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A wave that started as early as 1970s, with the Kashf Foundation leading it now, microfinance is now firmly rooted in Pakistan; though, in still a small percentage as compared to the world. All over the world poverty is being hailed as a big issue affecting the less developed countries. With the advent of the Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan has been targeting poverty through various projects and poverty schemes. Microfinance has been seen as one of the leading poverty alleviation method in the scheme a wave of poverty alleviation programs both by the government, banks, and the private stakeholders in Pakistan.
Microfinance is considered an effective tool to fight poverty. It provides financial services to those who do not have access to or are neglected by the commercial banks and financial institutions; the services generally and mostly include savings and credit (Special Section 2: Role of Microcredit in Poverty Alleviation).
The following literature review gives an overview of an analysis on poverty and social impacts that have come about as a result of microfinance in Pakistan.
This literature review works on the hypothesis that microfinance effects poverty and social impacts positively.
Zahid Shahab has authored "Poverty alleviation through micro-credit  ". He writes the paper as an attempt to analyze the role of micro-credit in poverty alleviation. The indicators he looks at are monthly household income, monthly household savings and economic status before and after utilization of the credit. The study was conducted in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. A stratified sample of 80 microcredit beneficiaries was interviewed. These were the beneficiaries of the Urban Poverty Alleviation Project (UPAP).
The results of this statistical study revealed the following:
That microcredit had not been granted to the economically deprived population below the age of 20 years
That mostly the illiterate people (people not having passed Matric level) get credit because the illiterate people are the majority who struggles to fulfill their basic needs due to their economic deprivation
That most of the married people had taken the loan
That has enabled the borrowers to establish their own micro-enterprises - most of the borrowers were running home based income generating activities, such as; dairy, sewing, knitting, embroidery and beauticians
That the majority of the borrowers (75%) were regular in repaying their installments
That the credit caused increased their monthly household income after the credit utilization
That no significant change had occurred in the savings of micro-credit borrowers
However this study also shows that the micro-credit schemes mostly target the poor or the people who have some resources to fulfill their own requirements. The microcredit schemes thus target households' income by raising the income of the beneficiaries. However the microcredit schemes have failed for the extreme poor and destitute.
Zahid Shahab believes that microcredit is a better tool for poverty alleviation as it targets a broader group; with the right amount of capacity building of the beneficiaries, the program could be made more successful.
Haroon Jamal writes "Exploring the Impact of Microfinance in Pakistan" to discover the significance of the economic and social impact of microfinance schemes. His study evaluates the impact of microfinance programs on income, expenditure, child education and women empowerment.
For his study he uses 3,400 respondents from six microfinance institutions of Pakistan; the institutions are Orangi Charitable Trust (OCT) urban Sindh, Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Coordination Organization (SAFWCO) rural Sindh, KASHF urban, peri-urban Punjab, National Rural Support Program (NRSP), AKHUWAT urban Punjab, and ASASAH.
Control and Treatment groups were made for this study. The empirical results of the effect of microfinance suggest:
That microfinance helps in even out consumptions and, to some extent, generating income.
That there was a positive and significant impact on child school enrollment; most especially boys' enrollment
That microfinance does not seem to have a significant positive impact on women empowerment
Although positive impacts are seen on income and school enrollment, the author suggests that there is a role that microfinance can pay in women empowerment. He also cautions that each and every study differs in terms of its data set and methodology, so the impacts of microfinance are difficult to compare.
Alison Mathie writes "Lessons Learned from the Poverty Targeting Strategies Used by Micro-Finance Providers", to show how poverty alleviation and economic development is affected by the poverty targeting strategies done under the microfinance schemes. She looks at the research of poverty targeting strategies of 25 micro-finance providers around the world, and their poverty targeting strategies. She looks at how when developing a strategy, a combination of identifying the poor, reaching the poor, attracting the poor, and discouraging the non-poor, are factors to take into consideration.
In these 25 cases, she looks at how far the outreach of the microfinance schemes is, and what the impact of that reach is. She also stresses that the microfinance schemes work on the principle of reducing poverty through targeting the economically active of the poor and not the poorest of the poor. These economically active poor lie closely to either above or below the poverty line.
