6 non-practitioner microfinance leaders who shaped the industry growth
microfinance focus

Microfinance Focus, July 27, 2011: Modern Microfinance industry has traversed a long journey since a great social invention by Prof. Yunus in Bangladesh. It has established itself as one of the effective tools to fight poverty. The industry however had a bumpy ride and witnessed many ups and downs of-late. A slew of controversies hit some of the most promising microfinance regions and some serious questions have been raised about its effectiveness. Yet, the good work of industry is not easy to write off.

Microfinance development has not just been contributed by pioneers and its practitioners but also by a number of leaders who have created microfinance enabled services to assist industry to take its right shape. These leaders have played an important role in the growth of Microfinance sector globally and made important contributions at the pyramid’s bottom.

Microfinance Focus team has reviewed the contribution of some of these leaders and has listed out six non-practitioners who shaped the industry’s growth. We understand that this list is not exhaustive and may include many more leaders who stand worthy of sharing this space. This is simply a starting point and we welcome our readers to suggest more deserving names.

Alex Counts

Alex Counts

Who is he?

Alex Counts is President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on enabling the poor to escape poverty, using microfinance and technology. Alex Counts founded the Grameen Foundation in 1997. While at Grameen Bank, he worked and studied under Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, and helped to establish the bank’s flagship newsletter, Grameen Dialogue. Mr. Counts chairs the board of Project Enterprise and serves on the boards of Fonkoze USA and the PLAN Fund. In 2007 he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Horace Mann School.

Contribution to Microfinance Sector:

In 1997, Alex Counts founded the Grameen Foundation with $6,000 in seed capital funded by the founder of Grameen Bank, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and has since grown the organization to a global network of 52 microfinance partners in 28 countries.

Grameen Foundation is a dynamic, nonprofit that fights global poverty through its network of microfinance partners in 28 countries in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Through this network, it has impacted the lives of an estimated 31 million of the world’s poor.

Through its Strategic Services Unit, the foundation is engaging the global microfinance industry by championing innovations focused on capital investment in microfinance, poverty measurement, human resources, and technology. The foundation has now grown to a leading international humanitarian organization with an annual budget of approximately $25 million.


More than one million microloans have been generated to 9.4 million people through Grameen Foundations Growth Guarantee Program allowing several people to begin their journey out of poverty. $160 million has been leveraged to support the micro finance programs in about 13 countries and 600000 clients are being supported through Mifos at the micro finance institutions around the world. More people are being given an opportunity to change their lives, everyday.

Sam Daley Harris

Sam Daley Harris

Who is he?

Sam Daley-Harris is the Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign. He is the founder of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, a lobbying organization that seeks to create the political will and develop mass educational strategies to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty. The Microcredit Summit Campaign is a project of the RESULTS Educational Fund. Sam Daley Harris is currently leading phase II of the campaign to help boost the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015 – Reaching 175 million of the world’s poorest and ensuring that 100 million families come out of $1- a day poverty, lifting half a billion people out of extreme poverty.

Contribution to the Microfinance Sector: 

The first Microcredit Summit, organized by Sam Daley Harris was held February 1997 in Washington, DC which had approximately 3,000 in attendance from 137 countries. The outcome of the first Summit was the launch of a "Campaign" to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families, especially the women of those families, with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005. This campaign called the Microcredit Summit Campaign started by Sam Harris is an American non-profit organization which aims to bring together microcredit practitioners, advocates, educational institutions, donor agencies, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and others involved with microcredit around the goal of alleviating world poverty through microfinance.


By December 31, 2007, the Campaign counted 3,552 microfinance institutions that reported reaching more than 154 million clients. These institutions are located worldwide. Of the 106 million poorest clients, 94 million of them (88.2 percent) are being served by the 76 largest individual institutions and networks reporting to the Campaign, all with 100,000 or poorer clients.

Jacques Attali

Jacques Attali

Who is he?

Professor, writer, Honorary Member of the Council of State, Special Adviser to the President of the Republic from 1981 to 1991, founder and first President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London from 1991 to 1993, Jacques Attali is currently CEO of A&A, an international consulting firm specialized in new technologies, based in Paris, and President of PlaNet Finance an international non-profit organization assisting microfinance institutions all over the world. PlaNet Finance is the most important world institution of support to the microfinance.  PlaNet Finance advises and finances the development of the microfinance in 80 countries.

