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October 22, 2013

Who are the "influencers" in financial services for the poor?


One of our goals at FAI is to spread good ideas, wherever they come from. But where are the good ideas coming from these days? Who is having most influence on the field in 2013?

Who are today’s “influencers” when it comes to ideas about financial services for poor communities?

It’s a harder question to answer than it was a few years ago. Many of the prominent names in the sector have stepped away or stepped down (or been forcibly removed). David Roodman was certainly an influencer for a number of years while writing Due Diligence but he has now moved on to the Gates Foundation to look at broader questions in the field of development and aid. Chris Dunford, the longtime president of Freedom from Hunger, was certainly an influencer in the practitioner community, but he has now entered a well-deserved retirement. Mohammed Yunus has been forced out of the Grameen Bank and while he remains an active speaker it’s fair to say his influence has waned over the last 10 years. For very different reasons, Vikram Akula who was for quite some time an influencer on commercial microfinance while leading SKS in India, has considerably less influence than he used to.

Among researchers, the nature of the academic sphere means that now that a few headline studies on the impact of microfinance have been released, attention is more sharply focused elsewhere. Two years ago microfinance was already considered the most “overstudied” (or the least “understudied”) in a survey of assistant professors of Economics. Regardless, there is a very legitimate question about how much influence academic researchers have ever had on practice. When I was talking about commitment savings accounts with Nava Ashraf, a researcher at Harvard Business School, she noted that they had not gotten much traction in practice even though the first studies showing remarkably large effects had been published seven years ago.

Meanwhile, the broad field of financial services for the poor has expanded well beyond the traditional microfinance community. Today, you’ll generally find a great deal more attention being paid to mobile money and payments technologies and systems than to credit product innovation.

So we decided it was time to ask the question more publicly. Who influences your thinking on financial services for the poor? Whose ideas and insights have changed your mind or your strategy?

We’re asking our readers to submit nominations (and later vote) for the people who are most influential in the sector today. To submit a nomination:

After the nominations have been compiled, we will open up voting. One lucky nominator and one lucky voter will be randomly chosen to win a $50 Amazon gift card.  

If you’d like to really make a case for your nominee, you can submit a blog post by emailing us. We’ll run the best submissions, defined, in part, by the post illustrating what you or others have changed because of the influencer in question.

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