A field in flux
Financial access for poor and low-income clients has expanded dramatically over the last four decades. This chapter provides an overview of the microfinance landscape and highlights key debates within the field. The market structure is shifting, with organizations increasingly accessing commercial funding. Some geographic markets have overheated, producing substantial criticism. Recent impact evaluations are raising questions about what microfinance actually can and should attempt to achieve. Even the basic offering is being rethought in terms of products and services that may better suit the needs of the poor. This changing landscape is placed in its historical context, noting key predecessors and how the microfinance movement began and grew to its present form. Contrasting perspectives are structured around three ongoing debates: the critical features of modern microfinance, the appropriate role of commercialization, and the assessment of microfinance’s impact. The chapter concludes with implications for the broader field of social finance.
Keywords: microfinance, microcredit, commercial funding, market structure, impact assessment, randomized controlled trials, product offering, economic development, poverty alleviation, financial inclusion
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