She identifies five elements of the poverty targeting strategies from among the 25 cases taken. These are as follows:
Ways of identifying the poor
Ways of reaching the poor
Ways of attracting the poor
Ways of excluding the non-poor
Ways of discouraging the non-poor
She then explains how three cases targeted poverty by using different methods and strategies. She identifies that the main objective of targeting is to provide their services to those in need. But this increasingly affects the costs of operation, the benefits of value added and the effectiveness of efforts then reflect through an analysis of the cost/benefits. Thus the design of the strategy is dependent on how the economic and social change is affected.
Nabeel Goheer writes "Micro Finance: A Prescription for Poverty and Plight of Women in Rural Pakistan" to show how microfinance has affected the rural women of Pakistan.
He writes that since the formal (government schemes) and informal (money lenders) institutions have failed to help poor overcome the vicious cycle of poverty; there is a need for an alternate credit institution to take up the slack, especially for the rural women. This, the author reflects, can be overcome by learning from the proven Group based lending of Grameen Bank.
The paper reflects how a money lending institution, i.e. a microfinance scheme, replicating the Grameen Bank, can positively affect the rural poor women of Pakistan.
Sulaiman D. Muhammad explains in his paper "Microfinance Challenges and Opportunities in Pakistan", how microfinance has the ability and chance of bringing growth of economy, women empowerment, increasing volume, accessibility and outreach, and economics of scope.
He explains the advantages that microfinance institutes face as compared to formal banking institutes, and the challenges they face within this context. He then explains how microfinance can affect the poor people of Pakistan, and how this sector it has the opportunity to grow.
He says that microfinance:
Plays a role in poverty alleviation
Has a positive impact on income and assets levels
Has a significant impact on health and social capital and ultimately on economy
Becomes an important tool for economic development of the country
Provides a good opportunity for commercial banks
Has the positive outcome for women i.e. providing access to financial services like MFIs, NGOs and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs)
He hails the role of microfinance in Pakistan as being positive and that the institutions have a chance to grow further. However he also mentions that microfinance programs can have limited impact on poverty and have to be designed within the Pakistani context.
Shahnaz A. Rauf and Tahir Mahmood write in "Growth and performance of microfinance in Pakistan", about how a growth strategy adopted by the microfinance sector effect the microfinance institutions and hence its outreach and poverty alleviation.
He believes that microfinance's mission is to provide outreach for poverty alleviation. This he says is the social objective of microfinance, but one that is moving away from the social objective to an economic one. This move he emphasizes is due to the donor agenda on which the microfinance institutions of Pakistan are dependent, as they do not have sufficient funds themselves for effective outreach.
He goes on to explain that microfinance has been in place since the 1970s with the establishment of Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP) later named as Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), giving subsidized rural credit to rural farmers. This was followed by several other institutions and government policies and programmes.
He goes on to explain that the literature claims that if microfinance is going to be successful in its social objective, it would have to be subsidized. Intensive growth strategies would be needed to make the sector cost effective and sustainable.
The methodology used in this paper is on a theoretical model of six dimensions of outreach. These include:
Breadth of outreach
Depth of outreach
Scope of outreach
Worth or value of financial services
Cost of outreach
Length of outreach
His methodology measures outreach and financial performance and productivity of microfinance.
His results show that microfinance as a sector has grown; though this is again debatable in terms of outreach as the sector is heavily subsidized, and sells similar products, belonging mostly to established institutions. This makes the financial structure of the institutions weak.
Hence although the microfinance sector has grown extensively (through more expansion and making networks) and has made progress in various indicators of outreach and performance, but still the breadth, depth and scope of outreach without the subsidies is not possible; as is similar with financial sustainability of the institutions.
