Microfinance is one of the most widely used intervention strategies for poverty reduction globally. Duvendack & Mader (2019) highlight the supply-side bias in literature, in the type of organizations studied and questions posed. It furthers goals of financial viability of microfinance organizations and uses those metrics as a proxy for socio-economic well-being of clients. The absence of a demand-side focus means a lack of understanding of client needs and coping mechanisms which, from a social work perspective, are imperative for creating effective programs. With only five peer-reviewed publications on Haitian microfinance (Hossein, 2012; 2013; Kleinman, 2014; Parker et al., 2017; Pisani, 2015), the need for a demand-side a study is urgent. This study examines the process of Mutual Solidarity (MUSO) groups in the Ouest department of Haiti and perceived impact on their lives.
Mixed method study design was used in this study. First, 501 respondents (62% Female, 38% Male; 45% rural, 55% urban) were surveyed in Kreyol by trained local researchers in Haiti from August, 2019 to March 2020. Perceived impact on their lives in areas of basic needs, food security, sense of empowerment, and financial skills and knowledge were measured as well as poverty likelihood and perceptions of the process of MUSO groups. Second, 13 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were conducted with executive committee members, simultaneously translated, audio recorded, transcribed verbatim. NVivo 12 qualitative software program was used in data analyses by two researchers ensuring adequate intercoder agreement.
The survey results indicate positive and statistically significant overall impact. The impact was stronger in areas of sense of empowerment and business knowledge and skills in both urban and rural areas. Respondents also overwhelmingly reported being able to save better and access credit for consumptive and productive purposes. The qualitative data shows that due to increased savings, safe, affordable and quick access to loans people have been able to start or expand their businesses, get out of bad debt, pay for education, repair their homes or buy assets. The respondents expressed that they felt deep gratitude their MUSO groups and felt like they were finally “moving out of their misery.”
Conclusion and Implications:
The implications of this study can be far reaching in attracting more researchers and practitioners to mutual solidarity based microfinance models. Models that recognize the agency of program participants rather than reducing them to financial interactions, create empowering rather than punitive experiences, and have a positive impact on their quality of life.
The core concept is that access to basic financial services and skills increases an individual’s ability to break out of poverty, be more resilient to economic shocks, and be better equipped to utilize opportunities. Being part of a community of peers allows people to feel supported, enhances their knowledge and networks, empowering them to determine the direction of change in their lives. While further research on this model is warranted, this study contributes to the knowledge base on social impacts of microfinance organizations on the well-being of participants and their communities.