Improving Microcredit in Bangladesh

In the efforts to address poverty, the voices of those impacted by economic insecurity are too often conspicuously absent. The Goldin Institute's work builds on the experiences and perspectives of those living in poverty and designs solutions based on their knowledge, strategies and aspirations.

Through the Goldin Institute's pioneering work on Community-Based Oral Testimony in Bangladesh, we are building new ways to improve poverty alleviation strategies, especially microcredit, from the perspective of the poor.

The Community Based Oral Testimony Research Team meets in Arampur, Bangladesh.

The current debate about the efficacy of microfinance is marked by the absence of those who have most at stake in the controversy: loan recipients. The Goldin Institute is working to lift up these voices, most often marginalized women, and restore their perspectives, insights and aspirations to the discussion.

We invite you to review the links on the right side of this page to learn more about the Goldin Institute's work on poverty alleviation in Bangladesh and around the world.

October 2014 Newsletter

Greetings from the Goldin Institute! We are excited to share this month's newsletter highlighting the work of our global associates who are positively contributing to their communities by stepping up their efforts and stepping out of their safety zones to ensure that their good work moves forward.

Watch a brief video overview of this newsletter: 


While the peace negotiations continue to break new ground in Colombia, paramilitary-linked groups opposed to the peace process have issued threats against human rights defenders, including our colleague Fr. Leonel Narvaez of our partner organization the Foundation for Reconciliation. In response to the death threats, Fr. Leonel has publicly invited the authors "to sit down and talk." His plea for peace continues:


[quote]It is paradoxical that they threaten you with death because you work for forgiveness and reconciliation ... To those who threaten me, I offer my forgiveness and my understanding ... We forgive because we understand that you are not fully responsible for your mistake, for your rage. Someone, somewhere, has infected you all with their resentment. You are also victims just as we possibly will be."[/quote]


Amidst this backdrop of intimidation, our Global Associate Lissette continues the work of implementing a community-driven approach for child soldier reintegration which continues to grow and gain the respect of local educators, community members and former child soldiers. Despite the contentious atmosphere and threats of violence, Lissette and her colleagues continue their work with compassion in their hearts and resolve in their minds.

We had the chance to catch-up in conversation with Lissette via Skype where she walked us through the current status of these important peace negotiations and explained how they could impact her work and her community. You can view this conversation with Lissette in full here.

The Institute's Global Associate Lissette Mateus (far right) leads a Forgiveness and Reconciliation training workshop in Colombia.


As a testament to our Global Associate's passion for environmental sustainability in the conflict zone of Mindanao, our own Dr. Susana Anayatin has helped change the world yet again. Augmenting the work to provide safe drinking water to schools, including the implementation of new wells restoring clean water at an additional 15 schools in the Kabuntalan Province this month, the team in the Philippines participated in a national effort to break the world record of trees planted in an hour. On September 26, 2014 Dr. Anayatin was among the 113,000 volunteers including government employees, students and military personnel that broke the invisible, but often contentious boundaries that separate these groups to unite for environmental protection. As Guinness World Records continues to verify the count, officials in the Philippines report 3.2 million seedlings planted in six different areas on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Notwithstanding world records, the planet is in a better position to mitigate climate change and the new trees are essential to protect the watersheds and promote access to safe drinking water for generations to come.

Dr. Anayatin taking part in the reforestation tree planting project in Mindanao.

Poverty and Peacemaking

In many parts of the world, poverty and violence are common-place and intertwined realities. To explore and address these issues, the Goldin Institute participated in the Poverty and Peacemaking interdisciplinary conference and gathering at Princeton University on September 19 and 20. The conference was a concerted effort on the part of Princeton University and the community of Sant Egidio to amplify the dialogue between development professionals and students, scholars, government officials, activists, diplomats and religious leaders from around the world. The Goldin Institute was pleased to moderate a panel with participants from the Salvation Army and the World Bank focused on a new initiative to support peace building efforts through community-based heath care centers in Kibera - an informal settlement within Kenya.

Pinceton University's Poverty and Peacemaking conference, late September.
Photo Credit: Matt Weiner

Welcome Alejandro

alejandro for newsletterPlease join us in welcoming a new member to the Goldin Institute team. Alejandro Di Prizio comes to us as an AmeriCorps member completing a year of service through Public Allies Chicago.

