Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic by Hugh Sinclair
How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor

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Very little solid evidence exists that microloans make a dent in long-term poverty. Sadly, evidence does exist for negligence, corruption, and methods that border on extortion. Part exposé, part memoir, and part financial detective story, this is the account of a one-time true believer whose decade in the industry turned him into a heretic.

Hugh Sinclair worked with several microfinance institutions around the world. He couldn’t help but notice that even with a booming $70 billion industry on their side, the poor didn’t seem any better off. Exorbitant interest rates led borrowers into never-ending debt spirals, and aggressive collection practices resulted in cases of forced prostitution, child labor, suicide, and nationwide revolts against the microfinance community.

Sinclair weaves a shocking tale of a system increasingly focused on maximizing profits—particularly once large banks got involved. He details his discovery of several scandals, one of the most disturbing involving a large African microfinance institution of questionable legality that charged interest rates in excess of 100 percent per year and whose investors and supporters included some of the most celebrated leaders of the microfinance sector. Sinclair’s objections were first met with silence, then threats, attempted bribery, and a court case, and eventually led him to become a principal whistleblower in a sector that had lost its soul.

Microfinance can work—Sinclair describes moving experiences with several ethical and effective organizations and explains what made them different. But without the fundamental reforms that Sinclair recommends here, microfinance will remain an “investment opportunity” that will leave the poor with hollow promises and empty pockets.

About Hugh Sinclair

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Hugh Sinclair has worked in microfinance with numerous global organizations, banks and funds for over a decade. He currently consults on microfinance strategy and portfolio management. Previously, he worked in traditional finance at ING Barings, CDC Capital Partners, and BZW Securities -- now Barclays Capital. Hugh holds a Master's degree in International and Corporate Finance from the University of Durham and an MBA from IESE Business School. Among his accomplishments are being the first to deliver a Harvard Business case study in Mongolian and achieving the Guinness World Record for the fastest motorcycle tour from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the tip of South America. He speaks frequently at business schools and microfinance conferences.
Published July 9, 2012 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 264 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic

Publishers Weekly

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In this arresting exposé of the microfinance industry, economist and consultant Sinclair argues that while the idea of ending world poverty via small, low-cost loans to the poor (to allow them to start profitable businesses) is a noble one, it has been derailed by greed and “hijacked by profit...

May 14 2012 | Read Full Review of Confessions of a Microfinanc...

New York Journal of Books

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“. . . channeling Michael Lewis sets a pretty high bar, and the attempt makes Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic more fun to read than most financial books.”

Jul 09 2012 | Read Full Review of Confessions of a Microfinanc...

Ford Literary Blog

At the time, the industry is small, but through Sinclair’s daily interactions with executives, coworkers and clients at various MFI’s over the next decade, Sinclair shows how shady practices emerge as the sector grows and changes into the modern $70 billion microfinance industry.

Jan 22 2013 | Read Full Review of Confessions of a Microfinanc...

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