Reflection: Women, Foss, and Microfinance

           A critical point that Burns (2011) makes in his discussion of software, information access, and social justice is the following: “Thus, free software acknowledges and spotlights the user’s integrity and freedom, or the user’s moral agency” (Burns, 2011, p. 21). As I am interested in microfinance, this statement, for me, bridges free and open source software (FOSS) to women seeking self-, community-, and national empowerment as its founding principles are integrity, freedom, and morality.  The four specific software freedoms that Burns (2011) and Sullivan (2011) delineate parallel the notions of self-empowerment for women embracing and beginning a new idea, project, or program: the freedom to run the program however they want; the freedom to study it and make it better for themselves; the freedom to use what they have thus created to help their neighbors; and the freedom to help their communities as well.

            Burns (2011) quotes the Free Software Foundation’s statement on choosing and using free software: “To use free software is to make a political and ethical choice asserting the right to learn, and share what we learn with others. Free software has become the foundation of a learning society where we share our knowledge in a way that others can build upon and enjoy” (p. 21).  Further, according to Burn’s proposition, the “active and intentional decision to select a particular software model (or any product) is not simply an agent’s decision as a consumer, it is an agent’s decision as an ethical being, or what we call her moral agency” (p. 22).  That works well for computer programmers or for those who, at the very least, are aware of what programming is.  Only in this past month of class has this even become a factor for me.

            So for developing and Third-World countries, particularly, war-torn countries where women are mostly responsible for their families, their political and ethical choices may not necessarily extend to which software—free or proprietary—they will use to address their needs.  The political and ethical choices become what will address their needs best, regardless of the principles of upon which FOSS was founded.  The notion of moral agency cannot be applauded only when the agency extends to users choosing and using FOSS; otherwise, FOSS dawns a proprietary stance on morality just like its non-FOSS competitors on product in that it seeks to close its doors to users who have only at their disposal proprietary software.  In the absence of FOSS, what options do lesser privileged consumers have?  If she is a moral agent, does her morality sour if her choice is not FOSS but her survival?  Does she really sacrifice her learning and the learning of her community members if she chooses the propriety product, as if proper learning only happens with FOSS?  I take issue with the notion that “if an agent chooses a proprietary model and not a free and open source model, the agent willingly gives up this important freedom [to learn from the world around her]” (Burns, 2011, p. 24).

            That being said, ensuring that all consumers have the ability to learn and make decisions among all relevant alternatives is a moral issue.  This is most important when it comes to developing economies of women and their families and communities.  It is a moral issue not only for women and communities but of the suppliers as well as all parties involved in the process.  Technology and access to information are becoming as critical to survival for advanced and developing countries as humans’ fundamental needs of air, water, food, and shelter; thus, denying people and communities access to these needs is a social injustice (Andrews et al, n.d.). 

            Today, software is released with free software implementation and open source programming is now the norm (History of Free and Open-Source Software, 2013).  FOSS has already become institutionalized as a social movement starting from the 1980s with Stallman and the General Public License (GPL) then moving through the 1990s with Tolvards and his Linux operating system and the 2000s with Lessig and the Creative Commons (Sullivan, 2011).  Its larger goal of collectivism drives it as a necessary social justice movement (Sullivan, 2011). 

            Thus, as the digital divide decreases, more and more consumers in advanced and developing communities across the globe have a choice between FOSS and proprietary software, for example, Microsoft Windows versus Linux, Debian, and Ubuntu, Microsoft Office versus OpenOffice and LibreOffice, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer versus Apache, Mozilla’s Firefox, or Google’s Chrome (Burns, 2011; Sullivan, 2011).  More and more organizations in developing countries across the world use FOSS much more so than proprietary software since FOSS reduces the costs of these organizations substantially while allowing knowledge and skill acquisition and unique software adaptation by its workers (Clarke, n.d.).   

            These technological advances and communities founded and developed on philosophies of human freedoms are well poised to support women and microfinancing in developing communities across the world.  FOSS has proven beneficial in helping organizations map reports of political violence in Kenya, target better relief areas in Haiti, coordinate relief efforts in natural disasters in Asia, and train teachers and students to use free software tools in Namibia (Sullivan, 2011).  Because FOSS is typically designed to handle all makes and models of hardware, old and new, it extends the life of the hardware and lessens the financial burden of users and organizations by reducing the need to purchase new computers, and in turn, lessens the economic burden of organizations and communities by reducing the need to unnecessarily expend natural resources (Andrews et al, n.d.).  Such economic conservation is crucial for women seeking alternative means to economic empowerment for themselves and their communities since traditional banking services have consistently denied them.

