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Open Source

The Mifos Project Makes Software To 'Accelerate Microfinance' (Video) 39

Posted by Roblimo
from the sometimes-little-things-can-help-as-much-as-big-ones dept.
You think you have problems getting a bank loan? It's much harder for a small-town woman in Uganda or India. But Indian microfinance provider ASOMI has more than 50 branches and over 40,000 clients, and is an active Mifos user. The loans ASOMI makes are absurdly small by U.S. bank (or Indian bank) standards. Ugandans in the same "I just need a little bit of money to start (or expand) my business" predicament can turn to RedMutual Microfinance. And so on around the world, with the bulk of microfinance operators who use open source Mifos concentrated in S. and S.E. Asia and India. "But," you say, "I'm an IT person. I don't want to go into the microfinance business, and one of the little loans (often less than $100) they deal with wouldn't help me." True. But you can become a Mifos Specialist, which Mifos defines as "a consulting firm that provides technical support and consultation for microfinance institutions evaluating and deploying Mifos, and for ongoing use and customization." You won't get rich doing this, but it looks like there's a decent living (by Kenyan or Indonesian standards) in working with Mifos. They can use volunteer help, too. So check out Mifos and see if it has anything to offer you -- or if you have anything to offer Mifos. Either way, you can help poor people in poor countries become entrepreneurs and break the cycle of poverty that holds them down. (Alternate video link)

Tim:So Ed we are here with the Mifos platform. Or the Mifos project. You have partnered with Mifos?

Ed:Yeah. Mifos it is both a community and a platform. We provide open technology platform for bringing financial services to the poor. So the core software is a Java platform with an AngularJS 110, and then all the core functionality and services needed to provide any range of financial service to a poor person. It is fully exposed to an API, so we have that platform in which anybody can build their own application for bringing financial services or financial inclusion to a poor person. Then we build an entire global community that is both developing, supporting, promoting and using our software.

Tim:You say this is for poor people, I think a lot of Americans are used to online banking, or used to____ 00:57 financial dealings online and electronically, so what are the differences____ 1:02 what do you need for software?

Ed:Yeah, so we are in microfinancing, financial inclusion like the loans and savings accounts that we are talking about are very tiny compared to at least what we would have. With microfinance institutions, the banks actually come to the customer. As you can see in the banner here, this is typical of a meeting where the loan officer will come and meet with a group of borrowers and they will provide the payments, and provide the disbursals, and collect the repayments. So software adds a lot of value here, because they can actually take our software, run it from a mobile phone or tablet and do all that data collection in the field. And then software also helps these organizations to connect better into the digital finance services movement that is happening. In some countries like Kenya there are mobile payment platforms like M-Pesa that are taking strong hold. So customers are able to basically transact via SMS and send money back and forth so they could fully receive a loan via their feature phone just via SMS, they can make their repayments via SMS. They could send money to a relative in a faraway place via SMS. So these digital financial services provide a lot more convenience, a lot more security, a lot more flexibility. Because poor people, when they are living on perhaps the equivalent of less than $2 a day, income and money coming in is very volatile. So they need places to conveniently and frequently save their money, and digital financial services provide this ability.

Tim:This being open source, what is the reason for that? What is the significance of that____ 2:38 open source as a project?

Ed:So being open source and being community driven is really critical to our success, and the effectiveness of the software. So financial inclusion varies from region to region. So there are different products, there are different services, there are different regulations, there are different systems that organizations use. So, one, they needed a flexible system where they could easily extend it and customize it and localize it to their region, and they also needed a system where they could find local support. So with having an open source platform, we enable a business model where local technology companies can create their own businesses, where they are providing services implementing the software, supporting the software and providing other consulting services on top of it. So not only do we have this flexible platform that is beneficial to the end user, we create this business model and a local economy where these talented individuals don’t have to move away to a city—they can create their own business, employ local employees who are supporting these grassroots organizations that are bringing financial services to impoverished people.

Tim:From whathas Mifos come out of?

