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Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor Hardcover – July 9, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic is essential reading for anyone interested in development economics, a disturbing and yet ultimately hopeful exposé.”
—John Perkins, New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman

“This is a very important and courageous book. Hugh Sinclair tells a gripping story of idealism, naiveté, callousness, greed, and corruption in the microfinance industry to show how it has been overrun by a new breed of loan sharks who make us believe they are helping the poor when they are actually exploiting them. This sobering tale should be a valuable guide to a reform program that will save what is still good in microfinance and help it make the contribution it can make without the absurd hype that has characterized the industry.”
—Ha-Joon Chang, Reader in the Political Economy of Development, University of Cambridge, and author of Bad Samaritans and 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

“An intriguing book that cuts to the core of microfinance. If you are looking to understand and invest in effective microfinance, this book provides an overview and helps you select the vehicle that suits your needs. Good microfinance is undoubtedly possible…structure, dedication, and full transparency is the way forward.”
—Mads Kjaer and Tim Vang, cofounders,

“In often shocking but sometimes hilarious detail, Sinclair describes how he was sucked into the global feeding frenzy created by the microfinance industry’s determined search for profit, and he angrily exposes how microfinance ended up destroying the lives of the very people it was supposed to be helping. For anyone who still labors under the illusion that microfinance is all about helping the poor, Sinclair’s passionate, lively, and eye-opening exposé of the inner workings of the microfinance industry is an absolute must-read.”
—Milford Bateman, freelance consultant, Visiting Professor of Economics, University of Juraj Dobrila at Pula, Croatia, and author of Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work?

“Provides a devastating, insightful, and well-documented look into the tragic reality of how a good idea was derailed by the Wall Street greed syndrome. It is essential reading not only for anyone involved in microcredit but also for all who seek an end to global poverty and injustice.”
—David Korten, Board Chair, Yes! Magazine, and author of Agenda for a New Economy and When Corporations Rule the World


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (July 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609945182
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609945183
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hugh Sinclair is an economist and former investment banker. He has spent the last decade working in microfinance in Latin America, Asia and Africa. He has worked with various microfinance banks, peer-to-peer organizations, microfinance investment funds, rating agencies and investors, and currently works as a consultant.

For more information about Hugh Sinclair and the book, see

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ripping Yarns on July 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I knew the author some years ago and was one of the principals in the company that made the M2 software cited in the book.

I was involved in microfinance from 1985 (before it was fashionable) until 2005, when I ended my involvement with the M2 software. Before my involvement with microfinance IT, I was with a fund that supported microfinance and observed many of the weaknesses that Hugh Sinclair cites, including, to my enduring embarrassment, inadequate due diligence of our MFI partners and uncritical marketing of good news stories.

During the time I was involved with information systems for microfinance (there were others before M2), I got a different perspective, but one that still supports Sinclair's conclusions. If we view microfinance IT as the window to the truth about the real portfolio of an MFI, including interest rate structure, fees, delinquency and much more, then the results are sobering indeed. Readers would be shocked to know that many MF executives and board members don't really want that level of transparency. This is partly because it reveals their actual (usually poor) work performance, but also because it often uncovers loans, more often than not delinquent, to relatives, employees and board members.

The company that made M2 (not the same company that owns it now) was often asked for "enhancements" to the software that would permit the requesting MFI to create products that were far from standard banking practice. Opening up the ability to create additional fees, using a variety of formulae was a favourite. We would provide only widely requested improvements, so these unusual requests were not added.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David Roodman on August 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I can't recall feeling such an acute combination of fury and delight at a book before. Hugh Sinclair's Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic is a tell-all from an industry insider. It recounts his experience working in microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Mongolia, and then inside the microfinance investment firm Triple Jump. Near on half the book is about a single MFI, LAPO in Nigeria, which you might recognize from the New York Times article that Hugh engineered behind the scenes or from the masked blog commentator StreetCred, whose identity Hugh may know something about.

The extended scorchings of particular MFIs sometimes obscure what is, or is meant to be, the book's main message. It is not "these MFIs are bad so all microfinance is bad," for the text states more than once that the MFIs exposed may not be representative. It is rather that there is something wrong with the readiness of intermediaries to invest in the asserted bad guys--and here the list of institutions does represent a large swath of the industry: Triple Jump, BlueOrchard, Grameen Foundation, Calvert, Kiva, and more. To document his battles with them, Hugh has posted primary materials such as internal reports and phone call recordings. I assume he says less than he knows, his lawyers providing one filter for what can be public.

What delights in this book are the stories. I felt my heart beat as I read Hugh's account of the confrontation with his superiors at Triple Jump that would turn him into a whistleblower.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Viviani on July 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a researcher, as someone having personal experience in microfinance, and as an interested reader, this book is a delight. Outside of the mainstream and microfinance's promotional campaigns, many academics, NGOs, critical journalists and also some former microfinanciers have quietly criticized microfinance for years; only to be ignored or cast aside as loonies or ideologues. The problems in microfinance, however, are very real. This book makes them impossible to ignore.

With Hugh Sinclair along comes someone who has extensive real-life experiences, a fascinating story to tell (from his original belief in microfinance, to disillusionment and ultimately heresy against it) and a knack for writing. If his book doesn't appeal to the most casual of readers, it has achieved its goal. It isn't a Cold War spy novel; the interested reader still won't be able to put it down. It's an insider-turned-whistleblower's deeply personal account of how he realized that the he industry worked in and was committed to was in fact a mere profit-generation machine based on fraud and deception. And how he realized that trying to reform microfinance from the inside via constructive criticism wasn't working because it ran against the interests of everyone involved (except the poor).

The book therefore begs the reader to think, and question her or his long-held assumptions. Sinclair offers a spellbindingly intimate view into the business behind the most popular development idea of the early 21st century.
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