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On Mission Drift In Microfinance Institutions

  • Beatriz Armendariz
  • Ariane Szafarz

This paper sheds light on a poorly understood phenomenon in microfinance which is often referred to as a “mission drift”: A tendency reviewed by numerous microfinance institutions to extend larger average loan sizes in the process of scaling–up. We argue that this phenomenon is not driven by transaction cost minimization alone. Instead, poverty–oriented microfinance institutions could potentially deviate from their mission by extending larger loan sizes neither because of “progressive lending” nor because of “cross–subsidization” but because of the interplay between their own mission, the cost differentials between poor and unbanked wealthier clients, and region-specific characteristics pertaining the heterogeneity of their clientele. In a simple one-period framework we pin-down the conditions under which mission drift can emerge. Our framework shows that there is a thin line between mission drift and cross-subsidization, which in turn makes it difficult for empirical researchers to establish whether a microfinance institution has deviated from its poverty-reduction mission. This paper also suggests that institutions operating in regions which host a relatively small number of very poor individuals might be misleadingly perceived as deviating from their mission. Because existing empirical studies cannot tear apart between mission drift and cross-subsidization, these studies should not guide donors and socially responsible investors pertaining resource allocation across institutions offering financial services to the poor. The difficulty in tearing apart cross-subsidization and mission drift is discussed in light of the contrasting experiences between microfinance institutions operating in Latin America and South Asia.

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Paper provided by ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles in its series Working Papers CEB with number 09-015.RS.

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Length: 30 p.
Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published by:
Handle: RePEc:sol:wpaper:09-015
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  1. Arvind Ashta & Marek Hudon, 2009. "To whom should we be fair? Ethical issues in Balancing Stakeholder Interests from Banco Compartamos Case Study," Working Papers CEB 09-036.RS, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  2. Banerjee, Abhijit V & Besley, Timothy & Guinnane, Timothy W, 1994. "Thy Neighbor's Keeper: The Design of a Credit Cooperative with Theory and a Test," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(2), pages 491-515, May.
  3. Ghatak, Maitreesh, 1999. "Group lending, local information and peer selection," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 27-50, October.
  4. Dewatripont, Mathias & Jewitt, Ian & Tirole, Jean, 1999. "The Economics of Career Concerns, Part II: Application to Missions and Accountability of Government Agencies," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(1), pages 199-217, January.
  5. Alexander Tedeschi, Gwendolyn, 2006. "Here today, gone tomorrow: Can dynamic incentives make microfinance more flexible?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 84-105, June.
  6. Beatriz Armendariz & Jonathan Morduch, 2007. "The Economics of Microfinance," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262512017, June.
  7. Cull, Robert & Demirguc-Kunt, Asli & Morduch, Jonathan, 2006. "Financial performance and outreach : a global analysis of leading microbanks," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3827, The World Bank.
  8. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1995. "Group lending, repayment incentives and social collateral," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-18, February.
  9. de Aghion, Beatriz Armendariz & Gollier, Christian, 2000. "Peer Group Formation in an Adverse Selection Model," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(465), pages 632-43, July.
  10. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1990. "Peer Monitoring and Credit Markets," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 4(3), pages 351-66, September.
  11. Gonzalez-Vega, Claudio & Schreiner, Mark & Meyer, Richard L. & Rodriguez-Meza, Jorge & Navajas, Sergio, 1996. "Bancosol: The Challenge Of Growth For Microfinance Organizations," Economics and Sociology Occasional Papers 28333, Ohio State University, Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.
  12. McIntosh, Craig & Wydick, Bruce, 2005. "Competition and microfinance," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 271-298, December.
  13. Ghatak, Maitreesh, 2000. "Screening by the Company You Keep: Joint Liability Lending and the Peer Selection Effect," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(465), pages 601-31, July.
  14. Copestake, James, 2007. "Mainstreaming Microfinance: Social Performance Management or Mission Drift?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(10), pages 1721-1738, October.
  15. Conning, Jonathan, 1999. "Outreach, sustainability and leverage in monitored and peer-monitored lending," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 51-77, October.
  16. Kumar Aniket, 2007. "Does Subsidising the Cost of Capital Help the Poorest? An Analysis of Saving Opportunities in Group Lending," ESE Discussion Papers 140, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  17. Mark Schreiner, 2001. "Seven Aspects of Loan Size," Development and Comp Systems 0109001, EconWPA.
  18. Jain, Sanjay & Mansuri, Ghazala, 2003. "A little at a time: the use of regularly scheduled repayments in microfinance programs," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 253-279, October.
  19. Armendariz de Aghion, Beatriz, 1999. "On the design of a credit agreement with peer monitoring," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 79-104, October.
  20. Mark Schreiner, 2002. "Aspects of outreach: a framework for discussion of the social benefits of microfinance," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(5), pages 591-603.
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