The role of microenterprise finance in economic development

The role of microenterprise finance in economic development

Julius A. Alade


In this paper we address the role of micro-enterprise development in stimulating social capital and strategy for mobilizing neighborhood residents, working together or individually on concrete tasks that take advantage of new self-awareness of their collective and individual assets, and in the process, create human, family and social capita/that lay the foundation for improved economic condition and help low-income individuals achieve economic serf-sufficiency. To demonstrate the significance the role of micro-enterprise development and finance, and gender in economic development, particularly with reference to the less developed economies, the paper uses theoretical and case analysis from countries in Sub-Sahara Africa. The issues of micro-financing and economic development, micro-lending programs and institutions, gender gap and micro-enterprise development, and major constraints in micro and small enterprise development are discussed. The paper draws some lessons from the progress review of past activities of institutional supports and community building and presents some recommendations for micro-enterprise development with reference to the emerging nations of the less developed economies.


The need to promote comprehensive/integrated development in nations has spurn government and development planners to engage and cater for the overall health of the economy, not only with a focus on the industrial centers but with grass root efforts to provide for the impoverished inner-city neighborhoods as well as the rural neglect. The strategy employed over the years includes among others, community building, micro-enterprise development, credit mobilization through informal financing, and micro-finance. These approaches work toward similar goal which consist of new methods for mobilizing neighborhood residents, working together on concrete tasks that take advantage of new self-awareness of their collective and individual assets, and in the process, create human, family and social capital that lay the foundation for a more promising future and reconnection to mainstream society (Friedman, 2001). This process which is more broadly defined as micro-enterprise development focuses on the assets, talents, and skills of individuals and channels them into small business ownership. It stimulates a multi-faceted, gradual process in which personal and social development co-evolves with economic development.

Micro-enterprise development as strategy to help low-income individuals achieve economic self-sufficiency has been used as important tool of developing the “informal sector” of both the developed western economies as well as the less developed countries (LDCs) economies which have been plagued neglect, poor planning and lack of social capital. In the developing world, as pointed out by Chu (1995), easily one third of labor force earn their living in what is known as the “informal sector”, the portion of the self-employed population whose very small, or “micro-enterprises”, are often not registered, taxed, or counted in national statistics. Many of the self-employed workers are, in most cases, unable to find jobs in the formal sector of the economy. Some find that self-employment is a means to simultaneously earn an income and care for their families, and still others feel they can best use their skills by operating their own enterprise. Micro-enterprises cut across gender, and experiences have shown that they play a major role in income and employment generation. Realizing the significance of micro and small-scale enterprises (MSE) particularly in the LDCs, new initiatives at assisting these countries are being directed at micro-enterprise development. The significance of this new initiative is demonstrated through the 1997 Micro-credit Summit in Washington which gave support to the goal of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP) that aims to strengthen donor collaboration, funding and best practice in the field of micro-finance (Aid Budget, 1997-98).


There has been significant efforts both from developed countries, particularly, United States and other international agencies to assist the LDCs develop their informal sector of their economy either as direct donors or interventions through none government organizations (NGOs). These LDCs, particularly the countries from Sub-Sahara Africa share common characteristics in terms of economic, social, and political goals that identify them either as poor or nations in transition. Because of this unique characterization of these countries with inadequate or lack of social capital for self-sufficient or community development, this paper uses these countries as case reference for micro-enterprise analysis. The paper uses theoretical and case examples from countries in Sub-Sahara Africa in presenting the issues on gender and micro-enterprise finance in economic development. In section III of the paper, a review of literature is presented with a focus on micro-enterprise and the informal sector, micro-financing and economic development, micro-lending programs and institutions, gender and micro-enterprise, major constraints in micro and small enterprise (MSE) development. In section IV, we assess micro-enterprise development and the stimulation of capital and community building. Section V discusses some of the major constraints to MSE Development, and the last section deals with lessons from the study and recommendations.