Alejandro will serve as our Online Education Associate, bringing to the Goldin Institute many skills including a fluency in Spanish. Prior to joining AmeriCorps, Alejandro worked to create innovative family programs at the Art Institute of Chicago and later as a founding member of The Creative Agency for The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). Outside of his service at Goldin Institute and AmeriCorps, Alejandro is an active musician and visual artist.


Next Newsletter

Watch our next newsletter for an exciting progress update from our partners around the world. Can't wait until the next newsletter? Get your Goldin Institute fix by jumping onto our Facebook page for the latest news as it happens and join the growing community dedicated to uplifting stories of grassroots partnerships around the world at the tumblr site GoGrassroots!

As always, if you have suggestions of individuals who may want to receive this e-newsletter or stories you think we should tell, contact us at

Transcript of Roundtable Dialogue in Bangladesh

Microcredit Summit in Dhaka

Groundbreaking meeting between microcredit recipients, lenders and regulators, hosted in June 2010.

We are pleased to share the recently compiled transcript from the "Listening to the Experiences of Microcredit Recipients" roundtable discussion that took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 21, 2010.  This groundbreaking summit was the first dialogue between microcredit recipients, lenders and regulators in Bangladesh and is leading to new, more recipient-focused policies at the National Level.  

The dialogue was facilitated by our partner Khushi Kabir, Coordinator of Nijera Kori, who opened the dialogue by stating "Sometimes both sides become defensive while discussing the positive and negative impacts of micro-credit. To avoid this situation, we are calling upon all of you for an open and civil discussion."

Important quotes from the unedited transcript include:

[quote]We talked to the micro-credit recipients and came to know about their plight. I have seen their silent tears. The crude cycle of paying installment (kisti) begins from within one week of taking the credit. The poor cannot even have three meals a day, cannot properly feed their children but they must return back the installment. Otherwise, NGO employees come to snatch away cattle, do verbal abuse and sexually harass the female credit-recipients and so many other things. The pain of paying installments within just one week of taking loans detracts the members from pursuing other pleasures of life, like buying even a fruit for the children."[/quote]

- Hosne Ara, Community Researcher

[quote]Generally, credit is given in the name of the woman. The credit agencies do not grant credit if there is not a woman residing in the household. This is why male members of our homes or husbands sometimes force us to take credit. But, if we take credit, we have to hand it over to our husband or father-in-law who uses it in any way he wishes. But, the NGO employees come to recover the money from us (women) and we have to face many insults and indignities ... It is the men who spend the money. But, payment of installment is sought from the women. We talk of women before all and talk of empowerment, but women are used within the traps and labyrinths of micro-credit."[/quote]

- Kohinoor Begum, Community Researcher

[quote]Women are deprived of their rights. Since women have begun taking micro-credit, oppression on her has multiplied. The evil practice of dowry became manifold. Because of micro-credit, social solidarity in villages is at stake."[/quote]

- Kohinoor Begum, Community Researcher

[quote]One has to take a loan from a NGO to repay the installment of another NGO. Thus we are getting entrapped in debt cycles."[/quote]

- Nurul Islam, Community Researcher

[quote]This is the first time that the community researchers have conducted research on their own. And, we could hear the content of their research directly from them."[/quote]

- Lopita Haque, BRAC Development Institute

[quote]Thanks for giving me the opportunity to directly talk with those for whom I am working ... This is the first time I heard their direct experiences. If the slightest portion of the facts revealed in this workshop are true, then it is surely alarming. We have a policy problem at the state level from top to bottom."[/quote]

- Lila Rashid, Director, Micro-credit Regulatory Authority of Bangladesh

[quote]... [microcredit] is for 'public benefit.' Public benefit cannot be measured only through the 'recovery rate.' Rather it should really benefit the target people for whom the micro-credit scheme is designed."[/quote]

- Iftikharuzzman, Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh

[quote]Generally, we evaluate micro-credit from the viewpoint of outcomes and numbers and look for empirical ends, but we ignore the social process. But the social process is a huge pressure in itself."[/quote]

- Dr. Dina Siddique, Senior Associate. Womens Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania

[quote]Problems that existed during that time still exist and will continue to exist ... But, we want it to be limited within an acceptable number and to be addressed through discussion and limitation. We do often hear the problems, which have been discussed in today's round-table. We hear such complaints every time."[/quote]

- Azim Hossain, ASA

How can the hard-core poor pay the interest within one week of taking micro-credit? He cannot pay it without selling his assets. And, when a poor man or woman sells his or her asset, it is not a proper sale. But it becomes a 'forced sale' or 'distress sale.' S/he does not get the proper price for it. Does micro-credit accelerate the process of 'distress sale' for the poor? In my opinion, yes, it does."

