Finance for the Poor: Microcredit, Poverty, and Development

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 29, 2020 - July 02, 20206/29 - 7/02*M-Th 12:15P-3:50POpenKristen McNeill

Course Description

Microcredit – the practice of lending small amounts of money to the poor – burst onto the global stage in the 1980s, and has ballooned into a $34 billion industry and become a huge player in international development and poverty policy. However, many aspects of microfinance remain contested and controversial. This course provides an overview of this large and growing economic phenomenon, with a focus on examining unresolved debates.

This course begins with an overview of the underpinnings of microfinance, using economic, social, and policy perspectives designed to be accessible and not too technical. Following this introductory period, the majority of the course focuses on a series of issues that remain controversial in the microfinance field. For example, how do we know if microfinance "works"? How should borrowers be chosen? Is it ethical to charge interest on loans to the very poor?

Through readings, interactive lectures, and class discussions, students will gain substantive knowledge about microfinance, as well as an understanding of the complexity of studying and solving social problems. Through short papers and a debate, students will improve their ability to take and support a position on real-world issues for which there are no clear right or wrong answers.

Students in this course will:
• Learn about microfinance, a large and growing global economic phenomenon
• Critically evaluate evidence on the effects of microfinance
• Build arguments that effectively support their opinions on relevant debates

These objectives, particularly the ability to critically evaluate research and communicate an argument effectively and persuasively, are transferable skills that are key building blocks for success in college and beyond.

Prerequisites: This course is ideal for students interested in poverty, social policy, and international development. No particular prior knowledge is required, but a desire to challenge yourself, improve your ability to communicate ideas effectively and persuasively, and think critically about research and evidence will make this course especially enjoyable. Rising high school juniors and seniors preferred.

*For 1 week course sections scheduled for June 29 - July 2, 2020: Classes will not meet on Friday, July 3rd due to the observed Independence Day holiday. Due to the brevity of the course, meeting times have been adjusted accordingly Monday - Thursday to preserve in-class hours. We encourage students to remain on campus through Friday as our Campus Life team will be fully engaged with our students, offering a variety of activities.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CESO0947
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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