3.1 The Informal Sector and Micro-enterprise Development

The worsening economic condition and employment crises witnessed in Sub-Sahara Africa and in many other developing countries, have led many development practitioners and policy makers to pay increasing attention to the micro and small enterprises sector as provider of employment and as a viable means of ensuring stability and growth in these economies (Parker and Torres, 1994). Micro-enterprise which is defined as businesses with one to ten workers take advantage of the labor supply characteristics in LDCs to better maximize the capital/labor function (Puglielli, 1997). By their nature, micro-enterprises are exceptional form of business with unique fiscal needs that are usually classified as micro-loans or micro-credit. Micro-credit programs are designed to provide small amounts of capital to the poor to enable them to generate their own income. Though, micro-loans represent a significant and growing part of economic activity in developing countries, they are nevertheless excluded from the formal economic system and, in particular, do not have access to bank credit.

As more initiatives and programs are developed and implemented by a wide range of institutions across the globe to provide economic support for the low-income communities, micro-enterprise development has become one of the most diverse and dynamic approaches to poverty alleviation (Fairley, 1998). Unlike large-scale industry, which concentrates in urban areas where services are more readily available, micro-enterprises can be found throughout a country. Thus, micro-enterprise can be a dynamic vehicle for indigenous participation in manufacturing (Puglielli, 1997). According to Livingstone (1991), the promotion of micro-enterprises in developing countries is justified because of their ability to foster economic growth, alleviate poverty and generate employment. More significantly, small businesses tend to be in sectors that use labor-intensive production techniques, which reduces entry costs into the market and tolerates a less-skilled labor force. They are particularly important in underdeveloped economies where high information costs and fragmented markets favor firms with an intimate knowledge of local conditions and clientele that can use this information to produce and market for local needs (USAID-NPI, 1995). Besides, the flow of entrepreneurs emerging from a vigorous small business sector can greatly add to economy’s overall flexibility and growth potential.

Table 1 below presents a relative importance of micro and small-scale businesses. Based on the classification of businesses, in Columbia, out of 94 thousand industrial enterprises, 89 percent are micro, 6 percent are small, 4 percent are medium and 1 percent are large businesses. Of the 465 thousand enterprises in Chile, 83 percent are micro, 14 percent are small, 1.2 percent are medium and 1.5 percent are large. Brazil has 186 thousand industrial enterprises, of which, 182 percent are micro, 13 percent are small, 4 percent medium and 1 percent large; in Peru out of 159 thousand private institutions, 87.5 are micro, 10.8 percent are small, 0.5 are medium and 0.1 percent are large.

In Bolivia, 87.5 percent of its total industrial enterprises are micro, 8.3 percent are small, 2.3 percent are medium and 2.3 percent are large. Similarly, in Mexico, of the 266,033 enterprises in the country, 92 percent are micro, 6 percent are small, 1 percent are medium and 1 percent are large (Puglielli, 1997). Evidences from the countries surveyed above show how wide spread is the importance of MSE development to the poor LDCs.

3.2 Micro-financing and Economic Development

The corner stone of micro-finance is the granting of access to credit without collateral to individuals and groups in the poor and informal sector of the LDCs as well as inner-city and poor suburban areas of developed economies. Such micro-lending is the type of credit rationing that provides small loans of working capital in the range of $50 to $300 to the self-employed people. According to Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA) findings, the micro-entrepreneurs can invest the money to make their labors far more productive through innovative investment that gives them opportunity to make more money on every item (Weidemann, 1992).

The unorganized small business sector is significantly being affected, among other factors, by a competitive and efficient banking system, labor regulations, sectoral policies, land use and zoning regulations, transaction costs in dealing with government, and licensing and permit arrangements that inhibit entry and competition in a sector (USAID-NPI, 1995). Because small businesses take on markedly more risk than larger enterprises and generally with little or no collateral, standard credit sources in the form of commercial or development banks are customarily inaccessible to these firms in a manner conducive to efficient productive investment. These micro-enterprises, with no choice, have to resort to informal mechanisms, which confiscates their profits and condemns them to an endless spiral of credit and repayments.

The institutions of MSE development and micro-financing which over the years have occupied a major role in the macroeconomics of LDCs, have specific needs for credit. According to Chu (1995), micro-enterprise, whether a stall at an open air market, a woodworking bench in the front room of a two-room ramshackle house, or a metalworking lathe in a backyard shed, requires working capital and fixed asset financing, just as other businesses do. However, the formal financial sector has long considered this market segment unbankable. Because conventional banks are historically created to serve large corporation accounts, with a heavy infrastructure of multiple layers of professionals and extensive plant, property, and equipment, and organized internally to deal with a relatively low number of large loans, they have not been able to serve well the interest of small-scale enterprises. As pointed out by Puglielli (1997), the formal financial sector’s lending are not conducive to micro and small-scale dynamic and heterogeneous activities of the informal sector The monetary cost, however, is exorbitantly high. According to Haggblade et al. (1990), many LDCs are characterized by significant high real interest rate in the informal sector than in the formal sector where in some cases the real interest rate is negative.

