same funds in education, health, nutrition, or infrastructure development. The research led to the concept of the "critical triangle of microfinance" the need for any MFI to manage simultaneously the problems of outreach (reaching the poor both in terms of numbers and depth of poverty), financial sustainability (meeting operating and financial costs over the long term), and impact (having discernible effect upon clients' quality of life). This book elaborates on these objectives and shows that the most successful MFIs expand all sides of that triangle. Tradeoffs are sometimes inevitable, but even so, synergies among the three make the concept valuable from Author's Abstract.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in its series Food policy statements with number 40.

in new window

Date of creation: 2002
Handle: RePEc:fpr:fpstat:40
Contact details of provider: Postal:
1201 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005-3915

Phone: 202-862-5600
Fax: 202-467-4439
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fpr:fpstat:40. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.