            Starting with Grameen Bank in 1983 under Dr. Mohammad Yunus, microfinancing has reached a vastly increasing number of poor women over the decades, with estimates of about 160 million people being served by microfinance (http://web.worldbank.org).  Providing microfinancing for women has demonstrated positive impacts in promoting gender equity, meeting individual and household economic welfare, providing stability or growth in family and community enterprise and employment, and in some cases, lessening in the incidences of violence against women (http://www.kiva.org).  Microfinancing, most fortunately, for women extends past microloans for business capital as “women, in particular as primary caretakers, need more than just business capital. They need the opportunity to build assets and protect against disaster, which is why it is incredibly important that microfinance encompass savings, insurance, and even pension plans” (Quast, 2011, p. 1).  To help support microfinancing, the Grameen Foundation started Mifos (originally standing for Microfinance Open Source), open source software that provides key functionality for microfinance institutions and currently supports over 850,000 microfinance clients around the world (Mifos, 2013).       

            For me, this is where the “rubber meets the road.” In the big picture, the issue is less about whether one chooses to use Gimp over Photoshop (although that is a legitimate concern in some smaller contexts), but rather, how we collectively use this FOSS technology to really change lives by advancing human freedoms on a global landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

References

Andrews, C., Culp, E., & Shinsato, C. (n.d.). An ethical commentary on software: Proprietary vs. open-source. 1-11. Retrieved from http://www.ethicapublishing.com/confronting/5CH15.pdf

Burns, C. S. (2011, December). Social justice and an information democracy with free and open source software. Information, Society and Justice, 2(2), 19-28.

Clarke, A. (n.d.). Free (libre) and open source software: A social justice primer for churches. Retrieved from https://groups.drupal.org/files/Open%20Source%20Social%20Justice%20Backgrounder.pdf

History of free and open-source software. (2013). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_free_and_open-source_software

Mifos. (2013). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mifos.

Quast, L. (2011, May 9). Microfinance 101—Part 1 of 3: Microfinance for women. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2011/05/09/microfinance-101-part-1-of-3-microfinance-for-women

Sullivan, J. (2011). Free, open source software advocacy as a social justice movement: The expansion of F/OSS movement discourse in the 21st century. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 8, 223–239. doi: 10.1080/19331681.2011.592080

 

Bibliography for Women and Microfinance in Africa

 

Abiola, B. (2011). Impact analysis of microfinance in Nigeria. International Journal of Economics and Finance, 3(4), 217-225.

       This paper applies the financing constraints approach to study whether microfinance institutions improved access to credit for microenterprises in Nigeria. According to this approach, microenterprises with improved access to credit rely less on internal funds for their investments. Thus, investment sensitivity to internal funds of micro enterprises in Lagos State (a municipal with significant presence of Microfinance Banks (MFBs) was compared to that of micro enterprises in Ekiti State (a municipal with no (or limited) presence of MFBs) using a cross sectional survey method and Microfinance Institutions (MFI) branch location data. Results indicate that MFBs alleviated micro businesses’ financing constraints. This approach is applicable to evaluating microfinance impact in other countries. I don’t know how much focus I will place on Nigeria, but I need to begin looking at impact. I have a few other sources that also deal with Nigeria, so “impact” is a good place to start. Note: The “impact” here is purely financial, as opposed to social.

Abraham, H., & Balogun. I. O. (2012). Contribution of microfinance to GDP in Nigeria: Is there any? International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(17), 167-176.

       The study highlights the state of the institutions since 2006. The growth of microfinance in Nigeria is phenomenal with over 900 licensed institutions, mostly operating in urban areas. Though some microfinance banks have closed, there are still some that are to provide services. Where is the strength of this industry in Nigeria? It is observed that providing the poor with good service, professional monitoring, supervision in accordance with best practice and a strong media is crucial. I chose this study to compare it to the “impact” study of microfinance in Nigeria, and to see if the factors that determine success are consistent across studies and papers. What constitutes a “contribution” and what constitutes “success?”

Appah, E., John, M. S., & Wisdom, S. (2012). An analysis of microfinance and poverty reduction in Bayelsa state of Nigeria. Kuwait Chapter of the Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review, 1(7), 38-57.

       This study used relevant studies and four hypotheses to investigate the relationship between microfinance and poverty reduction for 286 female respondents in the small scale business in Bayelsa State of Nigeria. The analysis of the data revealed that there is: a) significant relationship between microfinance and poverty reduction in Bayelsa State; b) significant difference between microfinance and the traditional rotating system; c) significant difference between loan repayment by the women and poverty reduction in Bayelsa State, and d) significant difference between microfinance and the status of women in Bayelsa State, Nigeria. The conclusion drawn from this study is that microfinance alone cannot reduce poverty in any society where basic infrastructures like good roads, steady power supply, and good transportation systems, etc. are not available. I selected this as a resource because I wanted to see the factors that may erode away at the benefits of microfinance, and the specific impact of microfinance in poverty reduction in Nigeria.

