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Published on Thursday, September 25, 2003


Microfinance and Empowerment Call for papers Seminar to be held at


Microfinance and Empowerment

Call for papers

Seminar to be held at

French Institute of Pondicherry, India

7 – 8 January 2004

Jointly organized by:

French Institute of Pondicherry, India

LPE – Université de Provence / IRD, France

Centre Walras – Université Lyon 2 / FRE 2476, France

Scientific Committee

Blanc J. (Centre Walras – CNRS, Université Lyon 2, France)

De Miras Cl. (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement – Laboratoire Population Environnement, France)

Guérin I. (IRD – LPE, French Institute of Pondicherry, India)

Nair Tara (EDA Rural Systems, Gurgaon, India)

Servet J.-M. (Institut Universitaire d'Études du Développement, Genève, Switzerland)

Sriram M.S. (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India)


Microfinance can be analysed through three different paradigms[1], depending upon the priority:

- to establish profitable and sustainable financial relations,

- to alleviate poverty,

- to empower poor people, especially women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Empowerment or improved access to power is a means and an end per se. It goes beyond Microfinance activities because it deals with social change process[2]. This concept is used more and more often by media, political classes and NGO activists as well. It is considered as a way to respond to the oppression, injustice or exploitation of disadvantaged people, i.e. the poorest, the women or the scheduled castes and tribes. Though widely used, this fashionableconcept is seldom the subject of research studies. The growing popularity of the concept, paradoxically, has led to a vague and unclear definition of empowerment. Different people use this concept in different ways.

Theoretically, microfinance may well initiate a “virtuous spiral” of economic, social and even political empow­er­ment and, consequently, may appear as a means to increase the capabilities of vulnerable people. But how do things stand in practice? Available results of impact studies call for circumspection. Microfinance can free vulnerable people of certain links of dependence, but can also forge new kinds of dependence and subordination, thereby strengthening disparities[3].

In the field of microfinance, the issue of empowerment has been analyzed, especially from the perspective of gender. Much research has demonstrated that microfinance should include a gender focus in order to have an effective impact in terms of gender poverty and empowerment. It is true that all over the world, inequities suffered by women are stronger than those suffered by men. However, an overemphasis on women as a specific microfinance target population has meant lesser focus on other underprivileged and vulnerable groups. In many contexts, aside from the variety of forms that gender inequalities can take, others forms of disparities and injustices, such as those linked to social classes, races, castes, tribes, etc. do exist. Any study of empowerment must consider the interaction and interrelation between these different underprivileged categories. The key goal of this seminar will be to focus on such interrelations.

Issues and call for papers

By bringing together academics and practitioners, this seminar hopes to pursue and encourage further reflection in the following issues based on both field experience of the participants as also from a theoretical perspective:

Definition, indicators and assessment

There is no universal definition of empowerment, even if everyone recognizes that this concept is about change, choice and power. Empowerment can be defined in various ways depending on who is promoting it. The first challenge of the seminar will be to try to chronicle the different meanings of empowerment.

The question of definition is all the more crucial since results achieved in terms of empowerment depend on the choice of definition. Hence, results of evaluation of the impact of microfinance programmes on empowerment implies choosing accurate indicators that vary from culture to culture and the priority attached to each of these. For instance, studies focusing on outcomes may come out with results very different from those that are concerned about processes. Implicit preconceptions also presume results. Thus studies that give more priority to conflict in households than to cooperation, and insist more on individualized behaviours tend to highlight the negative impact of micro finance[4].

Even when a consensus definition of empowerment emerges, questions would still remain: How can empowerment be assessed? How can we attribute empowerment to microfinance? Are there any appropriate indicators to evaluate it? What kind of methodologies can we use? How pertinent it is to differentiate between economic, social and political empowerment or between different levels of empowerment, for eg., individual empowerment, empowerment within the family, the community, etc.? How can the various approaches (like the experimental, interpretative and participatory approaches, for e.g.) be used to assess empowerment and how have they been used up till now? The seminar would address these questions through methodogical analyses as well as specific impact case studies.