Ed:Yeah. So Mifos was originally a project out of the Grameen Foundation which was a nonprofit based in DC and Seattle that was formed to promote the missions and ideals of the Grameen Bank which was founded by Muhammad Yunus. So we were founded as a project in Grameen Foundation back in 2006, and then we spun out on our own as a separate 501 C3 nonprofit in 2011. And so now we are the Mifos initiative and our sole focus is enabling our community and growing the Mifos X Platform.

Tim:How many developers take part?

Ed:So our core team itself is very small. We just have a team of two to four developers. But our actual community of volunteers and partner developers is in probably several dozens. So we have developers in India, Amsterdam, Ireland, Kenya, the US, all over the world. We try and get as many volunteers to help extend the platform to as many of these partners who are both supporting customers but also giving back features and development that they do for their customers.

Tim:____4:52banks to do ____4:54not banks. ____4:56local financial institutions. They also support the project in any way?

Ed:Yeah. So some of our larger customers who are serving even hundreds of thousands of clients, they help by providing developers, they sometimes financially sponsor the development of features. And then our smaller organizations who can’t financially build a feature or provide resources to do, they give a lot of good help in providing feedback, they test the software, they give us suggestions on what we need to improve. Because with our software, it is imperative that the technology and the functionality is appropriately designed so it actually meets the needs of those who are receiving the financial services because we can’t build a solution that isn’t effective for them, when we think ____5:41it has to really deliver on that need and be impactful for that end client.

Tim:People see this is an intriguing project and like to be part of it. How do people find the code?

Ed: So we are on GitHub, so if you just search for Mifos Apps you will find our software there. We have the code for the platform, the code for our AngularJS community app, and then you can just find us on our website at mifos.org . So we have many different ways to volunteer. So you can write code, you can translate the software, you can write the documentation, you can help to scope out features. Or you can just help in growing the community and promoting our initiative. And then you can find us on Twitter and Facebook under ____ 6:21 .

Tim:If somebody doesn’t live in places where there are specifically going to be using ____6:25microfinance, ____6:27check out ____.

Ed:Yeah, we have applications on the smart phone, or on the web. They could check it all out. You don’t have to be located in the country to volunteer. Or you could even use our software if you are looking to set up your own grassroots financial institution or credit union of sorts. So we definitelyencourage you to check out the software and test it out.

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The Mifos Project Makes Software To 'Accelerate Microfinance' (Video)

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    but you can be damm sure the founders are, and you muppets can help them get richer

  • I generally dislike the meme, but I mis-read this as The MILFOS Project.
  • It's still debt (Score:3, Interesting)

    by popo (107611) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:15PM (#46983069) Homepage

    Micro finance is indeed capable of a lot of good. But it's also still debt, and still carries with if all the personal (and macroeconomic) evils of debt. Non-performing loans in microfinance are still a major issue despite the claims to the opposite. The public-relations positioning of micro finance as "help for the poor" is a bit laughable as it can just as easily be construed as opportunistic bankers eager for new markets. Does it help society overall? That's questionable. All debt appears to help on a macroeconomic level at the beginning if the credit cycle.

    On a larger level, debt is still tomorrow's demand, spent today. The notion that debt will always create a "virtuous circle" of ever increasing growth and demand has been proven wrong repeatedly by the credit cycle of booms and busts. A boom creates as many victims as it does beneficiaries, as rising prices burden those who do not participate in the game of debt.

    Are there positive stories of individuals who make use of micro finance to build businesses and lift themselves out of poverty? Yes. But there is also debt which enslaves and burdens. Debt is debt. It's net benefits to society are zero sum, for all but the bankers.

    • Re:It's still debt (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:20PM (#46983135)

      Micro finance is indeed capable of a lot of good. But it's also still debt, and still carries with if all the personal (and macroeconomic) evils of debt.

      I'll take that evil over the evil of crushing poverty and mental stagnation any day.

      • Micro finance is indeed capable of a lot of good. But it's also still debt, and still carries with if all the personal (and macroeconomic) evils of debt.

        I'll take that evil over the evil of crushing poverty and mental stagnation any day.

        Financing is often a cause of crushing poverty, not a way out of it. That's why my state has been trying for years to shut down payday loan joints and their 400-500 % interest rates.

