Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Staffing and Human Resources Development

The strong and sustained growth of the microfinance sector in recent years has led to a sharp increase in the demand for qualified middle managers with a diverse skill set. Due to the increased complexity that growth brings to their job descriptions, middle managers must know:

  • How to recruit and retain clients in an increasingly competitive environment;
  • How to understand new markets and adapt products and services appropriately;
  • How to increase operational efficiency;
  • How to monitor and communicate performance effectively using new technologies; and
  • How to manage the institutional changes necessary to meet regulatory requirements or to diversify funding sources.

In most countries, a readily available supply of qualified middle managers does not exist. Institutions must either train new managers themselves or “steal” managers trained by other microfinance institutions (MFIs), a growing phenomenon that does not increase the aggregate supply of qualified managers available to the industry.

Few MFIs offer a management training program that helps front-line workers quickly and successfully transition to a management role, so they have had to learn on the job, through trial and error and informal coaching by others. This ad hoc approach takes time and leaves many capacity gaps.

Middle managers have more complex training needs than field staff, they tend to be less educated than senior managers, there are many more of them to be trained, and the time and funding available to do so is limited. The dearth of appropriate capacity building to date has left the industry with a weak middle management layer that needs to be addressed if growing institutions are to be healthy institutions.

USAID’s Microenterprise Development office (MD) seeks to:

  • Understand better the needs of middle management in terms of knowledge, skills and assets;
  • Develop a comprehensive inventory of current training opportunities for middle management in order to identify gaps in the supply of training;
  • Increase the pool of qualified local trainers through the replication of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Middle Management for MFIs curriculum;
  • Explore whether the use of a learning network for certified ILO master trainers and those participating in the Training of Trainers (ToT) programs could enhance the effectiveness of classroom-based training.

Initial research on this topic reveals eight gaps between the type of training that is needed to build a strong cadre of middle managers and the training currently offered:

  1. Big picture exposure is lacking. There are few opportunities to interconnect the content of short-term, independent management courses to obtain a holistic overview.
  2. Soft skills, such as analysis and communication, are infrequently addressed in most training packages.
  3. Quality training materials in languages other than English continue to be largely unavailable.
  4. The timing of training offerings lags behind the demand. Furthermore, training programs are often marketed with little notice and/or are held at times when it is difficult for middle managers to attend.
  5. Affordable training opportunities for middle managers of MFIs are not widely available, limiting the number of middle managers that can benefit from training.
  6. The number of high-quality trainers and technical assistance providers that are locally accessible to MFIs is very small in most countries.
  7. Pre-training planning and preparation should be conducted to: identify the course participants’ needs; pinpoint opportunities for applying the course materials to issues in participants’ institutions; and demonstrate how the knowledge and skills acquired during the course can be applied to the identified issues.
  8. Accountability for productive change should be better reinforced. Too many learning opportunities end when the classroom-based course ends and this prevents them from having their desired impact.

Research under this topic is addressing these gaps through the roll-out of the ILO’s Middle Management ToT program; training delivery in Senegal, Pakistan, and Bolivia; and the establishment of a web-based learning network for master trainers and the cadre of trainers participating in the ToT.

Lessons learned through the roll-out of this ToT, the delivery of the training, and the learning network will be published in the form of a microNOTE series on this topic.