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Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

Microfinance for Disabled People: How is it Contributing? Debashis Sarker European Microfinance Program, Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, University Libre de Brussels, Belgium and Team Leader, BRAC Microfinance Programme, BRAC, Bangladesh. Email: Abstract: Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) overlooked the responsibility to include disabled people into their mainstream program. Disabled people face extreme poverty and discrimination from family, society, institutions as well as government. Though it is claimed that microfinance is for poverty reduction, empowerment of poor and vulnerable people but there are very few examples exists that microfinance served disabled people. Some MFIs or donor funded projects piloted some experiments around the globe and they found that disabled people are economically active. Disabled people also appear as the best clients, self employed and confident. However, these people constitute a good market segment for MFIs. But locating and including disabled people in the conventional microfinance practices is also challenging. Providing loan or savings service is not enough for them but MFIs could offer credit plus approach, recruit disability friendly staff, developing policies for more concentration and implementation, including disability issue in the training curriculum to change mindset of staff etc. Beyond that MFIs might build strategic partnership with Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs) to get effective information, better access and ensure financial inclusion. This article would focus on several issues of disability and poverty, forms of discrimination and obstacles faced by disabled people to get access to microfinance, contribution of microfinance for these disadvantaged people, challenges of MFIs for designing specific program and financial inclusion for disabled people. Keywords: Microfinance, Poverty, Disability, Discrimination, Contribution. 1.Introduction: Microfinance (including credit, savings, and insurance) has got a prime attention to the donors and development agencies for addressing twofold issues like alleviation of poverty and empowerment of women. (Lewis, 2004, p .30). Microfinance is working for opening the door of financial access to poor as well as unbanked people. It claims to provide financial services to the poorest of the poor. (Handicap International, 2006, p.6) Some people believe that, it works well for poverty alleviation and others’ say that, it’s not a ‘magic bullet’ to alleviate poverty. This thinking is also reflected into another research paper. Microfinance including a variety of financial services which is offered to serve the unbanked poor is seen as a ‘magic wand’ to battle against poverty and expected to solve it all. But for others this is a new version of old practices which is reframed and glorified. (Armendariz, B. and Labie, M., 2011) But it’s true that it has given ample opportunity to utilize finance for changing the economic condition of the poor. On the other hand, there is also a criticism that Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) lends to well-off clients. Beyond all these, in most cases, we could see that MFIs did not reach all of the segments’ of the poor people in the society. For an instance, MFIs are reluctant to support other vulnerable segments of the society like disabled people (sometimes called as ‘differently able people’). MFIs are excluding these people as because of their prejudice or not being capable to include these people due to different challenges. But now-a-days, different academicians, donor agencies are building awareness as well as promoting to MFIs to changes of attitude towards serving disabled people. The reality is things are not yet praiseworthy. By the way, microfinance has emerged as a popular tool to enhance economic empowerment focusing on poor entrepreneurs as well is being suggested to improve financial rehabilitation among persons with disabilities. (Mersland, R. 2005, p. 2). Many research shows that disabled people are economically active in terms of generating their self sustainability. Disabled people face numerous discrimination and barriers to get access to finance which also limits their productive uses of time. Unfortunately, MFIs did not scale-up their outreach to reach disabled people. Microfinance intervention’s contribution on the lives of the disabled people is unclear since there is almost no research done on this specific issue. Some researches mostly have been done on barriers and discrimination of disabled people to access to microfinance. In this paper, we will see the underlying cause of exclusion, microfinance intervention’s contributions as well as challenges faced by MFIs to implement the programme for disabled people.


Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

2. Disability and Microfinance: An Overview 2.1 Definition of Disability The definition of disability is critical one as it is defined in many ways in different research papers, different bodies of government and non-government as well international organizations. To define disability is complex and controversial. (DIFD, February, 2000). Defining disability is challenging because it varies on circumstances, countries or incidents and so on. The world report on disability (2011) states that though this issue is so large but both awareness and scientific information regarding disability issues have shortcomings. There is absence of conformity to define disability and have little information internationally on incidence, distribution and trends of disability. However, we can define disability by following the article 1 from the UN convention on the rights of persons with disability which states that disabled persons are those who have long term different impairments like mental, physical, intellectual or sensory that in interaction with different obstacles may hamper their full and effective participation in the society equally compare to others. Based on the definition applied, researchers have found 3% to almost 20% of a given population have disabilities. (Beisland, L.A. and Mersland, R., 2012). Some work has been done recently on disability and these papers show the number of disabled people in more specific way. It has been publicized that near to 10% population in this world have disabilities and 80% of them live in developing countries. These disabled people are poorer compare to other people and among them who earn less than $1 per day, I in 5 has a disability. (United Nations, 2007) According to the world report on Disability (2011, p.-261), 15% of total population of the world has some form of disabilities. 2.2 Disability and Poverty Disability has a direct affect on disabled people. Diverse development interventions are running throughout the world for ensuring positive changes of the lives of the poor people. But these interventions are limited to the specific segments of the poor people especially those who are most vulnerable like disabled people. Disabled people face extreme poverty because of their vulnerability. They are excluded from the normal social life and in most cases; they don’t get sufficient economic support to be self sustainable. This is how they are always fighting against poverty to survive themselves.


Social and cultural exclusion and stigma

Vulnerability to Poverty and ill health

Denial of opportunities for economic, social and human development

Deficits in economic, social and cultural rights

Reduced participation in decision making and denial of civil and political rights


Source: Disability, poverty and development, DFID, 2000 (p.-4) In most developing countries, limited number of programmes has been taken for the disabled people. For instances, some of the developing countries like Albania, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Romania, and the Russian Federation have taken some programmes for disabled people as target segment with different design of programs


Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

but they did not cover all disabled people. Sometimes some experiments have been done or primary target was children with disabilities. Most of the people with disabilities could not have access to all sorts of benefits like health, education or employment opportunities. They did not get enough disability-related services they required at that time and excluded from normal everyday life practices in the society. (World report on disability, 2011, xii and p.11) In terms of economic inclusion of the disabled people, these persons have limited access to the formal employment sector because organizations don’t want to include disabled people in their formal employment process. 80-90% of disabled people don’t have formal job and for which they try to focus on self employment. (United Nations, 2007) Since finding a formal job in developing countries is difficult, so disabled people have only accessible option to become self employed. Because of the nature of heterogeneity, this is not the option for everyone. (Handicap International, 2006, p.-20) For generating self employment, disabled people need financial support which is very rare. Access to finance is really difficult for them to do some productive work. On the other hand, they need to depend on the grants or family support to do something which is also limited for them. For all those reasons, they can’t take initiative in larger scale. One of the main obstacles facing the self employed is access to capital, either in the forms of loans or savings. However, most persons with disabilities tend to be excluded from mainstream microfinance services so their economic activities are supposed to be remaining small (Handicap International, 2006; Mersland, 2005). To survive in the family life, they need to generate some revenue for their own as well as their families. Without economic empowerment, they can’t get the respect in the society and eventually they suffer for their lacking of confidence and self respect. But the matter of fact that less than 20 percent of them have involvement in the employment practices. This number is not good enough to consider their economic activities. (Handicap International 2006, p.-17) Meanwhile before getting loan from MFIs’, disabled people need to show enough capacity to provide loan security or forced savings or different fees or even they need to prove their prior business experience. All these things are really difficult to manage by poorest of the poor since they don’t have enough capacity to do so. These things make them excluded from the financial system. (Cramm, J.M. and Finkenflugel, H., 2008) 3. Discrimination and Obstacles of Disabled People to Access to Microfinance: Microfinance is supposed to be opened for all people who need finance. People with disabilities have a number of barriers or discrimination for getting access to this system. Different research work shows different barriers for diverse reasons. It varies from social discrimination to microfinance programme design. As a human being, everyone has a right to get access to the health, education, finance etc. But persons with disabilities have limited access to all these services especially financial service. It is no doubt that, disabled people are deprived from the normal development priorities especially they face enormous challenges in their lives when they are out of financial inclusion. In the eye of development perspective, disability itself is a development issue since they face negative experience in the society as well as extreme poverty. For exclusion and poverty, they are not only suffered by themselves but also make others unproductive by getting other’s time and efforts. Considering getting any types of social benefits, disabled people are excluded in most cases. Not only this, they are highly dependent on other peoples and may affect the normal life of other’s people too. Compare to men, women are more vulnerable when they are disabled. (Labie et al. 2011) In the other research we can find that, in the development initiatives, women from rural areas, indigenous women, young and older women, lesbians, refugees and migrant women, sex trade workers and women with disabilities, get less priority (Lewis, 2004). Sometimes we can see that disabled people can’t get the same amount of loan as someone is getting as able though there is no difference of income actually. Persons with disability have always given less priority and they were not the main target group in terms of inclusion of socio economic integration. Never the less, all persons with disabilities are not in the poorest of the poor group and they have a good capacity to do job properly in the job market. When there is a level playing field to perform in the job market, disabled people did well for their self employment. (ILO, 2002; lewis, 2004; United Nations 2007) Simanowitz (2001) and Bwire et al. (2009) explain that several barriers exclude disabled persons from accessing microcredit: exclusion by staff because of biased attitude; non-disabled members in credit groups; the disabled themselves because of low self-esteem and repeated experiences of rejection during life; credit design; and mobility or communication problems resulting from the disability itself. Therefore experience and perceptions of the disabled people were the basis of analyzing barriers. It may be differ in the practical field. But the most hindering barrier is credit programme design. Due to several reasons like loan amount, time duration, interest 120

Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

rate, disabled people think that there is no perfect products for them. MFIs could design products focusing on disabled people’s need. (Beisland, L.A. and Mersland, R. 2012) 4. Microfinance for Disabled People and Some Challenges: A Critical Analysis 4.1 Contribution of Microfinance activities into the lives of disabled people Microfinance activities seem to be useful for self employment in many cases even for disabled people. Microcredit, savings, insurance even credit plus approach could create huge impact on the lives of the disabled people. Opportunities to get access to finance can help people to accumulate assets, business opportunities, economic empowerment, contributing in the society as normal human being and thus increase their self esteem. Microfinance can also help people from different vulnerability like illness, drought, crop failure; it can also play a role in education, health and housing. Microcredit also can enhance social and economical condition of women. (Herms and Lensink, 2007, p. 463). Though credit could do so many things but microfinance programme did not play an active role to include disabled people for financial inclusion. As we see in the literature there is no concrete example to mention. There is always a debate exists how microfinance interventions can contributes to the lives of disabled people. Some of the findings in literature show that Microfinance has contributed very few for the people with disabilities. MFIs never try to face the challenges of including this vulnerable group to their core programme. But keeping mind all these criticisms, some projects have been taken for disabled people. It is becoming an issue in the microfinance world to comprise disabled people into their core activities. In the past and recent years, we could find that some organizations like MFIs or donor agencies etc. are working directly or indirectly with persons with disabilities (PWDs) like BRAC and Freedom from Hunger, Handicap International, Leonard Cheshire International supported some disabled oriented organizations with funds etc. Disabled people constitute significant market segments for MFIs since it represents 10 percent of total population in most countries. But the disabled person as clients of microfinance institutions is very low like 0-0.5 percent where some argues it could be six percent. Nevertheless, many microfinance institutions agreed that they did not include disabled people among their clients as target population. (Handicap International, 2006, page 37). Though market for disabled persons is considerable but the fact is few persons with disabilities have access to microfinance. Considering the number of disabled people, there is an ample opportunity to innovate and introduce different products and ideas for providing services to these people. For the nature of risk averse, MFIs never thought about the persons with disabilities could be the mainstream clients. MFIs always thought that if they provide loan to disabled people, they might lose their portfolio without the belief that persons with disabilities could be able to repay the loan amount. On the other hand, it’s true that people with disabilities have limited ability to provide loan security or savings before getting the loan. As a result, self exclusion becomes started by disabled people themselves. Meanwhile, in rural areas, persons with disabilities are out of all sorts of services available for others. MFIs don’t operate it’s activities in the extreme rural areas to reach the poor people. For solving this problem, MFIs need to focus on developing innovative approaches how to include these disabled people into the programme activities. (Ton, D.K., 2008). Research shows almost all jobs can be performed by someone with a disability, and given the right environment; most people with disabilities can be productive. On the other hand, it is proved that microcredit with the most vulnerable groups could be effective and sustainable. (World disability report 2011, Handicap International 2006, page-106) There is an obvious expectation from MFIs that they should also work for the disabled people since through economic empowerment, disabled people could be established themselves in the society with honor and dignity. Lewis (2004) states that access to capital not only increase productivity and assets but also increase self esteem and build social acceptance in the society. Persons with disabilities can be economically sustainable if they get necessary finance with some training and other technical support. By involving with the financial system, they could generate more savings and this is how disabled people could be more competent to face contingency situation, enhance social respect, increase peer relationship etc.


Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

Economic activities Sustainable Institutional Environment

Livelihood approach

Social condition

Savings Relationships People- centered Source: Handicap International, 2006 (Page 19) Despite of all these criticisms, suggestions and possible solutions, there have been some interventions done by some of the MFIs to see the outcome though it was limited in scale. But learning form the past, we could at least keep our focus on the issue of ‘win-win’ for both parties like MFIs and Disabled people. Here are some of these: Author and research paper


Handicap International, 2006

“Interestingly, some microfinance institutions mentioned that people with disabilities were among their best clients.” “Evaluated 43 projects and found that targeted microfinance schemes were beneficial and that almost two thirds of them were sustainable”.

United Nations, 2007

“Evidence indicates that persons with disabilities have better performance ratings in the job market, and when they have access to equal opportunities as their non-disable counterparts, they often experience success as self employed.”

Evaluation report on Dadoma Microfinance Project for disable people, July 2003-2004

“The project has recorded 99% of repayment rate. The rate shows that people with disabilities are not a financial risk.” “PWDs gained more confidence that they can better manage credit and make profit.” “The Microfinance project has changed socio-economic life of PWDs. Small loan given enabled disable people to start and expand small business”

Doing Business in Trigray: Case studies of women entrepreneurs with disabilities in Ethiopia. ILO-2003

“Microfinance programme in Ethiopia shown a positive result who became disabled during war”

Jean Fiasse, Impact of Microcredit scheme for persons with physical disabilities in Herat, Afganisthan. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physical rehabilitation center, Afganisthan, 2011

The study shows that after completing the loan clients continued with their business, showing improved confidence and living conditions.


Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

If we look back to the previous table we could see different experiments have done previously for disabled people and these were profitable for both MFIs and disabled people. MFI’s could provide extra opportunities considering the vulnerability of these people. MFIs could also try to judge themselves whether this group is able to do something or not with the credit. These challenges they never faced as a promoter of financial inclusion for the marginal and destitute people in the society. Handicap international 2006 says that seventy percent of MFIs who provided loan to disabled people said that they provided loan with the same condition compare with other clients which also proves that disabled people could be businessman and women as other population. Never the less, Disabled people can provide installment on time and they never wait for the special treatment. They want to work like other people do and finance can help them to work. Studies done by Bwire et al (2009) shows that one of the projects has be successful to increase the number of disabled customers without giving incentives, conditions even changing products. Beisland and Mersland (2012) suggest that for reaching more disabled clients, MFIs should revise their products as disability friendly. They also imply that MFIs may include disabled people as their clients but focus should also be given on retaining them. Besides that to ensure success of self employment programme for people with disabilities, marketing skills, access to credit and most importantly long term assistance and post programme follow up are needed. (Perry, D.A.,ILO, 2003) MFIs can provide training to the disabled people for developing their skills to be involved in any economic activities. With necessary knowledge and skills they can easily start something which will generate income. MFIs can also build collaboration with the local organization which works for the disabled people. Since Disabled People’s organizations are providing some sorts of income generating training, they can also integrate their activities with the affiliation of microfinance institutions. It is crucial for MFIs to select and orient their staff for dealing with this segment with due respect. 4.2 Challenges of MFIs to include disabled people: It is obvious that MFIs always face challenges to include disabled people into their mainstream programme. Challenges come from the policy development to service delivery. The most challenging task is to collect data on disabled people and identify clients’ competencies. Shortage of meaningful data between MFI and disabled centered organization are also exists. This difference makes disabled people not to be included in the microfinance program. Besides that, asymmetric information impedes crucial communication and interaction between “disability world” and “microfinance world”. MFIs always believe that disabled people are too risky to lend and disabled people have less capacity to save properly. (Cramm and Finkenflugel, 2008; martinellai and Mersland, 2010; Beisland and Mersland, 2012; Bwire et al. 2009). Sometimes collection of data could be easier by building the partnership between Disabled People Organization since these organizations specifically works for disabled people regarding providing health support as well as training. We could see that some DPOs have their microfinance activities focusing on disabled people. By the way, DPOs could face difficulties or challenging to run microfinance activities and there is a chance to reach a limited number of clients due to lack of knowledge on developing and administering the programme. The question of effectiveness is always exists in this case. However, mainstream MFIs might not excluded disabled people by intentionally but they did not include these people also. They did not engage in into the challenges to ensure full and equal access to their programme. (Dyer, S., Leonard Cheshire International) If we look back to MFIs perspective, we could say, higher interest rate, more resources, specialized treatment, operational cost, changing staff attitudes are some of the challenges MFIs always face to include disabled people into their mainstream programme. 5. Conclusion: Microfinance programme can be available for disabled people. Though MFIs face numerous challenges to include disabled people in their progamme, they should always try to be innovative in designing programme and way of implementation. Providing credit, savings facility, insurance and other innovative ways like credit plus approach, MFIs can contribute to the lives of the disabled people. Market size for disable people is quite large and MFIs could get ‘win-win’ benefits for their clients and it selves. MFIs should try to remove all barriers to provide equal access to disabled people. Till now, Microfinance industry doesn’t have sufficient examples to present in the world of microfinance practices that they have done a lot of good things for these disadvantaged people. With ethical point of view, MFIs should work hard to ensure financial inclusion of this group. Since it’s difficult for MFIs to locate these clients, they can collaborate with Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs) for better access to information. DPOs could provide useful information to MFIs regarding disabled people, assist to provide training to MFIs, analyzing and education of prospects and raise awareness against exclusion among members. (Martinelli, E., 2006, Microfinance Gateway) On other hand, MFIs could provide technical support to 123

Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

the Disability organizations to run microfinance effectively. MFIs can also come forward to integrate their programme with those organizations that are already providing other services to the same group. It is also necessary to do something for the wellbeing of these disabled people and microfinance can’t ignore their role of serving disabled people. However, more study is needed to see the livelihood impact of microfinance intervention’s on the disabled people, the way of enhancing entrepreneurial competency through microfinance, social and financial sustainability of disabled people through microfinance, integration and effectiveness of operation between DPOs and MFIs for serving disabled people. References: Armendariz, B. and Labie, M., (2011). “The Handbook of Microfinance”, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte.Ltd., page 6 Bwire, F.N. , Mersland, R. and Mukasa, G. (2009). ‘Access to mainstream microfinance services for persons with disabilities: Lessons learned from Uganda’, Disability Studies Quarterly 29, Issue 1 Beisland, L.A. and Mersland, R. (March 2012). ‘Barriers to microcredit for disable persons: Evidence from economically active persons in Uganda’, Enterprise Development and Microfinance Vol. 23, No.1, Practical Action Publishing Cramm, J.M. and Finkenflugel, H. (2008). ‘Exclusion of disabled persons from microcredit in Africa and Asia : A literature study’ , Asia Pacific Disability Rehabilitation Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2: page 16 Dyer, S. Access to Credit - - A Right , Not just an Opportunity : Leonard Cheshire International, available at: (accessed on 23.12.2012) DFID (November, 2000). “Disability, Poverty and Development.” Department of International Development, UK Government, page 2. “Evaluation report on Dadoma Microfinance Project for disable people”, July 2003-2004 Fiasse, J., (2011). “Impact of Microcredit scheme for persons with physical disabilities in Herat, Afganisthan”. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physical rehabilitation center, Afganisthan, Handicap-International (2006). “Good Practices for the Economic Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Developing Countries”, Handicap International, Paris Herms, N. and Lensink, R., (2010). “Impact of Microfinance: A critical survey”, H T Parekh finance forum, Economic and political weekly, Page 463 ILO (November 2012). ‘Disability and Poverty Reduction Strategies: How to ensure that access of persons with disabilities to decent and productive work is part of the PRSP Process, International Labor Organization, Switzerland. ILO (2003). “Doing Business in Trigray: Case studies of women enterprenuers with disabilities in Ethiopia.” Lewis, C. (2004). ‘Microfinance from the point of view of women with disabilities: Lessons from Zambia and Zimbabwe’, Gender and Development 12: 1, p.28-39. Labie, M., Meon P-G, Mersland, R., and Szafarz, A. (2011). ‘Discrimination by microcredit officers: Theory and Evidence on disability in Uganda’, Working paper 11-06, University Libre de Brusssels-Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, Centre Emile Berheim. Mersland, R. (2005). ‘Microfinance for self employed disable people persons in developing countries.’ Atlas Alliance, Norway.


Research Journal of Finance and Accounting ISSN 2222-1697 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2847 (Online) Vol.4, No.9, 2013

Mersland, R, Bwire, F.N., and Mukasa G. (2009). “Access to mainstream microfinance service for persons with disabilities- lessons learned from Uganda.” Disability Studies Quarterly, Volume 29, No. 1 , available at: accessed on 10.11.12 Martinelli, E., (2006). “Microfinance and Disability, “Building a bridge between microfinance and disabled communities”, Microfinance gateway, available at: , accessed on 15.11.2012 Perry D.A., (2003). “Moving forward: toward decent work for people with disabilities. Examples of good practice in vocational training and employment from Asia and Pacific”. Geneva, International Labor Organization, available at:, accessed on 25.11.2012 Simanowiz, A. (2001). ‘Thematic report No. 4: Microfinance for the poorest: A review of issues and ideas for contribution of IMP-Act’, in Improving the Impact of Microfinance on poverty, Imp-Act, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, Page 3 and 4, available at:, accessed on 08.11.2012 Ton, D.K., (2008). “Funding for self-employment of people with disabilities. Grants, Loans, revolving funds or linkage with microfinance programmes”, British Lepsory Relief Association, Volume 79, Issue 1, Available at: (accessed on 12.12.2012) United Nations (2006). “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities United Nations General Assembly”. Available at:, accessed on 12.11.2012 United Nations. (2007). “Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda”, Available at :, dated on 25.12.2012 WHO/World Bank (2011). World Report on Disability, WHO Press, Geneva, Switzerland

About the Author: The Author is now doing an advanced master program in Microfinance at University Libre de Brussels, Belgium with full scholarship. Before joining this course, he worked four years in BRAC Microfinance Programme, BRAC (, Bangladesh. He was born in a city of Bangladesh named Mymensingh . He did his Bachelor and Master in Business Administration from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dedication: This article is dedicated to my lovely parents (Prahlad Chandra Sarker & Jothsna Rani Sarker) and Brothers (Pabitra Kumar Sarker, Pranotosh Sarker and Debotosh Sarker).


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Microfinance for disabled peoplehow is it contributing