        We'd be better off with a dollar that's actually worth something and decent wages than any amount of financing.

        • Financing is often a cause of crushing poverty, not a way out of it...my state has been trying for years to shut down payday loan joints .

          "Often" is a terrible misrepresentation of a useful tool that helps a LOT of people.

          Financing can be a problem, but usually small business loans are not that kind as you shed the debt if the business does not work out (especially micro-loans). Don't throw out a civilization with the bathwater.

          We'd be better off with a dollar that's actually worth something and decent wa

          • Financing is often a cause of crushing poverty, not a way out of it...my state has been trying for years to shut down payday loan joints .

            "Often" is a terrible misrepresentation of a useful tool that helps a LOT of people.

            No, "Always" or even "Most of the time" would be terrible misrepresentations. "Often" is, sadly, fairly accurate, as we get to see every few decades with our modern, bubble-burst-bubble form of economics. On top of that, a lot of people get crushed under payday loan and similar types of predatory debt. Hell, it wasn't a decade ago that shit-tons of American households got hosed by predatory banking practices, a la the "Mortgage Meltdown," and subsequent TARP bailouts.

            Financing can be a problem, but usually small business loans are not that kind as you shed the debt if the business does not work out (especially micro-loans). Don't throw out a civilization with the bathwater.

            Hyperbole. I never suggested any sort of

    • Re:It's still debt (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcrbids (148650) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:34PM (#46983295) Journal

      Debt is debt. It's net benefits to society are zero sum, for all but the bankers.

      Which is pretty much bollocks. Debt is one of the most powerful economic tools ever invented, rivaling money itself. Like any tool, it can be used well, or poorly. It's basically never a zero sum game.

      On a larger level, debt is still tomorrow's demand, spent today.

      Sorta, but not really. Debt is a type of mutual bet made by the investor/banker and the beneficiary that the value of the assets purchased by the debt will exceed the value of the money the debt reflects. And most of the time, it works out, and everybody wins!

      Let's say I need $100,000 to buy new injection molds for my business in order to build a product. Without the $100k loan, the injection molds never get built, and at the end of a year, you have $100k in cash still sitting in the investor's hand.

      But if the injection molds get built, and the product sells, you have:

      A) The investor no longer has $100k in his/her hand, but they have the debt, now somewhat greater than $100k. (interest)

      B) The borrower has $100k in debt, offset by the value of the new injection molds, AND the profits made from the product created with the injection molds.

      This scenario is a positive sum game. Personal debt is an entirely different matter.

      Like before, you are making a bet with an investor, and it does sometimes work out for the positive, but consumer debts are typically used for things to consume. If you spend it on a house, a house can be built that wouldn't exist otherwise, so it's probably a good deal. If you spend the money on hookers and blow, you truly consume the money and have no assets to "win" on. Now you have interest due on the money, which is economic activity that won't happen. Money spent on interest is then NOT spent on "real" goods, and everybody loses. Even the lender loses some, as the overall economy is damaged, even if this loss much less than they gain in personal interest money.

      • by popo (107611)

        "Sorta, but not really. Debt is a type of mutual bet made by the investor/banker and the beneficiary that the value of the assets purchased by the debt will exceed the value of the money the debt reflects. And most of the time, it works out, and everybody wins!"

        Buzz. Wrong. Actually, that's mostly not how it works. But it's a wonderful fantasy. To say that everybody wins, is a dangerous definition of "everybody".

        The problem with debt is that pervasive use of debt actually drives up the price of assets and

        • So true. Would anyone pay $250,000 for an education if they couldn't take out a loan? It isn't worth that.

      • "Which is pretty much bollocks. Debt is one of the most powerful economic tools ever invented, rivaling money itself"

        People who make sense don't get cookies -- people who say the same garbage as come out of corporate think tanks get promoted. The Egyptian empire existed for a couple thousand years without debt. America has had about 4 economic crashes.

