Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor

Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor


View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days


Very little solid evidence exists that microloans make a dent in long-term poverty. Sadly, evidence does exist for negligence, corruption, and methods that border on extortion. Part exposé, part memoir, and part financial detective story, this is the account of a one-time true believer whose decade in the industry turned him into a heretic.

Hugh Sinclair worked with several microfinance institutions around the world. He couldn’t help but notice that even with a booming $70 billion industry on their side, the poor didn’t seem any better off. Exorbitant interest rates led borrowers into never-ending debt spirals, and aggressive collection practices resulted in cases of forced prostitution, child labor, suicide, and nationwide revolts against the microfinance community.

Sinclair weaves a shocking tale of a system increasingly focused on maximizing profits—particularly once large banks got involved. He details his discovery of several scandals, one of the most disturbing involving a large African microfinance institution of questionable legality that charged interest rates in excess of 100 percent per year and whose investors and supporters included some of the most celebrated leaders of the microfinance sector. Sinclair’s objections were first met with silence, then threats, attempted bribery, and a court case, and eventually led him to become a principal whistleblower in a sector that had lost its soul.

Microfinance can work—Sinclair describes moving experiences with several ethical and effective organizations and explains what made them different. But without the fundamental reforms that Sinclair recommends here, microfinance will remain an “investment opportunity” that will leave the poor with hollow promises and empty pockets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609945183
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 07/09/2012
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Hugh Sinclair has worked in microfinance with numerous global organizations, banks, and funds for over a decade. He currently consults on microfinance strategy and portfolio management. Previously, he worked in traditional finance at ING Barings, CDC Capital Partners, and BZW Securities—now Barclays Capital. Sinclair holds a master’s degree in international and corporate finance from the University of Durham and a master of business administration from IESE Business School.

Among his accomplishments are being the first to deliver a Harvard Business School case study in Mongolian and achieving the Guinness World Record for the fastest motorcycle tour from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the tip of South America. He speaks frequently at business schools and microfinance conferences.

Read an Excerpt



Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2001 Brian Tracy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60994-518-3

Chapter One

Make Selection Your Top Priority

The selection process is the key to your success and to the success of your company. Nothing is more important to your future than your ability to select the right people to work with you to make that future a reality. A mistake in selection, in itself, can lead to underachievement and failure in a critical area and often to the failure of the entire organization.

The first Law of Management concerns selection. Fully 95 percent of the success of any enterprise is determined by the people chosen to work in that enterprise in the first place. If you get this right, everything else will usually work out all right as well. If you select the wrong people, nothing else will work.

The rule is that if you select in haste, you will repent at leisure. Many of your worst problems in business will come from having hired a person too quickly. Once the person has started the job and turns out to be inappropriate, you then have to spend considerable time, energy, and emotion justifying your decision and dealing with the difficulties of having the wrong person in place.

One of the rules for good hiring is this: "Hire slowly and fire fast." Take your time to make the right decision prior to hiring in the first place. But if it becomes clear that you have made a mistake, move quickly to reassign or get rid of the person before he or she does any more harm.

I have hired someone on a Monday and fired him on Tuesday, as soon as it became clear that I had made a mistake. Remember, people always look the very best during the first job interview. They will say or promise almost anything to get hired in the first place, but as soon as you give them an actual job to do, they often turn out to be very different from what you expected or from what they led you to expect.

The very best time to fire a person is the first time the thought crosses your mind. If you have made a poor selection decision, don't compound the mistake by keeping the wrong person in that job. Have the courage and common sense to admit that you have made a mistake, correct the mistake, and get on with the business of running an efficient, effective workforce.

Hiring is an art. It cannot be rushed. It requires focus, concentration, and unbroken thought. You must take your time if you really want to hire well. All personnel decisions require a good deal of reflection before you make them. Fast hiring decisions usually turn out to be wrong hiring decisions.

A successful manager, a man with a great reputation for having hired many of the top people in his company, told me that he had a simple rule for hiring anyone: Once he had decided upon the candidate, he waited thirty days before he made an offer. He found that the very act of delaying a hiring decision made it a vastly better decision when he finally made it.

This might be a totally inappropriate strategy for you, or for a job candidate, in a dynamic marketplace. Nonetheless, the basic principle of going slow whenever you can is solid and irrefutable. It will greatly increase your overall success rate in hiring.

As a manager, your natural tendency is to hire a person as a solution to a problem, to fill a hole in the lineup, or to do a job that suddenly needs to be done. This is like grabbing a bucket of water and throwing it on a fire. Sometimes, however, if you are not careful, the bucket can turn out to be full of gasoline, and the situation you create can be worse than the situation you are trying to correct.

Ask yourself, honestly, have you ever hired a person quickly with little thought? How often have you had problems as a result? There is nothing wrong with making a mistake as long as you learn from the mistake and do not repeat it. It is true that occasionally you will make a good quick hiring decision, and it will work out well. But this is like a miracle, and as Peter Drucker once wrote, "It is not that miracles don't happen; it is just that you cannot depend upon them."

