Since all finance is now microfinance…

Can microfinance be the engine of the banking economy? It might sound laughable, but I’m thinking again after a breakfast meeting with Katie Smith Milway. She’s the author of One Hen, a new book on microfinance for kids, and she told me about a recent microfinance forum at Morgan Stanley,  where she read her kids’ book to employees including its white-shoe investment bankers, who ate it up, she says.Why? Well, the book itself is inspirational. It’s based  on the real-life story of a Ghanaian boy who grew up to be the biggest chicken farmer in Ghana, in part thanks to a very small loan he got as a boy,  which he used to buy a hen. That experience got him a bigger loan after college, so he could start his farm.  The story isn’t a perfect map with his life — in the book, his mother does not get remarried to a chicken farmer, as happened in real life. But the story is still remarkable.  Milway says she was forwarded an email from microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus  saying his story was very similar.

The other big reason: “microfinance is one of the few growth markets in finance,” Milway told me. Bankers like Morgan Stanley are beginning to securitize micro-credit loans through non-governmental organizations, creating a new kind of bridge financing to help successful micro-businesses get bigger.  (She did also get some help on the book’s Web site from people at  Morgan Stanley, which probably helped her get invited to do a reading there).

It’s a lot more fun than your typical business book, with none of the pretensions. For those with kids, the Web site has resources to teach them about entrepreneurship as well as games that lead to donations to microfinance organizations.

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