Contribution to Microfinance Sector:

Jacques Attali is the first and the current president and founder member of PlaNet Finance, an international non-profit organization  founded in 1998 in Paris, France. Planet Finance has the mission to alleviate poverty through the development of microfinance, thereby increasing the unbanked and underbanked's access to financial services. It provides access to financial services to the poorest populations, the financial intermediaries including banks, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and microfinance institutions. The association supports microfinance efforts by federating financial intermediaries and providing them with operational services. PlaNet Finance also works with the private sector (banks and financial institutions), international agencies, and government to facilitate the creation of an efficient microfinance sector.


Over the past 12 years, PlaNet Finance has developed into a group of organizations (PlaNet Finance Group) providing a diverse set of services. PlaNet Finance's international network holds activities in close to 80 countries around the world through a network of 700 staff. It has supported 1,500 microfinance institutions financing more than 9 million people.

Chuck Waterfield

Chuck waterfield

Who is he?

The developer of the micro-financing software Microfin, Chuck Waterfield has served as micro-financing director at CARE International and MEDA. He has taught courses at the School of International & Public Affairs at Columbia University and Southern New Hampshire University. He is also an independent micro-financing consultant. His client list includes CGAP, the SEEP Network, Opportunity International, and Aspen Institute. In 2008, he founded MicroFinance Transparency and works as the CEO and President.

Contribution to Microfinance Sector:

Chuck Waterfield founded Microfinance Transparency in July 2008, to enable transparent communication between suppliers and consumers of microcredit products by presenting information on credit products and their prices in a clear and consistent fashion. In addition, MF Transparency undertakes the equally important role of developing and disseminating straightforward educational material to enable all microfinance stakeholders to better understand the concept and function of interest rates and product pricing.         

In 1997, Mr. Waterfield, commissioned by CGAP, developed Microfin which is a software designed to serve as an integrated part of a comprehensive business planning framework of MFIs, addressing both strategic and operational issues.  Microfin’s five-year financial projections serve as a key part of the operational planning process and covers key elements such designing financial products and services, establishing marketing channels and projecting activity level, determining institutional resources and capacity, developing a financing strategy and analyzing projected financial statements and ratios.


Since MF Transparency’s launch, 785 industry leaders, including MFIs and Apex Banks currently serving 110 million clients worldwide, have signed the endorser statement. The industry continues to grow into one that is dynamic and far-reaching.

Over 2,000 managers of MFIs from dozens of countries worldwide have been trained in the use of Microfin, which has been adopted as the “industry standard” for financial modeling of MFI operations.

Graham A N Wright

Graham A N Wright

Who is he?

Graham A.N. Wright played a key role in the designing and establishment of the MicroSave programme and is currently the Programme Director for India. The core of market-led approaches used by MicroSave especially the Market Research for MicroFinance tools has been pioneered by Graham. He has a career spanning over two decades of development experience under pinned by five years of experience in management consultancy, training and audit with a leading accounting firm in Europe.


Graham A N Wright established the MicroSave programme which focuses on putting the clients at the centre of the business. It typically starts using MicroSave’s acclaimed Market Research for MicroFinance or Strategic Business Planning tool kits, but focuses on product development and delivery systems, as well as customer service strategies and optimizing processes while minimizing risks. MicroSave offers technical assistance and training to financial service providers in these and many other areas.

He helped in the development, testing and implementation of a sustainable rural savings and credit programme for BURO, which has now established its significance as a micro-finance institution in Bangladesh.

He provided long-term technical assistance to develop a rural finance system, using self-help “Savings and Loan Groups” linked to strong cooperatives in a remote mountainous area of the Philippines.


Several of MicroSave’s Action Research Partners, including Equity Building Society in Kenya, Tanzania Postal Bank, Uganda Microfinance Union and Teba bank in South Africa are already benefiting from moving to an increasingly market-led approach. By designing the products which are more suited to the customer’s needs, Graham has given a new perspective to the micro-finance sector.

Sanjay Sinha

sanjay sinha

Who is he?

Mr Sanjay Sinha is the Managing Director of Micro-Credit Ratings International Limited (M-CRIL) – a company established to carry out professional assessments (ratings) of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and provide research and other services designed to promote the flow of investments into microfinance. He has specialized in sub-sector analysis of activities of relevance to the livelihoods of poor people, microenterprise promotion and BDS in addition to microfinance.

