SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

From Microcredit Evangelism to Digital Utopianism: The Unstoppable Rise of the Global Microcredit Industry

Dr Milford Bateman & Dr Penelope Hawkins

Date: 3 December 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 3 December 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Djam Lecture Theatre (DLT)

Type of Event: Seminar

The global microcredit model is one of the most astonishing market-driven financial sector interventions in recent economic history. Its rapid rise to prominence from the 1990s onwards led to expectations that global poverty would be eradicated in short order. As even long-time microcredit advocates now lament, these heady ambitions have been almost entirely dashed. The global microcredit industry has created instead a world of reckless lending and predatory finance aimed at the poor, a financial model that has become associated with mounting levels of individual over-indebtedness, collateral losses, increased vulnerability and other problems for the poor clients, while the suppliers of microcredit have, as perhaps was intended, been seen to enjoy quite spectacular profits. These mounting problems have recently been exacerbated greatly, however, thanks to the rise of fintech (financial technology) platforms that are able to instantly disburse large volumes of microcredit. This innovation began in Kenya with the help of M-Pesa, its iconic money transfer platform, but it has very rapidly spread to all corners of the Global South. With the microcredit evangelists like the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Muhammad Yunus, now being displaced by the digital utopians, such as Bill Gates and his eponymous Gates Foundation, the global poor thus stand to be disadvantaged as perhaps never before in recent history. The global microcredit industry has been exposed as largely nothing more than a Wall Street-style predatory finance and technology operation hiding under cover of ‘helping the poor’. The need to identify, validate and promote alternative social justice-based and development-driven forms of community-owned and controlled finance has never been more urgent.


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From Microcredit Evangelism to Digital Utopianism: The Unstoppable Rise of the Global Microcredit Industry


Milford Bateman is a freelance consultant on local economic development policy, Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia, Adjunct Professor of Development Studies at St Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, and Affiliated Researcher at the Future Forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dr Bateman obtained his PhD from the University of Bradford (UK) in 1993. From 1991 to 2000 Dr Bateman held a tenured position as Assistant Professor then Associate Professor in East European Economics at the University of Wolverhampton. In 2000, he moved into policy consulting to head up the Western Balkans economic development consulting practice for one of the UK’s leading consulting companies, thereafter taking the lead on local economic development assignments across Eastern Europe and Asia. As a freelance consultant since 2006, he has worked on local economic development projects for almost all of the major international development agencies, most recently undertaking a number of assignments for UNCTAD, and including work in the Middle East, China, Africa and much of Latin America. Dr Bateman has published widely on the key issues affecting local economic development, including the influential Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work? The Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism published by Zed Books in 2010 and which is now being prepared for a 2nd updated edition due out in 2020. His latest book published in January 2019 by Routledge in cooperation with UNCTAD and co-edited with Stephanie Blankenburg and Richard Kozul-Wright is entitled The Rise and Fall of Global Microcredit: Development, Debt and Disillusion. Finally, his most recent work with Maren Duvendack and Nicholas Loubere seeks to provide a more accurate assessment of the development impact of the global ‘fintech’ (financial technology) movement epitomised by such as Kenya’s iconic M-Pesa.

Penelope Hawkins is Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the Debt and Development Finance Branch, within the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Her role includes researching and engaging with member country representatives and the broader civil society on matters to do with public and private country debt, financing for development, illicit financial flows and financial inclusion. Previously, as the founder and Managing Director of Feasibility (Pty) Ltd, she undertook leading research projects in the financial sector in South Africa and advised policy makers and regulators in southern and eastern Africa. She has been working on microcredit and its social outcomes since 2003 as advisor to the process that led to the National Credit Act in South Africa. Her latest publication on the matter is  ‘The evolutionary approach to banking and the credit hungry consumer:  A view of the failure of African Bank’ in Money, Method and Post-Keynesian economics for the 21st Century, 2018, edited by Sheila Dow, Jesper Jespersen and Geoff Tily, published by Elgar.

Organiser: Feyzi Ismail (