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The architecture of audacity

In 1997, a dozen heads of state  joined almost 3,000 participants from 137 countries in Washington, D.C. for the world’s first Microcredit Summit. During the summit, all agreed on an audacious objective: 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 end of 2005. Now, almost 10 years later, we take stock of the Microcredit Summit Campaign (also called the MCS Campaign, the MCS, or “the Campaign”) and its efforts to reach this goal by examining its history, its impact so far, and the path forward.

The Campaign’s most recent published report states that by the end of 2005, 3,133 microfinance institutions  (MFIs) had reported reaching over 113 million clients, 82 million of whom could be classified as “poorest” when they took their first loan. Of these poorest clients, almost 85% were female. Based on the MCS’s calculations, and assuming five persons per family, the 82 million poorest clients reached by the end of 2005 had an impact on approximately 410 million family members. These results are quite close to the Campaign’s goal—and they probably underestimate the total served by microfinance globally, based as they are on data from only those MFIs that have reported to the MCS.

This paper assesses the Microcredit Summit Campaign as an international social movement.  We describe how, in this instance, a bold commitment translated over the period of a decade into action at a global scale, and became manifest in the development of a complex and collective network. This network has provided the social and political capital necessary for different members of what was once a new field to mobilize resources and areas of support, and ultimately realize the Campaign’s goal. We differentiate between two aspects of the Campaign: it is both an organization that has played a leading role in leveraging new ideas and transforming microcredit’s role in international  development, and a collective social movement that draws critically on all its participants to create enduring change in the microfinance field…

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