Impact measurement in microfinance: Is the measurement of the social return on investment an innovation in microfinance?

Par Olaf Weber
What is the impact of microfinance and how can it be measured? This paper analyzes the current status of microfinance and methods that are used to analyze its outreach and its impact. Especially on the background of the discussion about a mission drift in microfinance away from a poverty alleviation concept to a financial system approach the impact indicators of microfinance are discussed. So far, many methods measure the output of microfinance rather than the outcome. An analysis of the current mission of the 50 biggest microfinance institutions will be presented that shows that their missions are much more diverse than poverty alleviation or the financial system approach and that it is not possible to connect missions of microfinance institutions with their outreach. Based on this analysis the concept of Social Return on Investment (SROI) and social cost-benefit calculation will be discussed as methods to assess the impact of microfinance. We apply the methods in an exemplary way to demonstrate how they could be used. Based on this analysis we conclude that outcome-based approaches are better suited to measure the impact and outreach of microfinance but that they need much higher efforts because necessary data has to be assessed and useful indicators have to be developed.
JEL Codes: A13, C18, C83, D61, G20
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