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Course Information

Instructor Info:Smita Ramnarain
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 104
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 104

The lack of access of rural and urban poor to credit facilities in many parts of the developing world has meant the rapid proliferation of microfinance institutions in the last thirty to forty years. Spurred by an international movement of large institutions such as the World Bank, non-governmental organizations, government donors, foundations and private investors, microfinance promised to be a solution to the poor's lack of access to credit and consequently, an indispensable tool for poverty alleviation in the developing world. This course seeks to critically examine the discourses surrounding the 'microcredit revolution' from a political economy perspective, especially interrogating its promises of poverty alleviation, social transformation and women's empowerment.

Course Objectives:

The course seeks to provide students with an understanding of the workings, potential opportunities and limitations of microfinance in international development. Practical aspects of microfinance – such as regulation, investor concerns and financial performance – as well as critical debates in the area are considered. The course is appropriate for students interested in a career in microfinance, in financial institutions, or in international development. More broadly, the course can also appeal to those interested in studying business with community-based, ‘bottom-up’ focus and dual social and financial goals.


At the end of the course students will understand:

  • The financial needs of the world’s poor and how poor households manage finances.
  • How microfinance fits into the development industry and the broader financial system.
  • How financial products and services are provided by a range of MFIs such as the Grameen bank, self-help groups etc.
  • Measures of performance of microfinance.
  • Policy and regulatory issues within microfinance.
  • Critical debates in the field of microfinance such as its role in poverty alleviation or women’s empowerment.
  • Future trends in microfinance, including a look at what’s next for the sector, the impact of the financial crisis on microfinance, and its implications on the future of international development as a whole.
Evaluation Criteria:

The following are requirements for receiving an evaluation, in no particular order of importance (i.e. they are all important!). Failure to meet these requirements will result in ‘no evaluation,’ without any exceptions. No incompletes will be given for this class since there will be plenty of time for each large assignment. Please consider carefully whether you can do justice to the course before signing on.

  1. Written work. Completion of three 10 page essay assignments at the end of each of the first three modules, and submission of these on the due dates. These are all mandatory for an evaluation. See also instructions on written work for submission under Academic Guidelines.
  2. Attendance. Only two absences over the course of the semester will be allowed. If you plan to miss a class, and you are within your two allowed absences, you are excused. Any more absences, for whatever reason and whether or not you share these reasons with me, are to be considered unexcused, and will be mentioned in your evaluation. If you have more than four absences, you will not receive an evaluation regardless of the reason for the absences.
  3. Reading before class. You are expected to come to class having read the assigned material. For most classes, there will be a short response paper on readings due, so you will have to read for this class.
  4. Homework Responses. Most classes will involve a homework response, which you will bring with you to class and hand in at the end of the session. The homework response will consist of a series of short answer questions. You may choose to answer this as short answers or in an essay format covering the questions asked. This is a measure to ensure close reading of the assigned material and class participation and will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis. At least 10 pass grades are needed for an evaluation. [Incomplete and shoddily done responses receive a Fail]. For HW responses, I will accept handwritten work, as long as it is neat and legible.
  5. Informed participation in class discussion. You will have to make a substantive (meaty) contribution to class discussion – as an individual or in a group – at least five times in the course of the semester. Class sessions will revolve around discussion questions posted earlier, so please come prepared. Similarly, participation in class activities will be an essential aspect of any evaluation you receive for this course.
  6. Case study presentation and write-up at the end of the semester. You will be asked to pick one microfinance organization or any one country’s experience with microfinance to develop a case-study analysis to present before the entire class. Guidelines for these will be announced mid-semester. All case-study presentations will be held in the last few sessions of the course. Your case-study should be written up and handed in on the last day of class, Dec 11, by 1 pm.

For all written work, please note that submissions after the announced deadline will not be accepted. There are no exceptions to this rule.