J'écris un bon gros papier (en anglais ! Quelle galère !) sur la microfinance en France, qui pourrait servir de grille d'analyse sur les questions posées actuellement au Sud. D'accord, je suis un peu focalisé sur quelques questions clé, du genre "quelle influence exercent les fonds d'investissement étrangers ?", car j'ai l'impression que la crise va accentuer cette influence, qui n'est pas toujours positive, loin de là.

voic les premiers alinéas de mon papier (en anglais)

The purpose of this paper is to describe the two very different models of microfinance (MF) that are developing in France; and subsequently to try to underline common questions with the current debates regarding MF in Southern countries.

The comparisons with Southern MF are impossible, because the local conditions are profoundly different. However the questions about efficiency and the links between public intervention and the social impact of MF are relevant.

In France, two main networks, Adie and France Initiative, provide more than 25,000 micro loans a year to people, in majority unemployed, who want to set up a new business. These figures represent more or less 50% of the microfinance activity in the Western part of Europe.

Public money represents more than 80% of resources of these two networks. But one of these wants to escape this and become independent, and “financially sustainable”. The other one explicitly wants to work with public money, considering that financing new businesses for people in trouble is a public duty.

This is a first difference between these two networks, meaning that they have developed very different conceptions of entrepreneurship. Is entrepreneurship a pure “free market activity”? Or is it a way to create collective wealth that deserves (and needs) to be supported by public policies?

The rising questions in the South are the same. The new influence of big foreign investors, very profit-oriented, in mature MFIs (microfinance institutions) in the South makes the situation very unstable; because the influence of these investors is based on a very simple conception of the job. This is pure financial transactions; profits are necessary to raise new resources; public intervention in these fields must be as limited as possible. In France, the intervention of public money is completed by very precise public rules. It concerns two key points: the interest rate ceiling was fixed until recent changes; and it is forbidden for a lender to take the home of his client as collateral in case of a personal or a professional loan. These two points are at the heart of debates in the South.

Of course, the main differences between these two situations, in France and in “the South”, make comparing MF development conditions impossible. Wealth in the countries is different; as is the concept of involvement of public money in MF; even the concept of the aims of MF differs; and finally, the concept of entrepreneurship as a model.

But the questions that arise now, after scandals like Compartamos, are probably not so different. Beginning with this one: Are “free market laws” able to share wealth created by the entrepreneur, between the entrepreneur and the lender? Does this relationship need an arbitrator?