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Strength of weak ties in microfinance

Strength of weak ties in microfinance

Jackson, Cornell Alexander (2012) Strength of weak ties in microfinance. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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This research makes a contribution to knowledge by testing Granovetter’s (1973) theory of the strength of weak ties in microfinance based on an empirical study in India. Specifically, it looks to test if the addition of weak bridging ties to the networks of microfinance clients who own businesses will improve their businesses and help to reduce their poverty. This research also investigates Burt’s theories on structural holes (1992), brokerage and closure(2005) and network spillover (2010) can assist with the building of weak bridging ties.

Microfinance is the delivery of financial services to the poor which includes credit, savings, insurance and remittances. The original goal of microfinance is to do financially sustainable poverty reduction.

The key issue for microfinance is that it has not achieved levels of poverty reduction envisioned when the modern microfinance started. One reason for this is that microfinance clients start businesses with low barriers to entry which makes them very susceptible to competition. Also, the poor tend to inhabit fragmented social networks with few ties outside it that would bring needed information on markets, finance, suppliers, customers and the competition that would help to improve their businesses.

Network analysis provides, with theory of the strength of weak ties, an approach that will give poor people access to information need by them to improve their businesses.

India is one of the largest microfinance markets in the world which also has a unique form of microfinance. In addition to individual lending and joint liability groups, India has self-help groups which are essentially microbanks owned and operated by its members. Sari sellers, who happen to be members of self- help groups, are good example of a low barrier to entry business.

Using a variation of the method developed by Kahn and Antonucci (1980), sari sellers were asked to identify the people they were connected to for supplies, finance, market information and customers. These are placed on a target diagram indicating how close these are to the sari seller who is at the centre of the target.

Lines connecting the alters who know each other are drawn. In addition, a network intervention was conducted in attempt to introduce weak bridging ties into the social networks of the sari sellers. A simple method of providing sari sellers in the treatment group a list of other sari sellers they could contact for help while those in the control group did not receive the list.

Several interesting findings came out of this research. Analysis of the sari sellers’ ego networks shows that there is a reliance on strong ties which confirms Granovetter’s (1983) argument. The analysis of the ego networks also show the sari sellers do have access to structural holes but do not take advantage of these. When the ego networks are combined using their contacts with the microfinance institution’s staff, analysis shows that the resulting network has a parent-subsidiary structure which reflects the hierarchical nature of Indian society. Finally, the analysis also shows that this network is fragmentary and fragile. Weak bridging ties would make the full network less fragile and allow the sari sellers to take advantage of the structural holes they find. This is what the intervention is attempting to do.

While the intervention did not go as planned, evidence was found to support the hypothesis that addition of weak bridging ties to the social networks of sari sellers improved their businesses. A group of 15 disparate sari sellers created weak bridging ties to take advantage of one of the sari seller’s contacts to buy saris in bulk. Another sari seller saw a significant increase in sales for Diwali 2011 because a new member of her social network created a weak bridging tie which introduced her to many new customers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: microfinance, India, business networks, network analysis, weak bridging ties,
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business > Department of Accounting & Finance
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:22

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