Microfinance institutions' failure to address poverty: A narrative critical literature review

Sigurður Guðjónsson


This critical literature review begins by giving a short introduction to the microfinance industry. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are explained and an account is given of their dual performance goals of financial performance (‘financial sustainability’) and social performance (‘outreach’). While MFIs’ social performance is directly aimed at poverty reduction, it is noteworthy that often they fail to address poverty (i.e., they fail to deliver outreach). The aim of the paper is to answer the following research question: Why have microfinance institutions (MFIs) failed to address poverty? In order to establish the reason, the first step is to look at how the MFIs are managed and controlled, i.e. to examine MFIs’ corporate governance literature. This critical literature review was conducted using systematic on-line searches in the databases Scopus and Web of Knowledge; the main key words used were microfinance, gender, corporate governance and performance. The unconvincing nature of the findings of a review of the corporate governance literature suggests that another factor should be taken into consideration: that of gender; after all, MFIs are mainly used by women. The findings from reviewing the microfinance literature suggests that microfinance gender literature may explain why MFIs have not adequately addressed poverty, but this literature consists of a few studies only and further studies are needed. The literature on gender in general is more substantial, however. Some account of it will be given in this literature review. The findings of this literature review should benefit policymakers on the one hand, who are in a position to advance gender equality, while on the other hand it should be of use to academics, who can research MFIs in relation to gender; further studies of gender in MFIs are encouraged.


Microfinance; gender; women; corporate governance; dual performance; outreach; financial sustainability.


PDF (English)


M1; M14

DOI: https://doi.org/10.24122/tve.a.2017.14.1.4


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Útgefendur eru Viðskiptadeild Háskólans á Bifröst, Viðskiptafræðideild og Hagfræðideild Háskóla Íslands, Viðskiptafræðideild Háskólans í Reykjavík og Seðlabanki Íslands.

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