Poor selection is very expensive. Experts in the field of personnel placement estimate that a wrong hire costs a company three to six times a person's annual compensation. This means that if you hire a person for $50,000 a year and the person does not work out, the overall cost to you and your company can be between $150,000 and $300,000.

What are these costs? First of all, there is your lost time, the time that you spend interviewing, hiring, and training the person to get him or her up to speed. There is also the lost time of all the other people who are involved in the hiring process, both inside and outside your organization. When you calculate the hourly rates of these people and add the costs of the work not getting done while the wrong person is being selected, trained, placed, managed, supervised, and eventually fired—with all the attendant costs of separating him or her from the company—the direct and indirect costs can be heartbreaking.

Second, there is your lost money, the actual cost of the salary, benefits, and training expenses of the person who eventually doesn't work out. You may even have considerable costs for advertising or placement fees to an outside agency. All this money is wasted in that your company receives no return on investment in terms of actual work performed and results generated. The money is gone forever.

Finally, there is your lost productivity while you are busy finding a replacement for the person whom you shouldn't have hired in the first place. In addition, your own personal time, emotion, and energy have been wasted on an activity that actually has had a detrimental effect on your company.

There is also the lost time and productivity of the various people in your organization who get together and talk about the mis-hire. They rehash what happened and feed the rumor mill. Often, they become demoralized when they see people being hired and fired around them and wonder if they might be next. Their productivity suffers as a result.

Companies with high levels of turnover always underperform their better-managed competitors. In fact, high levels of staff turnover as the result of poor hiring or poor management of human resources can be fatal to a company. The excessive costs and accompanying confusion and inefficiencies can drive the company into bankruptcy.

The very best companies and the best managers have the best selection processes. This not only saves them a good deal of time and money in personnel costs, but it creates a reputation for them in the marketplace as being good places to work, making it easier for them to attract more and better candidates in the first place.

It therefore behooves you to think carefully before you bring a new person on board. Sometimes the best hiring decision you ever make is the one you decide not to make in the first place.

Chapter Two

Think Through the Job

Your mind is incredibly powerful—and never more so than when you focus your mental energies, like a laser beam, on a question or problem for a sustained period of time.

Before you begin your search for new employees, take sufficient time to think through the job carefully. Use the 10/90 Rule. This rule says that the first 10 percent of time that you spend thinking and planning will save you 90 percent of the time and effort required to make the right decision and get the right result in the long run. The 10/90 Rule is an incredible time-saver that requires only patience and discipline to make it work for you.

Think through the exact output responsibilities of the job. Begin by imagining that the job is a pipeline. What results must come out of the other end of the pipeline for you to know that the person has done the job in an excellent fashion? How will you both be able to determine that the job has been done well? Think in terms of accomplishments rather than activities. Think in terms of outputs rather than inputs. Think in terms of measurable results that are clear and objective.

Consider the salary you pay as if you were buying a specific quality and quantity of results in the marketplace. Exactly how will you measure and define these results? How will you know that you have received your money's worth? What standards and bench marks will you use to determine that the employee has performed well?

Any job description has three parts. First, there are the results expected of that position. You must be absolutely clear about these. Second, there are the skills necessary to achieve those results. What are they? Third, and perhaps most important, there are the personality characteristics of the ideal person for the job and how well he or she will fit in with the rest of the team.

You should begin the process of defining the job by thinking through what the person is expected to accomplish, day in and day out. Think on paper. Describe a typical workday and workweek, from morning to night. The clearer you are about the results you require, the easier it will be for you to find the best candidate for the job.

Once you have determined the results required, identify the exact skills that the ideal candidate will have to have in order to get those results. Hire people for what they have already done successfully rather than for what they think they can do if given a chance on your payroll. It is true that some companies believe in hiring for personality and attitude and then teaching specific skills. This is a good idea, but nonetheless you should demand a certain demonstrated skill level before you select a candidate if you want to hire the best people.

Finally, you should identify the personal attributes or qualities that the ideal candidate will have. Especially, you will want someone who is honest, positive, hardworking, energetic, focused, and open minded. Write these qualities down and organize them in terms of their importance to you and to the job.

Be sure that a single person can do the job you are hiring for. Be sure that you are not creating an impossible job and looking for a miracle worker. Sometimes, with rapid change, a job can grow so complex that you need two different people with two different sets of skills and attributes to do it properly. Always consider this a possibility.

The mark of a superior executive is thoughtfulness. The very best managers and executives are far more thoughtful when it comes to personnel decisions than are average managers. The more time you spend thinking and reflecting on the person and the job before you hire, the better decision you will make.

Chapter Three

Write Out the Job Description

It is surprising how many people advertise for or seek new job candidates without ever taking a few minutes to sit down and write out a clear description of the person they really want.

