The Sentinel Project

Microfinance has never faced a challenge like the Covid-19 pandemic.  Researchers are eager to understand how the unfolding crisis is affecting microfinance clients and providers, and several ongoing studies are gathering quantitative data to measure the impact. Existing initiatives don’t, however, gather qualitative data on the pressures that MFIs are facing, the choices they are confronting, and the decisions they are making. To fully understand the impact of the crisis, and learn from it for the future, we have to understand the decisions behind the data.  

The initial shock from the pandemic and the responses it generated are now largely in the past. However, for much of the world, the pandemic itself and its economic impact is still very much ongoing. Even after the pandemic itself begins to subside, the recovery will present a multitude of challenges. We need to better understand and document the choices being made now, while leaders are still determining the path that their institutions will take to negotiate the pandemic.  What are the pressures and demands on institutional leaders, what decisions must they take and what tradeoffs must they weigh? How are their organizations coping compared to their competitors, and what are the constraints and prospects for rebuilding?

We started the Sentinel Project earlier this year, in partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, to answer these questions. The “Sentinels” are top-level managers—CEOs, Managing Directors or other senior management—from significant MFIs from around the world. These Sentinels have agreed to take part in a long-term “case-style” initiative, consisting of monthly interviews with an expert team of researchers. They have agreed to speak openly and candidly, under the protection of anonymity for themselves and their institutions, about the challenges and pressures they are facing.

The Sentinel Project has recruited CEOs from a cross-section of large and mid-sized MFIs across a range of markets and contexts, willing to give generously of their time to speak to us every month. Together they cover around a dozen MFIs from Sub-Saharan Africa,  MENA, Central, South and South-East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. 

Carrying out this work is a remarkable group of researchers, analysts and consultants from around the world, with deep experience at the leading edge of microfinance research and practice. 

Having finished the recruitment phase and a round of baseline interviews, we are now ready to begin sharing the insights which we’ll publish regularly in blog form on this website. Beyond summarizing “who said what and when and to whom,” we will weave together the key themes of crisis management and recovery. As we come to deeply understand the views and actions of a dozen important players in microfinance, we will combine insider perspectives with a broader understanding of the sector as a whole. 

This is a crucial juncture for financial inclusion, and tracking the perspectives of the sector’s major decision-makers—the Sentinels—will leave an enduring legacy from the Covid-19 crisis of insights into how institutions cope and what decisions their leaders must make across the real-time trajectory of crisis and recovery. So, watch this space: the first installment pulling together the first months’ interviews will be published here soon. Stay tuned.

Daniel Rozas, Sam Mendelson & Timothy Ogden

Project leads, Sentinel Project

Read the blog