Lots of studies conducted by major stakeholders showed Islamic microfinance as a huge untapped market. The figures suggested to jump into any new pattern of microfinance. The pitfalls of conventional microfinance also pushed the serious players of the sector towards Shariah compliant model along with a new commence of SME. The incentive for MFIs to graduate into Microfinance Banks ( The department of Microfinance, State Bank of Pakistan is working smartly on this move ) and the decisions of G20 policy makers proved that the expectations from conventional microfinance could not bring-in the targeted results and devastated their confidence upon the sector. Finally, the removal of Professor Yunus confirmed that the high ups has taken the decision to minimize the conventional microfinance activity and to convert the investment potential to the SME and Islamic Microfinance model. High interest rates like Compartamos Banco exercises, over indebtedness, rapid growth, weak impact, suicides of clients in Andhra Parades, suicides of MFI staff in Asasa Pakistan, late night recoveries, and the role of ghost managements of MFIs jointly directed the stakeholders towards a paradigm shift.
CGAP’s studies and initiatives turned the attention of the concerned people towards Islamic Microfinance and a suggestion to the financial and other pertinent institutions and organizations were made with a strategic manner to channel Shariah Compliant instrument. The “Islamic Microfinance Challenge” was one of the major revelations to kick off the plan. Suddenly, the whispers stated blow sounding, Why Islamic Microfinance is not scaling up?
It may be this whisper makes a man wonder for a moment but for us, it was quite an expected phenomena, Because we were observing all the bustle very minutely with a deep longing for the success of Islamic Microfinance. We were analyzing and also expressing mainly through “Microfinancefocusnews” that although the endeavors ( which are undoubtedly sincere and honest ) were being made to achieve the goals. However, these were still being steered by the conventional players, (without understanding the spirit of the faith based system) for the conventional players and to the conventional players. We examined at our humble level that the copy paste method is being implemented but innovation is being told. Irony is that, even the so called Islamic Players are also just trying to present the solution of the same conventional gear by changing their exterior only.
Islamic Microfinance Challenge could be a useful tool to collect the innovative Islamic microfinance ways but that again came up with a few products, which were also being practiced already by a few institutions and the innovation seemed a question.
An Islamic conference and advisory services champion of Pakistan satirically comment about the livestock product of Farz Foundation by saying, Mr. Shah you have nicely pulled in livestock into Islamic Microfinance. I astonished at his comment because the goat farming is a prophetic profession which is historically proven a beneficial business, particularly for the poor and The Holly Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) Himself demonstrated it. A senior banker sitting in the State Bank of Pakistan’s committee for Institutional Strengthen Fund suggested me to adopt any Musharkah product by borrowing from any Islamic bank instead of spending money on product development procedures. I find that gentleman not so false, because the same copy past methods have become the culture of the sector in Pakistan, and he thought the same about Farz Foundation, while I was trying to convey about the structural modifications by Farz Methodology to translate the true Islamic poverty alleviation attitude into microfinance. However, he was fixed at his position with a typical Pakistani bureaucratic manner. I mean to say that If we want to do something new with an old mindset, we could only make the things more confuse. The gentle man was true with his almost 20 years professional experience, while I were also not tending to change my own mind set.
PMN has formed an Islamic Microfinance wing within the PMN. PMN was supposed to achieve a certain target regarding a particular number of clients, which could not be attained unfortunately due to lot of reasons. Now a group consisted upon four five old conventional MFIs has been formed under the leadership of a very well known and well reputed Qarz e Hasna model charity based MFI, to manage the opportunity of Islamic Microfinance. It shows the members of PMN do not want to lose any chance to step in. Yet it leaves lot of questions behind it. An international Islamic Microfinance Network has been institutionalized in Pakistan and it can not be activated yet in a factual sense. There was a very interesting situation occurred, when during a meeting of the network, the meeting started by playing recitation of Holly Quran on a Laptop. May be apparently it doesn’t seems awkward but it shows a conspicuous triviality regarding the faith based and cultural sensitivities. All these actions taken by the sector players are making loud the whisper in my ears, “why the Islamic Microfinance is not scaling up”. The policy makers sitting in World Bank, CGAP, IMF and other stakeholders seriously would like to put a huge investment in the sector of Islamic Microfinance, and there is a big untapped market undoubtedly, but the fog is not ready to go off. I believe there is a chance to change the economic fate of Pakistan and the whole universe as well through the faith based model, though, the Clarity never comes by vague tools. The sector ( conventional microfinance ) could not demonstrate any reasonable impact during 25 years even after spending billions of dollars, how they will earn something real without having the original vision and mission. Pakistan needs true efforts for economic stability. A peace full economically sustained Pakistan is inevitable not only for us but also for the rest of the world. If we honestly review, among the all financial institutions, only the State Bank of Pakistan is credible and can play a pivotal role in the current scenario. If the honorable Governor of State Bank of Pakistan and his higher management appoint a visionary leadership for the task to create a new era of economic sustainability of the country through Islamic Microfinance, the objective can be made. I appreciate the collective efforts of Pakistan State Bank, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and Pakistan Microfinance Network but it these efforts can not become fruitful without a visionary, sincere, honest, unbiased and true leadership. It is impossible to get the expected targets without changing the whole previous scenario of the sector. The Microfinance Department and The Islamic Banking Department of State Bank of Pakistan are making their efforts with their limited influence, since it requires more resources to set a new framework for conventional and Islamic both microfinance sectors. MFIs and their networks also must be come under the regulations of State Bank of Pakistan at country level and this practice can be insured also at international level according. Otherwise poverty alleviation or economic sustainability is mere a dream and it will remain only a wishful thinking. Let’s see what’s happening once again.
By Farhat Abbas Shah
Microfinance Focus June 27, 2011