3.3 Micro-lending Institutions and Programs

The needs for financing among micro-entrepreneurs are growing particularly in developing countries. The current informal lending market, made up of hundreds of million of small entrepreneurs that borrow money at very high interest rates, is an indication of the size of the demand. The concomitance of this demand and the availability of international funds, looking for attractive remuneration, seem to suggest the possibility of market. Nevertheless, the micro-entrepreneurial population and the relating market are totally unknown to international investors, and the lending institutions’ experience is ignored out of expert’s circles.

Only a few lending institutions have reached the stage of mobilizing private funds on an efficient and competitive commercial basis. Most of them still obtain a major part of their funds from public sources and at subsidized rates. Their operating costs are often high and the loans they grant must be accompanied with elevated rates to cover them. To serve a normal rate to funds suppliers would oblige them to raise their interest rates up to levels incompatible with their development purposes.

In Africa, credit unions play a vital role in stimulating economic growth by providing loans and other financial services to micro-enterprises (Morton, 1997). Through the Africa Revitalization Program (ARP), Sustainable Development (SD) is helping to improve the availability, quality, and performance of credit unions in several African countries. According to the report by Morton (1997), ARP is a regional project financed by the SD’s Productive Sector Growth and Environment (PSGE) division, and implemented through the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) in partnership with the African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA). Since 1994, ARP has worked in eight countries, strengthening national credit union associations and helping selected credit unions use market-oriented business approaches to improve performance and increase efficiency.

In African, the eight countries that agreed to participate in the ARP’s program include Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Senegal. Preliminary data from loan portfolios of credit unions in five of these countries indicate that approximately 40 percent of funds go to micro-enterprises. The distribution of loan funds by gender varies greatly from one country to another. In Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Ghana, female-owned micro-enterprises received 34 to 45 percent of micro-enterprises loan funds. However, in Kenya and Uganda, women borrowed only three percent of micro-enterprise loan funds (Morton, 1997).

3.4 Gender and Micro-enterprise

Studies over the years have demonstrated the impact of gender on businesses and, more particularly, micro-enterprises both in developed and developing countries. Generally, gender perspectives are reflected in the programs, most of which reach large numbers of women. It is also reflected, according to Cohen (1996), in the approach of many of the studies, which recognize (implicitly or explicitly) the existence of separate ‘gender’ economies within households and within the micro-enterprise sector.

In the study by Cohen (1996), it is noted that gender differences exist in the profile of clients. At the household level, several studies refer to differences between men and women in the ownership of land or housing, access to alternative sources of credit, labor allocation, expenditure patterns, and decision making roles. Gender differences are also found in marital status (with more single, divorced or widowed women than men) and education levels. These studies also found that women as head of households are over-represented in many MSE programs, and that these households are often characterized by their poverty and high dependency ratios (Buvinic, et al., 1989; Goetz and Gupta, 1996; Sebstad and Walsh, 1991; Vengroff and Creevy, 1994).

Other studies indicate gender divisions within MSE sector, with women concentrated in particular types of enterprises and activities. In Egypt, for example, one study covered 96 types of micro-enterprises, 28 of which involved women (Widemann and Merabet, 1992). Another study covered 43 types of enterprise, 14 of which involved women (Sebstad and Loza, 1993). There is evidence in some of the studies that suggests that women’s enterprises may be more likely than men’s to have lower capitalization, different asset structures, and fewer employees. In some cases, this may represent an historically defined gender division of labor; in others, it may reflect women’s different enterprise goals, especially those related to risk (Lapar, et al, 1995; Sebstad and Walsh, 1991).

The study on Poland gender differences found that male and female entrepreneur face similar obstacles, i.e. a lack of access to credit and ineffective non-financial assistance in MSEs operations. In the area of specialization, the study found that men operated larger businesses in capital-intensive industries such as manufacturing, whereas women were inclined to own smaller businesses in commerce or the service sector (Weidemann and Finnegan, 1994). What is notable in most of the literature on gender and MSE development is that they all reveal common findings even in countries with vastly different cultural and economic settings, such as Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia, South Africa, and Poland. The overwhelming conclusion from literatures is that gender makes a significant difference in the establishment and development of micro and small-scale enterprises.


