Reading Through the Microfinance Syllabus

> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

Courses featuring microfinance can be found in most colleges or universities, and the development of the syllabi for these courses has begun to create a sort of “microfinance canon.” As the next generation of microfinance professionals enters the market, there are a few things that many of them have read, and a few questions that many of them have been required to consider.

I took 10 syllabi (a small sample size, admittedly) and looked for trends in what is being taught, what is being read, and what is being assigned. Here are a few things I found:

  • Guest speakers are a major part of class time. Given that microfinance is still very much practitioner (rather than academic) oriented, it is no surprise that guest speakers are used quite frequently in class time. Most, if not all, of these speakers are in top positions at well-known microfinance institutions.
  • Assignments range from case study examples, to policy briefs, business plans, and product designs. In a few of the syllabi, students were required to make presentations, including one that assigned an investor pitch in lieu of a final exam.

Beyond these content-related observations, I noticed that microfinance classes don’t seem to have an agreed-upon disciplinary “home” in academia. Classes are typically hosted in business, economics, public policy, and international relations departments. In addition (and this is probably related), professors tend to not be tenure-track academics. Often, they are involved in microfinance as practitioners in some way.

Despite this lack of an academic “home” or identity, however, microfinance classes are increasingly common. A simple Google search brought up dozens of publicly available syllabi. Compared to the offerings as early as five or 10 years ago, this prevalence is quite encouraging.

To explore these syllabi for yourself, head to the following sources:

  • Carnegie Mellon University Heinz School of Public Policy: Microfinance, taught by Tayo Fabusuyi

Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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