Where There Is No Banker: Importing Foreign-born Grassroots Financial Service Models to the United States


Microfinance is a field that seeks to provide financial services to low-income households that would otherwise not receive appropriate services from existing financial institutions. As an internationally recognized field, it is still quite new, although it is often based on established informal structures at the grassroots level. As an informal practice found in communities around the world, microfinance is a tradition currently experiencing many innovations. People have been organizing among themselves to meet financial needs for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the models of organization have evolved with time and circumstance.

It is only in this era of conscious “development” aimed at poorer communities that concepts such as microfinance have attracted international attention in study and practice. The current trend of development attempts to provide access to a variety of resources that have been identified as lacking in a given community. These resources include technologies, services, material goods, and education. Development professionals are often so dedicated to their vision of what needs to be accessed that they overlook a community’s existing resources and systems.

In what is known as the Global South (underdeveloped or developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa), one finds many examples of successful microfinance strategies organized without the aid of development organizations. Surveying current attempts to provide financial services to poor households here in the United States, I found that these focus on government-initiated programs that focus on individual households, or occasionally non-profit organized programs for poor people wanting to start a microbusiness. Evidence of successful community-organized financial services in the United States is limited for the most part to immigrant communities. If poor people have successfully developed successful financial services for themselves in other countries, and if they have been able to maintain those practices in their communities here in the United States, can those models be imported as part of a development strategy right here in the heart of the developed world?


Business Administration, Management, and Operations | Growth and Development

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