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David C. Korten
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Big River Books
BookHouse COM LLC
Part memoir, part financial detective story, and part expose, this is the account of a microfinance insider who joined the industry in the early 2000s with a newly minted MBA and the intention to do good in the world. But over the course of eight years, he became increasingly disillusioned and alarmed. Eventually he decided to do something about it: he became an anonymous source for The New York Times, providing information for a series of stories that covered an increasing number of microfinance scandals.
The author traveled the world, from Mexico to Mongolia, with Nigeria and Mozambique in between, working for several banks, agencies and institutions. He saw microfinance at all levels, from the first-world banks who called him in the night to hush up negative publicity, to the street vendors whose lives were sometimes transformed by microloans--but all too often were not. Because microcredit is largely unregulated and poorly understood by individual investors the potential for abuse is rampant. And seduced by the high pay-back rate of the loans, banks like DB and Citibank helped push the microfinance sector to bubble-like highs. The author describes his firsthand experiences of the result: rampant corruption, exorbitant interest rates, and microloans leading to fraud, child labor, and even suicide. Much of the book centers on the scandal he uncovered involving the corrupt Nigerian nonprofit LAPO and its dealings with industry darlings Kiva and Triple Jump.
Microfinance can work--the author had direct experience of this too, and lays out the conditions necessary for success. But he authoritatively debunks the myth that putting the poor of the world into debt is always a good idea.
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