How does microfinance act as a vehicle for empowering people? The seminar does not aim to define the “best practices”. It seems more relevant to identify the strengths and weakness of each methodology and its conditions of implementation. It is likely that methodologies could vary in relation to the type of empowerment desired, type of target population, local socio-economic context, etc.

The issue of appropriateness to tool raises both theoretical and practical questions which are strongly connected. From a practical point of view, one can analyse the scope of each kind of financial service (credit, savings and insurance) and its effect in terms of empowerment There is also a real need to better understand the demand, and this understanding implies knowing what the informal practices are. It is no longer an issue of contention among both academics and practitioners that the poor need microfinance, and not only microcredit, and that they are able to save[5]. It is, however, equally important to recognise that there are diverse ways in which people manage their money informally and they have the necessary financial know-how. Microfinance services rarely take into account this. From an operational point of view, to be efficient, financial services offered must attempt to mitigate the limitations of the existing practices while drawing inspiration from the way in which people live, think about and manage their finances on a day to day basis. From the theoretical point of view, there is a need to reconsider the concept of money and finance. Though defined as an “instrument” usually, evidence suggests that monetary and financial practices are strongly embedded in social and cultural practices. Microfinance services, irrespective of their performance, do not replace informal practices.

Beyond financial tools, the following themes could be analyzed and discussed at the seminar:

· Individual or group-based approach? Obviously the latter seems more appropriate to support collective action and to make people aware of their rights and claims. But, when implemented without sufficient care, a group-based approach may oppress the most vulnerable. Furthermore, in certain contexts, one may wonder if an individual approach would not respond better and more quickly to personal needs. After having been seen as the condition of success, the group-based approach is being questioned more and more. Beyond lending , this question also concerns the issue of governance.

· Is it necessary for microfinance providers to undertake non-financial services? While it is obvious that people need complementary services (such as health, education, etc.), finding the best way of in­tegrating financial services with the non financial is more of an ‘art’ than simply a technical ser­vice.

· What kind of governance should be chosen? We can distinguish a certain number of “models” (the “commercial” model, Self-Help Group model, Grameen model and cooperative model, to mention only a few). What are the consequences with respect to empowerment of choosing one model instead of another? Here too, it is crucial to link theory with practice. For example, while cooperative models seem to be quite appropriate to link microfinance with advocacy and lobbying, its implementation raises many challenges, in particular because “participation”, often promoted as a proxy of empowerment, is not at all obvious.

Political anchoring of microfinance

Some authors warn that public authorities would take advantage of microfinance services to increasingly disengage themselves, giving priority to the integration of the “poor” in market mechanisms at the expense of their access to economic and basic social rights and making the success of their battles to fight poverty dependent on the capacity of NGOs and self-organization of local populations. While such concerns must not lead one to relinquish the idea of providing microfinance services to vulnerable people, they call for vigilance in regarding the different possible dangers They also underscore the need for its political anchoring. It seems obvious that microfinance projects are justified only if strategic links are established with other forces of change, among which are networks and civil society movements, as well as defence organizations and lobbies of vulnerable people. In other words, microfinance is justifiable only if it is integrated into a more global reflection on the valuation of fundamental rights. Promoting a political anchoring of microfinance is easier said than done. Here too, the issue raises both theoretical and practical questions.

· Tensions and conflicts

Numerous research studies have already shown that microfinance programmes, like any development programmes, unavoidably challenge the balance of power in the local areas where they are implemented - balance of power between men and women, between castes or between other social groups (ethnic, religious, professional, etc.) or even between microfinance programmes and informal financers. Such a challenge necessarily induces tensions, or even conflicts. Pretending to avoid them would be unrealistic. Very often conflicts are considered as perverse effects, while they are – at least some of them – part of social change. On the other hand, one should be concerned about their implications - which are acceptable and unavoidable, and which are not? One should also be concerned about the means that can be used to limit them - is it necessary or not to limit the target population? What relations should be established with groups which are not targeted? How can we best manage tensions when they appear?

