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Friday, September 01, 2006

A Call to Journalists: Stop Writing about Microfinance

By Ethan Arpi

breadEveryone agrees that microfinance is the coolest thing since sliced bread.? That?s why in the last two months we?ve seen it covered by the Financial Times, Reuters, The Globalist, The New York Times, The Economist, The LA Times, Business Week, CNN, and The Times of London.? And in all likelihood there are other articles still hovering beneath our radar.?

I must confess that at first I was excited to see the mainstream media weighing in on development issues affecting the base of the economic pyramid.? I held the opinion that microfinance articles?no matter how repetitive and formulaic?attract publicity to an important cause that draws less attention than Paris Hilton?s latest sexcapade.? But I?ve changed my mind.You see, microfinance is no longer news.? For one thing, the practice of granting small loans to the poor has been going on for almost thirty years.? And while the movement has evolved considerably over the last few decades, in general, the news coverage of it has remained stagnant.?

Today, the Times Online ran an opinion piece about microfinance with the title How a Little Loan Goes a Long Way.? Harmless enough, right?? But it turns out that in July of this year, Business Week ran a similar article with the title A Little Money Goes A Long Way.? Now, I don?t suspect any foul play here.? But when a headline is being recycled, it?s a clear sign that it?s time to move on and write about something new.

What?s more, articles about microfinance detract from other equally important developments taking hold in the field.? One of these developments is the pro-poor business model, which provides low-income consumers with affordable products that actually meet their basic needs.? The watercone, which has been documented on this site before, is a relatively inexpensive contraption that makes dirty water drinkable.? Because many of the world?s citizens lack access to potable water, this product has the capability to radically improve millions of lives.? Jamais Cascio, over at WorldChanging, noted at the end of last year that the designer of the watercone is still having trouble finding a manufacturer to produce his product.

I?m thinking that if his invention got a little more press, he might be able to bring it to market sometime soon.? Are there any journalists out there?
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