Having a bank account and credit card seems normal to many people, but for more than 2.5 billion people in the developing world, it is almost unimaginable. Excluded from the formal financial sector, they have no access to savings or current accounts, credit or other basic types of financial services.
Ending this exclusion has long been seen as a way of lifting the poorest people out of poverty. Microfinance took off around 30 years ago with the launch of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, founded by the banker, economist and Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus, and was based originally on the idea of providing small loans to poor people to enable them to invest in their own livelihoods.
The concept of microfinance has gained widespread support among policymakers, and been lauded for its potential to transform lives. But it has also come under closer scrutiny in recent years, with some questions raised about the effectiveness of microloans in particular as a way of combating poverty. A Guardian roundtable discussion, held in association with Barclays, provided an opportunity to debate these issues, examining the role of microfinance as we move towards a post-2015 development agenda and addressing some fundamental questions about its purpose, the forms it should take, and how it can be scaled up.
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