In recent years, MSE development has gained prominence internationally as a strategy to help low-income individuals achieve economic self-sufficiency. It is a development strategy that addresses issues and provide opportunity for mass population in the informal sector that otherwise would have been neglected and forgotten by the formal sector of the economy. As pointed out in the study by Friedman (2001), the importance of micro-enterprise development lies not in the number of people who take advantage of it, but in a whole new approach to combating poverty. This new approach is one that recognizes and builds on the talents and efforts of low-income people; that invests in the expansion of low-income economies rather than simply maintaining consumption, and that builds assets, skills businesses, homes rather than simply maintaining income.

The integrated MSE development strategy that help stimulate self-employment opportunities in neighborhood and promote community-building initiatives among small businesses and other individuals, organizations, and associations in the community is intended to help stimulate the development of social capital within the low-income communities. To achieve this objective, the MSE community building program must be tailored to neighborhood scale and conditions; focus on specific improvement initiatives in a manner that reinforces values and builds social and human capital; and collaboratively linked to the broader society to strengthen community institutions and outside opportunities for residents. This complements the “asset-based” community development approach that starts with existing capacities of resident and workers and the association and institutional base of the community.

Several approaches have been discussed in literature with respect to raising capital among the low-income residents of the informal sector of the LDCs economy. These have been categorized as either informal finance or micro-finance (Schreiner, 2001). The informal finance derives from the grassroots, bottom-up demand of the poor for appropriate financial services, while micro-finance derives from donor-driven, top-down supply. A number of institutions have played a major role in providing financial and support services to low-income individuals and groups in the LDCs. As pointed out earlier, credit unions play a vital role in stimulating economic growth by providing loans and other financial services to micro-enterprise in Africa. Among major institutions that have made significant contributions to micro-lending and services in Africa are Africa Revitalization program (ARP), Sustainable Development (SD), World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Association (ACCOSCA). By providing access to credit without collateral requirement, they have effectively helped to fight poverty in the poor communities of the LDCs economy. Grameen Bank is another example of informal financial institutions in Bangladesh that guarantees not just confessional lending but ensures people’s right to credit. For over two decades now, the bank has been directly concerned with financing micro-enterprise in rural areas of Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank is a success story where the bank is now owned today by the borrowers themselves with ninety five percent of whom are women from the poorest households in rural Bangladesh (Shams, 2002). The Grameen Bank example demonstrates appropriate strategy for community building through micro-credit operations that target the poor and the disadvantaged.

4.1 MSE Development and Major Constraints

The MSE literature contains extensive documentation on the array of constraints and problems facing MSEs in different countries. Efforts to identify MSE growth constraints have typically been carried out as a first step in identifying technical assistance interventions that could be executed by donor organizations or government agencies to support the development of MSEs (Barton, 1997).

Barton (1997) further pointed out that as long as technical assistance interventions included services to small enterprises free of charge, little effort was made to gauge the level of demand for such assistance. Instead, program designers and evaluators focused on the impacts of the technical assistance activities using cost-benefits calculations, the costs of the technical assistance measured against as many benefits as the project could take credit for, including economic and social benefits. In recent years, donor organizations have become concerned that continued infusions of external technical assistance may not be the best means of dealing with problems such as micro-enterprise development or other economic growth issues. Rather than supporting technical assistance activities that end when project funds are exhausted, donors have increasingly looked for ways of stimulating the supply of sustainable services, delivered through local, primarily non-governmental channels.

MSE surveys carried out in various countries shed light on the constraints MSEs face and the relative importance of these constraints, but offer few insights into relationships between such growth constraints and the demand for business development services by micro and small businesses (Barton, 1997). Findings from studies generally identify a long list of problems faced by owners and operators of small enterprises (McVay, 1996; Goldmark, 1996; Goldmark, Berte, and Campos, 1997). On the financial side, studies emphasize that the primary need is for better access to working capital.

