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Microfinance has built a solid track record as a critical tool in the fight against poverty and has entered the financial mainstream. The rapid growth of the industry over the past 15 years has reached approximately 130 million clients according to recent estimates. Yet microfinance still reaches less than 20 percent of its potential market among the world’s three billion or more poor.

Nearly three billion people in developing countries have little or no access to formal financial services. Financial services for poor people are a powerful instrument for reducing poverty, enabling them to build assets, increase incomes, and reduce their vulnerability to economic stress. Formal financial services such as savings, loans, and money transfers enable poor families to invest in enterprises, better nutrition, improved living conditions, and the health and education of their children. Microfinance has also been a powerful catalyst for empowering women. See IFC Microfinance in action.

The evolution of the industry has been driven by many factors which include the transformation of microfinance providers, the sizable supply gap for basic financial services, the expansion of funding sources supporting the industry and the use of technology. As the industry has developed, there has been a shift from specialized NGOs to an increasing number of regulated and licensed MFIs which stress that sustainability and impact go hand in hand. Furthermore, The World Bank Group is working with private microfinance institutions and stakeholders to incorporate responsible finance practices into all aspects of business operations. When done responsibly, private microfinance can have significant development impact and improve people’s lives.

Since pioneering commercial microfinance in the early 1990s, IFC has continued to lead innovation in microfinance, using developments in technology, financial products, and policy to help financial institutions reach a greater number of people in a more cost-effective way. IFC’s goal for microfinance is to scale up access to a range of high quality financial services for underserved populations, maximizing development impact and ensuring institutional sustainability. IFC achieves this goal by effectively combining investment and advisory services to a range of financial intermediaries.

IFC is the World Bank Group’s lead investor in microfinance, and is one of the leading multilateral investors in terms of outreach to microfinance institutions, working with more than 100 institutions in over 60 countries. As a central pillar of IFC’s overall strategy, microfinance constitutes one of the most essential tools IFC possesses to achieve its ambitious reach targets over the coming years.

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