MoneyLab: Is mobile money an alternative?

March 24th 2014

The topic of mobile money is a somewhat anachronistic addition to a conference called MoneyLab: Coining Alternatives.

In some ways, its inclusion in the conference makes total sense: mobile money is an alternative way to transact, and is providing new options to millions of people around the world who previously had to depend upon informal financial services or expensive remittance agents.
Mobile money's actual and potential global impact is so large that excluding it from a money conference would be a major oversight.

MoneyLab: Questioning the monetization of everything

March 22nd 2014

The 2007-2008 financial crisis revealed serious fissures in the global financial system. Between housing foreclosures and the failure of large banks, few people seemed to escape its effects. Some people approached this crisis as an opportunity, hoping that it would trigger a serious public conversation about the shape of finance and its effects on human beings in the world today.

Indeed, the wave of occupy movements that followed the crisis appeared to herald this conversation. But despite the fact that even Alan Greenspan admitted that he got it wrong, a truly widespread public discourse never appeared.

Mobile money and the social good of financial globalization

March 21st 2014

Since Grameen Bank launched the microcredit movement in 1982, the quest for financial inclusion of the world's poorest people has gained currency. Despite a few scandals, such as the oversupply of credit in places such as Andrah Pradesh, capital has continued to be funneled into microfinance by coalitions of development agencies, philanthropic organizations, and companies. They are banking upon microfinance to act as as a tool for socioeconomic development, as well as a means for companies to make a profit.

What can ethnography contribute to microfinance research?

March 9th 2014

Recently I've been hearing a lot about the difficulties involved in understanding microfinance customers and tailoring products to their needs. Microfinance experts across the industry have identified the need to understand microfinance customers better in order to meet the "double bottom line"; that is, provide a financial return as well as creating a positive social impact.

Making a profit and fulfilling social needs simultaneously is challenging. In fact, some argue that the "products for the poor" model is fatally flawed because the goal of profit is incompatible with the goal of generating social benefits. Unable to turn a profit, organizations suffer from "mission drift."