Despite its criticisms, the micro-credit programs have contributed a lot to the overall socio-economic development of the country as well as women’s empowerment. A study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that the micro-credit program has contributed to reducing 10% of rural poverty in Bangladesh. This means that around 2.5 million people got rid of poverty with the assistance of micro-credit programs.
These programs have also contributed to women’s empowerment by ensuring access to finance, generating employment opportunities, providing skill-building training, and enhancing mobility. The loan-receiving women utilize the money to expand their livelihood operations by buying seeds, chickens, or cows, and so on.
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They also invest this money for generating employment for their husband or son by opening small businesses or buying them rickshaw vans. The extra in- come generated from the above sources is used to improve the socio-economic status of the families. Families can invest in children’s education, nutritious food, pay for better treatment, they can also spend money on entertainment and ornaments. This process of income generation and prosperity is led by women as she brings money for the family.
Around 45 million people received micro-credit from different institutes in Bangladesh in the fascial year 20-21. Among this huge number of borrowers, 91% are women and the total amount of loan, in this case, was more than 1746 billion taka. Its unique features, like women-centeredness, an un-col- lateralized small amount of loan, group-based transactions, on-site loan disbursement, weekly collection methods, and lower interest rate than the traditional moneylenders have made the micro-credit program popular in Bangladesh over the decades. Researchers, planners, economists, and analysts admit the fact that the micro-credit program has played an effective role in empowering women in Bangladesh in addition to contributing to the socio-economic development of the country.
IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRATION OF MICRO FINANCE IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
Like Women’s empowerment, micro-credit programs can play the same vital role in the field of youth empowerment. Currently, Bangladesh is enjoying the ad- vantage of having around 45.9 million youth population which is 28% of the total population of the country. This means that around one-third of our total population belongs to the age group of 15- 29 who are already in the workforce or getting ready to join the workforce.
As a result, we need to focus on several aspects of utilizing this population to accelerate the process of development of the country. Our concentration should focus on capacity building, networking, mentoring, resource mobilization, and employment generation for the youth. The Labour Force survey, conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) shows that 8.7 percent of youth people, who belong to the age group of 15-29 are unemployed.
On top of that, the unemployment rate is high among university graduates. Ac- cording to that report, 10% of university graduates remain un- employed. Under these circumstances, the youth-centered approach of the micro-credit pro- gram can be an effective way of youth development. In the case of youth engagement, microfinance institutes will enjoy a set of ad- vantages.
- Firstly, the micro-credit program is already a successful case and gained popularity globally. Society is not confused about micro-credit programs like in the time of early 90s anymore.
- Secondly, a countrywide backbone has already been established to run micro-credit programs. In addition to NGOs, many commercial banks and government institutes are running credit programs for the “un-bankable” people.
- Thirdly, a dedicated regulatory authority called Microcredit Regulatory Authority (MRA) was formed in 2006 to ensure transparency and accountability in this sector.
- Fourthly, working with young people is less “difficult” than with women. The credit service providers would not face any patriarchal barriers like women’s limited mobility, women’s burden of unpaid care work, restriction of meeting and talking to “outsider” men, etc.
- Fifthly, youth engagement has been a buzzword for the last couple of years. Many initiatives were taken to include the agenda of youth development at the global and National levels.
Government, NGOs, and Private sector institutions are working to ensure skills and job placements for youth, business start-ups are getting patronization. Which indicates that the ground is ready for the youth. Everybody realizes the importance of undertaking youth-centric programs.
Finally, the Bangladesh government can now offer funds for micro-credit programs from internal sources. The MRA annual report, 2021 states that a total of 1106.84 billion taka was allocated for the micro-credit program in Bangladesh in 2021, and only 1% of that fund was taken from foreign donors.
PROPER PLANNING IS KEY TO SUCCESS
Microfinance institutions, in this situation, can design innovative and customized packages of products for youth including re- vising the periphery of the credit in respect of amount, installment procedure etc. Microloans could be offered based on the context and academic qualifications of a young borrower. For example, in rural areas, young people are concentrating on agri-based pro- duction including aquaculture, dairy farming, poultry farming, horticulture, etc. Micro-credits can be a source of boosting up their business as this loan product is easy to avail and delivered to the doorstep.
On the other hand, Urban youth are more focused on start-ups and the processing industry. Credit programs could be designed to fulfill their requirements. A large number of young people in Bangladesh aims to work in different countries of the world and in many cases, they have to take a loan from traditional moneylenders with a high- interest rate in this regard. These low-skilled people in many cases struggle to repay the loan. A customized loan package of “skill development and job placement” for youth could be an example of supporting the youth through a micro-credit program.
This package will cover the travel cost and the cost of the training for the job s/he is going to do in the country of migration. The popularization of such schemes will reduce the pressure of high-interest rates and contribute to youth development. Youth-centered microfinance programs might be helpful to reduce the rate of female unemployment too. Compared to men, women’s unemployment rate is systematically higher. In that case, the loan products associated with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) could be an example of customized services. Initiating such schemes will accelerate the process of youth development in Bangladesh and enable the country to enjoy a demographic dividend.