        Plus the example given is a very simplistic example of banking. Before our 2008 economic crash -- Financial Services accounted for 40% of all profits. Making

        • The Egyptian empire existed for a couple thousand years without debt

          I'm pretty sure it's not a very good idea to use an economy that relied heavily on slavery as a positive example.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          People who make sense don't get cookies -- people who say the same garbage as come out of corporate think tanks get promoted. The Egyptian empire existed for a couple thousand years without debt. America has had about 4 economic crashes.

          You do realize that according to some, debt predates money. As in, in the barter economy, I give you a goat now, and I expect you to repay me in loaves of bread.

          But the current form of debt and money has been around to before the Roman empire, which has lasted a pretty damn

    • I tried out funding a micro finance loan, but was never paid back; the borrower basically said, "Everybody in America is rich, I don't need to pay you back." A friend of mine who worked for many years in East Africa said such feelings are very widespread. Take care; if people don't pay you back, they aren't really getting the point of financing growth, and will therefore stay stuck in poverty. It's not that I lost a lot of money (a few thousands), but I lost the relationship I could have built.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've been researching microfinance and microlending for a couple of years during the early stages of my PhD program in a related field, and have been unable to find peer-reviewed research supporting claims that microfinance initiatives create positive outcomes for their recipients. There is certainly anecdotal evidence, but little to no hard data in the hundreds of papers and articles I've read on the subject. That's not to say I'm opposed to the efforts of such lenders.

    However, I am a little concerned th

    • by hughbar (579555)
      I'll declare interest, I work on an open source, mutual social credit system: https://sourceforge.net/projec... [sourceforge.net] so I'm not neutral. But microfinance usually has high interest rates and is 'owned' by large aid organisations that have their private agendas.

      Debt money is created by private institutions from thin air and 'ought' either to be based on existing deposits [full reserve banking which would 'slow' everything, not a bad thing] or money creation should be in the hands and governed by the 'users'. So
  • Seriously, that's what I'd like to know. Kiva allowed you to donate, but you couldn't make a profit off the loans you provided. So, what about this? Can I back a loan and earn interest off of it? I love the idea of this if it could be turned into an 'everyone wins' situation - i make money, the business person starts a business and makes money, the broker in the middle makes money.
  • I made a loan or two through Kiva and then one day it dawned on me that all this sort of microfinance does is enslave unsuspecting people to debt slavery.

    Kiva was charging 18% interest then. Capitalism is much like some evangelical religions.... it needs to spread. Often times like a virus instead of a force for good.

    • by scubamage (727538)
      I wanted to try Kiva, but I had no interest in seeing a lot of risk and no benefit. They didn't provide any interest to you for lending your money, but you assumed risk if the person you loaned to didn't pay them back. Has that changed?
  • by NapalmV (1934294) on Monday May 12, 2014 @03:29PM (#46983239)
    What are the bankruptcy laws there? If the project goes wrong (like in poor crop due to inclement/extreme weather), can they declare insolvency, or do they have to commit suicide to clear the family from debt?
  • Great feel-good job, you won't make much money, they won't either so we'll all be poor together. Income equalization. Why does the company not invest in such talent? Don't they want to make their customers successful? Off course not, micro finance is just the new way of doing donations for Africa of the 80's and 90's - 80% of it sticks in the company's pocket, and 20% are bribes to local officials.

  • "... become entrepreneurs and break the cycle of poverty that holds them down."

    The phrase "cycle of poverty" -- while meaningful, and sad -- is a tired metaphor.

    Successful entrepreneurs are more like excited electrons, jumping to a higher orbital shell.

    • "Cycle of poverty" is not a metaphor.

      Also, successful entrepreneurs are more like a creamy Alfredo sauce with just a hint of garlic.

      • Agreed, "cycle of poverty" is a descriptive phrase, not a metaphor. Poor writing on my part; thank you for calling me out.

        I like the excited electron model of entrepreneurship, because electron-entrepreneur commonly de-excite and fall back to lower orbital shells.

        By the same token, I can see how many restaurateur-entrepreneurs achieve creamy Alfredo-sauceness with just a hint of garlic, yet some revert to bread and water.

  • In case you are in position to help as the article suggests and, you just need a little kick to get you in action, watch this one: http://www.gapminder.org/news/... [gapminder.org]

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