· Governance and « social dialogue »

From a theoretical point of view, recent developments in the field of social justice, in particular with Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen’s work, conclude that economic freedom and political freedom reinforce each other mutually and cannot be promoted separately. We are aware to what extent inequities are strongly embedded in social and cultural considerations. As a consequence, whatever be the context, even when state interventions can influence the level of equity achieved by legal means or public schemes, only “social dialogue” or public debate - a means to express individual needs and preferences - can deeply transform mentalities and traditions or cultural norms. The question then is: how can we promote such a social dialogue? Are microfinance organizations likely to act as a vehicle for social dialogue and under what conditions? At the moment, do we have any concrete examples of microfinance organizations which have been effective in terms of lobbying and advocacy? Political anchoring of microfinance must be understood as a new form of governance with strong complementarities between public action, “market” and civil society. The relevance of such complementarities in the current world cannot be denied, but the question of how the roles and responsibilities should be distributed among these different actors appears to be more complex. This is particularly true since public action works on different levels (from local authorities to supra-national authorities). Far beyond microfinance, such new forms of collective action can be found in numerous activities (common resources management, local development, etc.). Case studies are welcome to enlighten the example of microfinance.

Abstracts / Full papers

Abstracts (by e-mail) should be received by the organisers by 15 October 2003

and full papers by 30 November 2003.

For further details please contact:

Isabelle Guérin, Head of the Microfinance Research Programme

Jane Palier, Research Scholar

French Institute of Pondicherry

11, Saint-Louis Street

Pondicherry - 605 001

Ph. (0091) 0413 233 4168

Fax. (0091) 0413 233 9534

Email. Jane.Palier@ifpindia.org

or Jane.Palier@etu.univ-lyon2.fr

Inscription Form

Microfinance and Empowerment, French Institute of Pondicherry, 7 – 8 January 2004

Ms / Mrs / Mr / Name: ____________________________________________________________________


Postal Address: __________________________________________________________________________


Ph: _________________________________________Fax: _______________________________________

E-mail: _________________________________________________________________________________

I wish to present a paper on: ________________________________________________________________


Please send an abstract (between 400 and 500 words) by email to Jane Palier jane.palier@ifpindia.org or jane.palier@etu.univ-lyon2.fr)

[1] Mayoux Linda, 2000, « Micro-finance and the empowerment of women - A review of the key issues », Genève: ILO Social Finance Unit, 55p.

[2] See the contribution of Beteille André, « Empowerment », Economic and Political Weekly, mars 1999.

[3] See Goetz A.M. and Sen Gupta R. 1996, « Who takes the Credit ? Gender, power, and control over loan use in rural credit programs in Bangladesh », World Development, Vol. 24, N°1, pp. 45-63.

Hashemi S.M., Schuler S.R. Riley A.P., 1996, « Rural Credit Programs and Women’s Empowerment in Bangladesh », World Development, Vol. 24, N°4, pp.635-653.

[4] See Kabeer N., 2001, « Conflicts over credit : Re_evaluating the empowerment potential of loans to women n rural Bangladesh », World Development, Vol. 29, N°1, pp. 63-84.

[5] See, for example, the special issue of the Journal of International Development, 2002, n°14. See also, Rutherford R., 2000, The poor and their money, Delhi: Oxford University Press.



  • Wednesday, October 15, 2003


  • Jane Palier
    courriel : jane [dot] palier [at] etu [dot] univ-lyon2 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Jane Palier
    courriel : jane [dot] palier [at] etu [dot] univ-lyon2 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Microfinance and Empowerment », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, September 25, 2003, https://calenda.org/188352

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