- Professor Abul Barkat


Click to download the entire transcript.

Community Based Oral Testimony

Community Based Oral Testimony

Rethinking Research from the Perspective of Community Experience

In debates on development, the voices of those it affects the most are often conspicuously absent.  Our strategy for bringing their voices back in was simple: we decided to ask them. We adopted a strategy known as "oral testimony" which relies on extended semi-structured interviews to let participants tell their own stories in their own words, share their opinions and experiences and convey their own understandings of how development and poverty has transformed the history of their lives and villages.

CBOTImage1We wanted to take this approach a step further. Often oral testimony research is colored by power-dynamics between "researchers" and "subjects". Within these dynamics, answers to questions are often pre-determined by what each party expects to hear from the other. We decided to address this by inviting microcredit recipients in Arampur, a village in rural Northern Bangladesh, to interview each other about their own experiences with loans. We hoped that the content of these interviews would be shaped by mutual dialogue, rather than by top down agendas and expectations about what we, as researchers, wanted to hear.


In order to do this, we trained a group of villagers in basic, qualitative research techniques and invited them to interview their peers and neighbors. The result was open-ended, conversation-style interviews, recorded using digital-audio recorders, in which the interviewees participated in directing the discussion by framing conversations through stories, life experiences and their own personal histories with microcredit lending organizations. Using this approach we heard what people had to say about microcredit on their own terms.

"There are many things hidden there that nobody knows, not everyone feels comfortable about saying everything any place. There are so many secrets to know, so many strange events that have happened, I never heard of anything like these stories before. There are so many kinds of people in this world! Even I myself have a long history which cannot be told in one sitting." - Kohinoor Begum, Community Researcher

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • The community researchers themselves were all microcredit loan recipients. They were able to give us early insight into the landscape of credit and poverty within the village. They participated in shaping and revising our research goals to better answer our questions about microcredit, as well as transforming the strategies we employed to accomplish them.
  • As community members, they understood the best ways to conduct the work within the cultural context of rural Bangladesh. They understood what the best times to approach people were, how to make each interview session as comfortable for respondents as possible, how to best navigate the complexities of rural Bangladeshi household and gender power dynamics, and how to ask probing questions without crossing sensitive lines.
  • As community members, they understood the best ways to conduct the work within the cultural context of rural Bangladesh. They understood what the best times to approach people were, how to make each interview session as comfortable for respondents as possible, how to best navigate the complexities of rural Bangladeshi household and gender power dynamics, and how to ask probing questions without crossing sensitive lines.
  • Respondents were more comfortable speaking with their neighbors than they would be with a researcher from outside. Respondents did not have to explain taken for granted points. They did not have to couch their language or speaking style to be understandable to an outsider. Further, the semi and unstructured interview strategy allowed the respondents to direct the conversation, steering discussions to what they wished to talk about.
  • Community researchers were better situated to explain and help us interpret stories and experiences as they were shared. They did this by recording audio field notes after every interview and by sharing their stories in daily debriefing sessions.
  • Community researchers were able to elicit different kinds of responses and stories than those we could have gathered on our own. The stories shared by respondents were of a remarkably different kind than those that could or would have been shared with outside researchers. As such, the interviews collected by our fieldworkers contain different kinds of insights, stories, and critiques that shed a new light on microcredit in rural Bangladesh.
  • Community researchers knew their community and therefore knew what questions to ask. They knew their respondents and were able to ask about specific incidents from their lives and histories. They could seek targeted information about their families and livelihoods. They knew the intimate details of cultural, agricultural, and political processes in the village. They were able to ask questions that pertained directly to local practices and histories.


To learn more about this unique methodology and its impact in Bangladesh, click to download a copy of the Community Based Oral Testimony Overview.

Microcredit: A Guide for Funders

MicrocreditGuideThe Goldin Institute partnered with Grantmakers Without Borders to produce a groundbreaking guide to understanding and improving microcredit. This guide and its recommendations have been distributed throughout our combined global networks of donors, practitioners and recipients of microcredit.

MicrofinanceGuideCoverA central premise of the Guide is that In debates on development, the voices of those it affects are often conspicuously absent. Based on the Goldin Institute's pioneering work to bring the voices of recipients back to the table through Community Based Oral Testimony in Bangladesh, this guide helps donors and practitioners learn from the experiences, suggestions and aspirations of the very people who have the most at stake: borrowers.

Click to download the guide.