Ashta, A., & Fall, N. S. (2012). Institutional analysis to understand the growth of microfinance institutions in West African economic and monetary union. Corporate Governance, 12(4), 441-459.

       The extent to which microfinance succeeds varies greatly even among countries. The paper aims to look at the reason microfinance develops in some countries, and not others. It tries to identify institutional factors that can be introduced to enable microfinance to succeed in a country. Again with some focus on Nigeria, this paper explains the success of microfinance while controlling for cultural and regulatory factors, and also goes into public governance indicators. I like this approach. When looking at the success of microfinance across regions, most have failed to take into account differences in cultures and regulations; thus there is a residual bias. I think that this will be helpful to me as I look at the factors contributing to success.

Baumann, T. (2005). Pro-poor microcredit in South Africa: Cost-efficiency and productivity of South African pro-poor microfinance institutions. Journal of Microfinance, 7(1), 95-117.

       This article compares the performance of selected South African microcredit nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have a poverty-alleviation focus against various benchmarks drawn from the MicroBanking Bulletin. Donors, governments, and many analysts regard sustainability as the benchmark of microfinance institutions’ (MFIs) performance. However, the most relevant question is whether microcredit NGOs are doing as well as they can in their context. Of particular contextual importance is income inequality in a society. South Africa has the world’s second worst income inequality, after neighboring Botswana. South Africa MFIs face the options of moving upmarket (which many have done), adopting methodological innovation or new product development, or closing. Of these, there is a strong argument to be made for supported savings and credit approaches as an alternative to NGO-based microcredit. Such an approach has the advantages of greater voluntary input and social capital formation.I chose this because a) I am unfamiliar with the MicroBanking Bulletin, b) it’s in a different region, and c) it discusses a savings and credit approach. I think that this will certainly be used in my Capstone so that I can reference the savings and credit approach.

Bercaw, D. W. (2012). Empowering women through microfinance: Microfinance interventions in Ghana and South Africa. International Forum of Teaching and Studies, 8(1), 23-35, 80.

       Female disempowerment is a major problem throughout the world. Can microfinance interventions help? What are the empowerment “indicators?” Disempowered women face a variety of economic, social, and physical ills which erode their self-image, limit their ability to make independent choices, and leave them powerless against abuse. This study was interesting because even though women involved in the interventions saw substantial increases in female empowerment, the majority of them continued to rely on their husbands for financial support. The paper asserts that future interventions should consider increasing women’s access to larger microloans so they can maximize their business profits and become more self-reliant, and that they establish stronger, cross-sector collaborations and consider how other factors (such as geographic location, village design, education, and local laws) might contribute to the severe disempowerment of women. I am keeping this in the list because I am intrigued by the role of husbands. Note: this is the second source having South Africa as its region.

Burand, D. (2012, June). Beyond microfinance: Creating opportunities for women at the base of the pyramid. International Trade Forum, 1(2), 20-21.

        A growing number of innovative social entrepreneurs are tackling microfinance problem by creating businesses inspired by Avon. These very small franchise or consignment businesses are affordable enough to be acquired and operated by women living at the base of the economic pyramid. Microfranchise and Microconsignment networks may prove incredibly valuable. I am interested in Durand’s  assertions that: “The three lessons that the experience of microfinance might offer are: 1. Build investment-ready networks that are financially and operationally sustainable at multiple levels. 2. Measure the success of these networks holistically and transparently — both as to financial outcomes and development impacts on the micro-entrepreneurs and the communities that they serve. 3. Front-load micro-entrepreneur and customer protections into the business model of microfranchise and microconsignment networks from the start.” I appreciate that this offers some approaches to microfranchising without being region specific.

De Haan, L., & Lakwo, A. (2010). Rethinking the impact of microfinance in Africa: ‘business change’ or social emancipation. The European Journal of Development Research, 22(4), 529-545. 

      This article questions whether poverty reduction is truly followed by social emancipation, as the authors assert that microfinance doesn’t improve the well-being of clients in any more than a marginal way. I love that they factor in a gender model approach, and call for a rethinking of the microfinance outreach campaign in Africa—asserting that social emancipation should be pursued in its own right rather than waiting for poverty reduction to occur first. I should certainly address social emancipation in my capstone, along with any societal shifts that come along as women earn more money. This article will be very helpful. Note: this takes place in Uganda.

Mustafa, A. K. A., & Saat, M. M. (2012, September). Assessing performance and intervention of microfinance institutions: A case study in Sudan. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 4(5), 401-418.

       Microfinance is generally accepted as an important tool for poverty alleviation, but there isn’t enough knowledge about the actual achievements of microfinance. The objective of their study is to develop a conceptual framework for assessing performance and intervention of MFIs in Sudan from three dimensions of measurement: outreach, sustainability, and assessment of social impact as a direct MFIs intervention. The conceptual framework the authors have developed is relatively new since it combines two different schools of thoughts; intended beneficiary school and intermediary school. This study uses a case study of three institutions in Sudan. I would like to compare the impact here to the impact studies for Nigeria. This will also be good because it includes an assessment for performance.