Contribution to the Microfinance Sector:

He is co-founder of EDA Rural Systems Private Limited, one of the leading development consultancies in Asia and parent company of M-CRIL. The establishment of M-CRIL emerged out of EDA’s experience with MFIs and from undertaking policy studies in the field of microfinance. M‐CRIL is the world leader in the rating of microfinance institutions (MFIs).  By December 2010, M‐CRIL had undertaken around 700 financial and social ratings and assessments of around 400 institutions covering 32 countries of Asia, Africa and Europe.M‐CRIL was the pioneer in the rating of MFIs in India; it has been engaged with Indian MFIs since 1998 when the Indian microfinance sector was in its infancy.

Most notably, in his recent writings and in numerous conferences over the past couple of years, he has warned of the dangers for the future of the industry resulting from uncontrolled growth shifting the focus from clients to an ethos of promoter hubris and self‐enrichment. Sanjay Sinha was inducted as a Member of the UN Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors.


M-CRIL ratings have not only facilitated the flow of funds, but they have also resulted in important systematic changes and enabled the design of capacity building initiatives for MFIs. It has helped to reduce MFI risk and support institutions and microenterprises to incorporate best practices in their systems.

A banking visionary who pioneered microfinance is missing

A review of the literature on the initial phase of SBLP would show that the common theme was the skewed geographical spread of microfinance. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka dominated the microfinance landscape in the country. The turn of the century saw some valiant efforts in Orissa. All these states were endowed with world class NGOs who synergized their global knowledge resources and technological prowess with the vast reach of the institutional network of public banks to record some spectacular initial gains. A substantial body of empirical research was undertaken by Bankers Institute of Rural Development, Lucknow, which also served as a local resource for GTZ, DPID, USAID, KFW and prominent international academics and researchers like David Hume. Mosley, Murdoch and Robinson also did extensive work to enable a blueprint on Indian microfinance to emerge.
Despite all these laudable efforts, microfinance could not create footprints in Central and Northern India. The northeast and the eastern states of West Bengal and Orissa showed steady progress under the leadership of NGOs like BANDHAN.
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were among those states which had enormous potential but were handicapped by the absence of professional NGOs. Most local NGOs were set up as a response to natural calamities and focused mostly on the social sector.
In these states, it was the leadership of the country’s biggest commercial bank, State Bank of India, to come out with a slew of motivational incentives and out of box thinking to initiate an aggressive drive that yielded an avalanche of self help groups that used credit in entrepreneurial to set up innovative businesses with such consistency that today Maharashtra boasts of the country’s fastest growing SBLP model.
As part of the team that was assembled by A. Ramesh Kumar, a dynamic visionary and head of SBI’s operations in Maharashtra. I was witness to the way his charisma worked like magic and stoked a thunderous growth trajectory. It was a revolution that inspired the grassroots managers in a way a general inspires warriors. Microfinance became a charming theme in boardroom meetings and senior executives started courting the hutments of the poor. Ramesh Kumar started visiting the remote hinterlands and cutting protocol and hierarchy extended brotherly affection to junior colleagues who felt amazingly empowered.
All village branches were instructed to observe one day in a week as SHG day when the bank branch would transact only microfinance business. The branch staff would visit villages and complete the entire paperwork in group meetings at the village. It was a unique experience for poor women, who were startled to find bank managers sharing the floor with them. The microfinance wave became a blizzard as groups began to breed like rabbits. The fertility rate of group formation humbled politicians and financial pundits who saw that that their intimidating tactics could not abate the passion of bankers and poor women. The menfolk, who had till now viewed microfinance with great skepticism particularly on account of its renewed focus on women decided to join the bandwagon and encouraged their wives to join groups.
A few performance indicators would give an idea of the relentless energy and momentum that both drove and sustained the program. In Maharashtra, SBI’s microfinance program at the rate of 200-300 SHGs being linked annually. During 2003-2004, the year Ramesh Kumar took the initiative to personally drive the programme, the bank linked 20,000 groups, recording a herculean y-o-y growth of 980%. The momentum generated was so strong and buoyant that the SHGs continue to be linked at the same scorching pace. It is truly unfair that India’s most unique mode of microfinance went undocumented by the microfinance academics on account of their obsession with market driven microfinance programs of new age NGOs which was being shepherded by the elite global business schools.