According to Barton (1997), the MSE literature dealing with enterprises in a variety of country or regional settings and business areas, shows that the relative importance of different constraints varies from one region or country to another, as well as within industries or trades in the same country or region. The importance of different constraints also varies for firms at different stages in their life cycle, from start-up through growth cycles to mature operations. The problems most frequently mentioned by small producers are three:

* Access to credit, particularly for working capital;

* Access to growing markets; and

* Access to inputs (e.g., financial and non-financial resources like available technology).

The major discussions regarding MSE market access problems, for products and services as well as inputs, has been documented for a number of countries and industries. For example, Grant (1990) found that access to markets, inputs, and working capital was the major constraint faced by small businesses in Lesotho in the garment sub-sector as well as for the weaving and leather goods industries. A GEMINI survey of small enterprises in the forest-products sector in Southern and Eastern Africa found that working capital finance, marketing, and input supply problems were the principal difficulties cited by firm owners (Arnold et al., 1994). Silcox et al. (1994), in their study of MSEs in Malawi, found that access to inputs or raw materials and saturated markets were the most commonly cited problems facing micro-entrepreneurs.


The paper addresses crucial issues in micro-enterprise development as a strategy for stimulating social capital and mobilizing neighborhood residents on concrete tasks that take advantage of new self-awareness of their collective and individual assets, and in the process, create human, family and social capital that lay the foundation for improved economic condition and help low-income individuals achieve economic self-sufficiency. Three broad areas of recommendations, which emerge from this paper, include improvement of financial services, transformation of non-financial services, and development of an enabling environment. Regarding financial services, coordinated actions by governments and international agencies would need to support: (i). The efforts of regulated financial intermediaries such as commercial banks, finance companies, credit unions, and municipal savings associations to enlarge the scope of their services to micro-enterprises through the transfer of new financial technologies and reforms to the legal and regulatory framework that will make such operations possible; (ii). The efforts of micro-financial organizations to develop financial relationships with banks and sources of medium-term funds, on market terms and conditions, so that they can develop an adequate capital structure, including efforts to attract private venture-capital investors whose participation will consolidate adequate internal controls (see: Summit of the Americas, 1996).

In assessing the less developed state of non-financial services for micro-enterprises, both in scope and in sustainability, the coordinated actions of governments and international agencies should support efforts to transform governmental and non-governmental organizations that render non-financial support services to the micro-enterprise sector so that MSE can gradually reach the same levels of clientele, cost coverage, and institutional self-sufficiency. Equally significant is the enabling environment. The micro-enterprise sector will make no progress in the absence of an environment conducive to the conduct of its activities. The governments should continue their efforts to develop a regulatory framework that offers incentives for greater productivity and environmental responsibility. Narrow interest on individuals should give way to community-building and development by strategically building strong, concrete, mutually beneficial partnerships and interactions between local low-income individuals and groups in neighborhoods with support to start business that could help stimulate self-employment opportunities.


Micro Small Medium Large

Argentina less than 15 16-50 51-200 above 200

Bolivia less than 5 5-49 50-99 above 100

Brazil less than 19 20-99 100-499 above 500

Chile less than 9 10-49 50-200 above 200

Colombia less than 10 10-49 50-200 above 200

Ecuador less than 10 10-49 50-100 above 100

Guatemala less than 5 5-19 20-50 above 50

Mexico less than 15 16-100 101-250 above 250

Peru less than 5 5-19 20-200 above 200

Uruguay less than 4 5-19 20-99 above 99

Source: Puglielli, David (1997) and Ruiz-Duran, Clemente (1995).


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Dr. Julius A. Alade received his Ph.D. from the University of Utah in 1981. He has authored and co-authored several journal articles/abstracts. In his research, he has combined theoretic economics with financial and operations management, using linear and goal programming models. Dr. Alade is an Acting Chair and Associate Professor of production management/ quantitative methods in the Department of Business, Management and Accounting, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, Maryland.

Dr. Dinesh K. Sharma earned his Ph.D. from the Chaudhary Charan Singh University in 1999. He has published several journal articles. His research has focused on goal programming, nonlinear programming, and applied business studies. Dr. Sharma is an Associate Professor of quantitative methods/computer applications in the Department of Business, Management and Accounting at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, Maryland.

Dr. Hari P. Sharma received his Ph.D. from the Agra University, Agra in 1989. He has several journal articles in the areas of finance and quantitative methods. Dr. Sharma was a Vice President and Market Risk Manager in the Bank of America. Currently he is an Associate Professor of Finance in the Department of Economics and Finance, Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia.

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