Microfinance: media negligence and social ignorance
The NMF performs its promotion drive itself through its representatives, who make door-to-door visits handing out brochures that list their services, including long-term, interest-free loans.
Once, her family went through an acute financial crisis when her husband was laid off after a long period of prosperity when he was working for a private company.
At that time of distress she thought of borrowing money and starting up her small business to set things right at home and make a profit. Before meeting the people from the microfinance foundation, she had no idea that such finances were offered in the form of small loans to small businesses as a means to alleviate poverty and unemployment.
Many microfinance institutions lack media publicity in Yemen that could draw people’s attention to the concept of microfinance and its significance in boosting development.
These financial institutions demand cooperation from the press to shed light on their activities, contribute to the spread of microfinance culture, and build a solid basis among the people for the industry. This, in view of the fact that since the 1990s, microfinance has been almost nonexistent in the press and society alike.
Ali Al-Wafi, a Yemeni economist, said that that the media can promote microfinance through occasional media campaigns, newspaper headlines, conducting interviews and organizing and covering successful small businesses stories.
Mohammed Al-Hakimi, editor of the business page of the local Al-Oula newspaper says, “Education about microfinance is growing very slowly without any promotional programs that could bring it to the public’s attention on a regular basis.”
However, he commends the role played by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) in holding events that familiarizing the public with the effects of the microfinance on small businesses.
“But such functions,” he continues, “are short-termed and have only temporary impact.” Al-Hakimi stresses that the reason behind the poor performance of microfinance institutions is “the absence of reports and articles on such financing on the economic pages of newspapers.”
He blamed both journalists and microfinance institutions who make little effort in bringing the success of this industry to light.
“It is the fault of the institutions that don’t come forth with information on themselves and their activities. Besides, microfinance is relatively new to Yemenis in general and journalists in particular,” he said.
Abdullah Al-Khawlani, an economic editor at Al-Thawra state-run daily newspaper, says that education about microfinance is absent among the people and even the press.
As for his newspaper’s role in raising awareness on the matter, he explains that the paper has dedicated a weekly page for the topic “in an attempt to spread awareness of microfinance among the public. This entails earnest cooperation on the part of these financing institutions by providing us all the time with information that would enable us to cover their achievements. But, they contact us only occasionally when they hold activities.”
Al-Khawlani indicates that since the beginning of this industry in Yemen, their newspaper was among the first to publish reports on the topic.
“In order for the media to promote this culture of microfinance, its institutions should respond positively by providing us with information on themselves and their work in order to present such data to the people on time.”
Inefficient economic reporters
It is very rare to find a Yemeni newspaper reviewing the success story of a small business that was funded by a microfinance bank or institutions. This inattention occurs due to the lack of economic journalists.
“There are not enough specialized economic journalists in Yemen,” says Adnan Al-Senwi, deputy editor-in-chief of Al-Syasia newspaper, published by Saba News Agency.
He says he holds media outlets responsible for people’s inadequate awareness of the existence of microfinance institutions in Yemen.
“This aspect of journalism is more complicated and is often confused with other types of reporting. Microfinance should be the essence of economic journalism, especially in the current economic situation in Yemen, which largely depends on this type of support,” said Al-Senwi.
He further said that the press should help microfinance institutions to reduce their operational costs by promoting their services for free, so that such institutions can focus on their financing projects.
“The problem here,” continues Al-Senwi “is that reporters lack skills in this type of journalism.”
“Issues of microfinance,” he adds, “are associated with social development. Therefore, they’re ignored by economic journalists who prefer to discuss and analyze matters like budgets and the GDP.”
Sameer Jubran, editor-in-chief of Al-Masdar Online, an independent weekly newspaper, says that there are no pages dedicated solely to microfinance in their newspaper.
“Our previous coverage of this topic was initiated by those funding organizations’ communications with us. So whenever there’s fault in covering issues of microfinance, it’s theirs, not ours, because they have not provided us with the necessary information,” Jubran said.
“It’s not fair to blame the press for not taking the initiative of publicizing microfinance, because most of the newspapers concentrate on bigger issues like politics,” he added.
As for the concept of microfinance in media, Mohammed Taher Ghanem, director of economic news at Yemen National Satellite TV, blamed both the media and microfinance institutions for the shortage of information regarding microfinance services and benefits.
Microfinance in Yemen
Microfinance got its start in Yemen in 1997. There are currently over thirteen programs, societies, institutions and one bank that all provide financial services for small businesses.
Benificiaries of microfinance are still low in relation to poverty levels in Yemen, which reached 46 percent in 2012, according to the World Food Program (WFP).
As of 2012, only 60,000 people have obtained micro-credits. They form only 0.24 percent of Yemen’s population of 25 million. Women form about 72 percent of the beneficiaries, while the rest are youth.