Arif (2006) in "Targeting Efficiency of Poverty Reduction Programs in Pakistan" talks about three major poverty reduction programs that are being used in Pakistan to help poverty reduction, namely: Microfinance, Zakat and the Lady Health Workers Program. He is of the point of view that microfinance and zakat can be transferred directly to the poor and have the ability to identify the poor where as the Lady Health Workers Program was focusing on the health of the poor rather than catering to the financial issues of the poor. Various sources were used for the data and according to the finding further analysis were conducted. The primary source of data was through surveys that included; Pakistan Integrated Household Survey and Pakistan Socio economic survey.
In his view Zakat is a way to reach the poor directly but unfortunately the amount of Zakat was not sufficient enough for the existing poor thus majority of the poor was deprived of its benefits. Whereas it was observed that the income of the poor was improved by taking the credit or through microfinance and thus was analyzed that it had an overall positive impact. Microfinance came as a blessing for the poor as it was easier and convenient to repay the loans. But it was also concluded that these poverty reduction programs were unable to cater to the poorest household as there was no fixed criteria to estimate the intensity of the poor.
Sherazi and Khan (2009) explains in this paper "Role of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation
Fund's Micro Credit in Poverty Alleviation" that every society wants to get rid of the poverty which is mainly prevailing in the developing countries and unfortunately Pakistan is one of them. Thus Government of Pakistan is playing a vital role to alleviate poverty through the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund. As the major problem that Pakistan facing is poverty the fund is actually working with the organizations that have a better outreach program for targeting the poor of the country. The fund was formed to reach the poor effectively with the help of NGO's and the Community Based Organizations. The PPAF is analyzing and evaluating its poverty reduction programs on frequent basis. And to monitor its programs its research department conducts the surveys and then evaluates the performance of the programs respectively.
A survey was conducted by the Gallup Pakistan (2005) to collect the data for this study and round about 3000 households were sampled. It was concluded from the results that the economic status of the borrowers were improved to a certain extent but micro credit did not had a positive impact on the extremely poor. It was also argued that PPAF has to increase its outreach in order to help the extremely poor as well.
Hussein and Hussain (2003) states in "The Impact of Micro Finance on Poverty and Gender Equity Approaches and Evidence from Pakistan" that the requirements and dependence on microfinance is being increasing with time, to alleviate poverty in Pakistan. Government of Pakistan is playing a vital role in bringing the awareness to the poor with the help of its poverty reduction programs. It has been argued that micro financing through the PPAF and Khushali Bank will help in the overall reduction of poverty.
She focuses in this paper on the Rural Support Programs and their impacts in Pakistan through applying different approaches. No empirical study was conducted in order to analyze the status of the borrowers but different approached used by various micro finance practitioners of Pakistan were analyzed.
She also pointed out that the role of micro finance in Pakistan is to provide easy loans to the poor by providing them with easy credit. It was also analyzed that there is a vast demand for micro financing and its benefits are being recognized by almost everyone thus increasing its demand. Microfinance began for providing credit to the poor especially the women. In Pakistan it this industry is growing rapidly as the repayment of loans is flexible and easier and as small amount of loans are being granted.
To conclude she points out that no doubt poverty is being reduced with the emergence of micro finance sector but the impact of the programs that are working for the reduction of poverty cannot be effectively and efficiently measured. This is the case as micro finance is a new phenomenon thus the research conducted by the micro finance practitioners is relatively new and to analyze the impact there is a dire need for more empirical research and time as well. Thus to sum up it is too soon to look for impacts of micro finance and whatever methodology is used to gauge the impact will eventually be criticized.
Special Section 2 (2005) states in "Role of Microcredit in Poverty Alleviation" that microfinance is very important is the reduction of poverty. It main features that are being discussed in this section are that the credit is available to the poor easily with less documentation requirements, without the collateral, flexible and easy repayment facilities are given to the poor and the process is overall not complicated unlike commercial banks or other institutions. Microfinance is wholly catering to the poor class thus is working on
The hypothesis under question wants to prove that microfinance has positive impacts. This fact is supported by all the authors irrefutably. They all agree that poverty alleviation is a positive impact of microfinance; albeit to varying degrees.