An independent microfinance department was established at the state headquarters of the bank at Mumbai under the direct control of the head of bank’s state operations. A state level steering committee was constituted under the chairmanship of the state CEO comprising representatives of NGOs and senior development managers of the bank. The committee used to meet every month in Mumbai to review the progress and provide policy interventions wherever bottlenecks were observed. As most bank branches had got computerized, a large number of subordinate staffs were rendered redundant. Staffs are normally local residents familiar with the culture and geography and not transferable. There was growing frustration in the class of employees as their efficacy to the institution had substantially decreased on account of migration of data from physical ledgers and computers to the computers.
These messengers were designated as SHG Assistants and were specifically assigned the task of promoting SHGs and monitoring them and facilitating their linkage with the bank. The new designation enhanced the self esteem of these staff and they were now perceived in the local community as important representatives of the bank. The new recognition also improved their position in the family. The SHG Assistants were provided with motorcycles and their trips to villages would fetch them field. How important was the new social status they had acquired.
To compensate the branch for any business loss on account of a full business day being assigned for transacting business with SHGs, a profit transfer mechanism was designed to bolster the bottomlines of bank units undertaking microfinance. The unit was given a credit of $10 for every new group account opened and $100 for the first loan cycle introduced based on the criteria of number of SHGs formed and linked through bank loan. Similarly, an incentive of Rs.1000/- was paid to village volunteers, school teachers and local NGOs for promotion and monitoring of groups.
To sensitise the staff, a slot was introduced on all training programs at all training establishments for creating awareness among staff of all grades. A roving faculty was introduced for guiding grassroots staff.
Mr. A. Ramesh Kumar was a highly committed visionary whose lovable wife was equally committed despite her own preoccupations. Mrs. Kumar’s induction in the informal team was really a great shot in the arm for the movement. The spouses of the local managers were inspired by Mrs. Kumar’s gesture and they also came on board. This further deepened the SHG’s roots as senior urban educated women started guiding village women in social development particularly in matter of hygiene, sanitation, proper cooking practices, designing of nutritional diet for infants and proper upbringing of children.
A massive advertising and publicity campaign was launched to create mass awareness about microfinance and sensitizing the menfolk as their cooperation and support was extremely essential for the success of the programme.
SHG leaders were taken on educational tours of Mumbai and Delhi so as to enlarge their world view and enhance their confidence. Exchange visits were also organized for SHG members from different cultural regions to share their learning and best practices so that the cross pollination would yield some unique ideas and solutions.
A 15-day training module was designed in collaboration with Maharashtra Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (MCED), Maharashtra Industrial Technical Consultancy (MITCON) and Animal Husbandry & Livestock Department of the state government to provide inputs on management entrepreneurship, interpersonal skills, marketing and skill development.
The innovations introduced by Mr Ramesh Kumar popularly known as SBI Mumbai model were later embraced by the entire banking industry including NABARD.The momentum generated by Kumars efforts is so strong that SHGs in Maharashtra continue to grow at a staggering pace

Interesting how women are

Interesting how women are more important than the subject (poor).

Female nomination

When I think of women who made a tremendous contribution to microfinance I think of Maria Otero, ex-president of Accion International

Not fair

The contribution of mentioned six gentlemen is outstanding. However, there are other individuals like Monique Cohen and others, who has contributed a lot for the development and growth of Microfinance sector. How someone come only these six name, not 7 or 10.


Michaela Walsh - founder of WWB

Women have long been the lynchpin of microfinance as clients/customers and loan officers but are often unrecognized as leaders and managers, unfortunately. I would add Michaela Walsh, founder of Women's World Banking, to this list of microfinance non-practitioner leaders. Thank you.
Heather Henyon
Founder & Managing Partner, Balthazar Capital
Dubai, UAE

An Honor/A Few Women+Chris D.

It is certainly a honor to be listed amongst this group. Some women should definitely be added as the list is made more complete -- like Susan Davis (BRAC USA), Vijayalakshmi Das (FWWB) and
Helen Todd (was a practitioner for a time but has played many other roles). Also, Chris Dunford may qualify as non-practitioner and if so he merits strong consideration. Some academics like Jonathan Mordoch are good candidates too. Thanks again! --Alex Counts

Thank you

Microfinance Focus Team has taken this note . We will be working on this and will publish a revised version soon .

where are the Women?

I agree with you they are remarkable contributors but I think you are missing a big piece! Many women practionnners should have been mentionned in this piece.

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