O K’Aol, G. (2008). The role of microfinance in fostering women entrepreneurship in Kenya. Paper presented at the 1-14. 

      The main purpose of this study was to determine the impact of Microfinance funding on women entrepreneurship in Kenya, and asked 3 pointed questions: a) What policy and regulatory framework affect the participation of women entrepreneurs in microfinance programs? b) What strategies are used by microfinance institutions to fund women entrepreneurs? c) What is the impact of the microfinance programs on women entrepreneurs? The author used a case study research design was used to work with 300 female loan beneficiaries, and collected the primary date. In spite of a legal environment that was fairly hostile, high interest rates, and loan repayment periods that were too short, most beneficiaries in the study had expanded their businesses and increased their house hold income. This shows that there can be benefits even in a less than ideal situation. I can weigh these findings against some of the other findings from sources in this list. I should also be asking the above questions as I read the other articles.

Global Development Resources

Want to learn more about Global Development? Here are some websites to get you started:

 

U.S. Agency for International Development

http://www.usaid.gov

United Nations Children’s Fund

http://www.unicef.org

Brookings Institution

http://www.brookings.edu

World Health Organization

http://www.who.int

World Bank

http://www.worldbank.org

Oxfam

http://www.oxfam.org

CARE

http://www.care.org

Center for Global Development

http://www.cgdev.org

UN Development Programme

http://www.undp.org

*Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Sustainable_development.svgImage

Black Children and Foster Care

Every two minutes, a child enters the foster care system. Currently, there are over 513,000 young people in foster care in across America.  While African American children make up only 15% of the general child population, they are nearly 40% of the foster care population.

This is what is referred to as “disproportionality,” and it is a specific African American issue in approximately 46 states.  In New York City, 73% of the population in care is African American. In San Francisco, 70% of the foster care population is African American and in Chicago, 75%. You can name many other large urban areas that have very high numbers of African American children, and you will find a disproportionally high number of African American children in the system.  Unfortunately, this is not unique to large urban areas.  Across the state of Minneapolis in 2002, for example, children of color were 16 times more likely to be in the foster care system.

The system strives to treat all children equally, but the reality is that not all children in foster care stand on equal ground.  The problem is not simply that African American children are disproportionately represented, but it is also that they suffer disparately poor outcomes.  It is of such concern that in 2006, the Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity called these disparities in outcomes a “chronic crisis.” Statistics show that African American children are:

•      More frequently reported to Child Protection Services

•      Less likely to receive in-home prevention services

•      More likely to be removed from their home

•      Likely to stay longer in foster care

•      Less likely to be reunified

•      Less likely to be adopted

•      Less likely to be placed with relatives

•      More likely to age out without a family

Children primarily enter foster care because of abuse or neglect. However national studies, including the 1993 National Incidence Survey of Child Abuse and Neglect, show no statistically significant differences in maltreatment rates between African-American and Caucasian families. So why are there so many African-American children in foster care? This question has been asked for years, and still we have no concrete answer.  While available studies do not allow us to conclusively identify causes, we do know that African American children are treated differently once in the system.

More people are having discussions about institutional racism and the influences of implicit bias on the child welfare system.  Many working within the child welfare system still have preconceived ideas about African American families, and these biases can negatively affect important decisions that define a child’s future.  Would it surprise you to know that it was found that African American social workers removed African American children from their homes at no lesser rate than their white counterparts?  That simply demonstrates the level to which we have all been exposed to negative messaging regarding African American families and communities.

Some argue that the issue is more about economics than about race.  African American families and neighborhoods are disproportionately poor, and poverty is highly correlated with a higher risk of child abuse.  Overrepresentation in the child welfare system may have more to do with poverty and its related social problems (i.e., substance abuse) than with race.  Since race and economics are so often intertwined, it’s hard to isolate either as a specific cause.

So, what now?  Many states have begun to advance their own practices to reduce disproportionality.  The results are promising. Social workers across the country have begun to take workshops designed to help them identify their own personal biases.  The judges who help to decide the fates of our children, often based on insufficient information, now have “benchcards”—which ask specific questions in an effort to help them protect against institutional bias.

As a community, we need to work toward creating a greater support system for the children around us.  There should be more emphasis on parent education, more programs designed to help fathers have substantive involvement in their children’s lives, a greater number of family and community advocates, and more people to step up and wrap these children in “blankets of care.”

In the time that it has taken you to read this, at least one African American child has been placed into foster care.  Consider becoming an adoptive parent.  If that doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can volunteer with a youth serving agency. Still too much? How about becoming a mentor? Whatever you decide, make it count. All of our children deserve the chance at a healthy and productive life.