Zahid Shahab argues that microfinance in Pakistan has affected poverty by responding to a wide target group; the result is shown by an increase in the income of the borrowers. This group however includes those poor who are economically active and on, above or below the poverty line; indeed according to him micro credit schemes have failed to help the extreme poor due to the reasons that they are potential credit risks, and that they do not approach credit schemes themselves - self screening. Haroon Jamal also emphasizes similar impact on poverty i.e. an increase in the income of the credit borrowers. Sulaiman D. Muhammad similarly agrees on the fact that microfinance has an effect on poverty alleviation through an increase in the income of people involved. Shahnaz A. Rauf and Tahir Mahmood make poverty alleviation a social impact of microfinance, hence agreeing with the hypothesis that microfinance does affect poverty positively. Alison Mathie also agrees to the fact that yes the poverty is effected through the microfinance programs.
Another facet that the authors agree upon are the social impacts of microfinance and its institutions. These are defined broadly under and as:
Increased employment - mostly self employment
Economic development - increased economic status
Positive school enrollment - most especially children
Positive health impacts
Increased outreach through various branches and people
The studies differentiate in the methodologies used. Some impacts are also exclusive to studies, other than the above effects.
Zahid Shahab uses indicators such as monthly household income and monthly household savings of a small sample of the beneficiaries of the Urban Poverty Alleviation Project (UPAP). The indicators show that mostly married people apply for loans and they are somewhat economically independent; the loan is not given to people under 20 years of age. His study shows no impact on the savings of the borrowers because the loan was used, according to the author as expenditures on the education and marriages of the children, to improve home conditions, and in expenses on self, such as food and clothing.
Haroon Jamal uses six major microfinance institutions and 3,400 respondents for his study. The main differentiating point of his study is that he believes that microfinance could possibly have an impact on women empowerment, though his own study shows no significant impact on it. He also believes that although income of the borrower is affected positively, his reason to that is the fact that the consumption of the borrower evens out due to the loan.
Alison Mathie's study differs from others with its data set and indicators. She studies the poverty targeting strategies of 25 different programs in different countries. She studies their strategies and how they affect poverty and economic development through the different strategies. She also comments on the outreach of the program, if they are doing what they are meant to. Cost effectiveness of the programs is also commented upon as she says that outreach effects the costs of operation and increases it.
Sulaiman D. Muhammad' study is differentiated by the fact that he gives voice to women empowerment through the reality of an increased access to financial services like MFIs, NGOs and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs). He gives positive impact on health and economic development of the borrowers. His study also differentiates by providing reasons that microfinance institutions can be more successful in the Pakistani context if they have an opportunity to grow effectively.
Shahnaz A. Rauf and Tahir Mahmood make poverty a social impact of microfinance. They talk about how financially sustainable the institutions are and what if any is the outreach. His indicators also differ as being breadth of outreach, depth of outreach, scope of outreach, worth or value of financial services, cost of outreach, and length of outreach. According to the paper the first four indicators provide an approximation of the extent and pattern of growth in terms of breadth, depth, scope and worth of outreach of an institution. The other two dimensions of outreach involve cost and length of outreach, i.e. the financial performance, efficiency and productivity of a microfinance institution. His conclusions indicate that outreach has increased due to the fact that more branches have been set up, but the agenda behind it indicates not financial sustainability but the donor agenda.
Nabeel Goheer is the only author presented in this paper who talks about how the need for microfinance institutions has been established especially since the formal and informal institutions of credit and loan have failed in Pakistan. His paper gives the importance of the presence of the microfinance institutions and he also agrees to the fact that microfinance will have an impact on poverty, especially a positive impact on rural women - again mentioning women empowerment to an extent.
The literature review thus shows that microfinance has some positive impacts on poverty and along with that certain social impacts as well. The social impacts all vary on the data sets, methodologies, indicators, and the hypothesis of the authors. As all the measures in each study differ, as do the methodologies used to measure the impacts of microfinance, so one cannot really compare the impacts that easily. The general agreement of all the authors and data, is that poverty is positively affected and the social impacts that are a result of microfinance include a positive impact on employment i.e. more employment opportunities, with more advantages for women, economic development, and a positive effect on child education of the micro financed households.