Unitus gets Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Grant to Study Results of Microfinance
From Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) by Clay Holtzman. September 4, 2009.
A Seattle microfinance organization is launching a project to measure how microloans and other services improve the lives of borrowers under a grant provided by the founder of Dell computers.
Unitus, which works to broaden access to microfinance by helping providers in the developing world grow, will survey 60,000 of its partners’ clients in India and other countries. Data will show whether microloans have improved lives, and will also help shape future such practices and products including loans, insurance and even mortgages.
Microloans are small amounts of money provided to people for starting or operating small businesses, mostly in developing countries. A seamstress, for example, could add a new sewing machine.
The project, which Unitus says is the largest of its kind, is being funded with a $756,000 grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Austin-based family philanthropy started by the founder of Dell Inc. The foundation has granted about $15 million to microfinance initiatives.
“As the microfinance sector continues to grow, thanks largely to profit-driven investors, the industry needs to better understand its impact and how it can better serve customers”, said Richard Wardell, vice president of global programs at Unitus.
“There are as many different approaches as there are microfinance institutions. It would be naive to assume that every single one of those approaches delivers the same amount of social benefit to the borrowers,” Wardell said. “Any business needs to invest in understanding its customers.”
Under the project’s initial phase, Unitus will recruit 10 of its microfinance partners, most of which will be in India, to survey 6,000 client borrowers apiece. Afterward, the Seattle nonprofit will help some of those groups to incorporate findings into their permanent operations, a process known as social performance management.
Unitus says it will use existing surveys and methodologies specifically developed for the microfinance industry to collect data from clients. Information collected through the project will be shared with the microfinance industry, Wardell said.
Unitus works with 24 microfinance institutions in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America, providing capital and strategic business advisory services.