Something amazing happens between your head and your hand when you write a list of all the qualities that the ideal job candidate would have. You will be astonished at the incredible clarity that develops on the page in front of you. You will find yourself writing key descriptions and details that had not previously occurred to you. Later, you will find that these essential requirements were vital in making the right hiring decision.

Practice idealization for the purpose of this exercise. Imagine that you could write a description of the perfect person and hand it over to a special service, and the service would deliver that person to you, exactly to your specifications. Imagine that you were sending in an order for a person and that the exact person you requested would be delivered to your door. What would he or she be like?

What I do prior to starting a search for a new person is to make a list of everything I can possibly think of that the perfect person would be, have, and be able to do if I could find him or her. I then circulate this list to the other people in my company who will be working with whoever is chosen. We then review and massage this list. We discuss the characteristics and organize them by priority. In a few minutes, by working collaboratively, we create a comprehensive description of the ideal person we would like to find. We can then write out a detailed description of the job.

Write the job description by making a list of every task the individual will be doing from the time he or she starts in the morning until the time he or she finishes in the evening. What will the candidate be expected to do? Think of the job as a production process and identify each step in the process as a task that must be completed to a particular standard of performance. Identify the key result areas of the job and write them down.

List every function and responsibility that the individual will have to fulfill to do the job properly, from coming in in the morning, checking messages, and responding to telephone calls and e-mails, all the way through to measuring and reporting on his or her progress to his or her superior. Don't leave anything out. A single omission can lead to hiring the wrong person.

We once hired an account executive who had a tremendous track record in sales and account development with another company. She was a star in her industry. We felt lucky to hire her. And yet, within two weeks of starting the job, she fell apart. She became increasingly distraught and angry and eventually quit. What went wrong?

Upon investigation, we found that her previous company had advertised heavily and generated a continuous supply of sales leads, which she simply followed up on. In the job with our company, however, she was responsible for generating her own leads, something she simply could not do because of her inordinate fear of rejection. We had not made that requirement clear enough because we just assumed (big mistake!) that she knew that prospecting was part of the job. As Alexander MacKenzie wrote, "Errant assumptions lie at the root of most failures."

Once you have a description of the ideal candidate and a clear description of everything that the candidate will be expected to do, set priorities on both lists. Decide what is more important and what is less important to success in the position. Use a simple scoring method of one (low priority) to ten (high priority) for each item.

Divide the lists into "musts" and "wants." Some personal qualities and output responsibilities will be absolutely essential to the successful performance of the job. Some are quite desirable but they are not absolutely essential. For example, in my ideal candidate descriptions, I always write down that the person lives fairly close to our offices. But this is a preference, not an essential requirement. This is a "want," not a "must." Some of my best people live an hour or more away from the office.

On the other hand, the skill or proven ability to achieve the most important result of the job goes to the top of the list. This is essential. This is a definite "must." Without this ability, the candidate will fail, no matter how many other positive qualities he or she might have.

The clearer you are about your priorities for the job and the ideal person you are seeking, in advance, the more competently you can interview and the better hiring decision you will make.

Think about the people with whom the person will be working. This is as important as any other factor. Everyone has to fit into a team of some kind, and it is absolutely essential that whomever you hire gets along well with his or her coworkers and is accepted by them. A mistake in this area alone can be fatal to the selection process.

Determine what kind of attitude or personality you want the person to have. In my experience, a positive, optimistic, and open-minded attitude is best. As a rule, you should refuse to hire negative or unhappy people, no matter how good they might be technically. They almost always become the cause and source of most of your problems in the workplace.

Finally, consider all of this information and write out a clear, detailed description of the ideal candidate for the position. Write it out exactly as if you were going to be placing this description as an ad in a major publication and it was going to cost you several thousand dollars for a single insertion. Begin this description with your requirements in descending order of importance. Put your most important points in the first sentence.

With this written description, you are now ready to cast your net and begin finding the right person for the job.


Excerpted from HIRE AND KEEP THE BEST PEOPLE by BRIAN TRACY Copyright © 2001 by Brian Tracy. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword David Korten ix

Preface xv

1 Thou Shalt Not Criticize Microfinance 1

2 Baptism in Mexico 15

3 Bob Dylan and I in Mozambique 29

4 Another Mozambican Civil War 55

5 The "Developed" World 69

6 Something Not Quite Right in Nigeria 83

7 Something Not Quite Right in Holland 107

8 In Front of the Judge 125

9 Rustling Dutch Feathers 135

10 Blowing the Whistle from Mongolia 149

11 Enter the New York Times 167

12 Collapse, Suicide, and Muhammad Yunus 193

13 The Good, the Bad, and the Poor 215

Appendix: Microfinance Economics 101 239

Notes 251

Acknowledgements 261

Index 262

About the Author 268

Customer Reviews