Microfinance can be a powerful tool for giving the poor more economic options. However, the very poor need more than microfinance to address the causes and conditions of their poverty. Ideally, they would have access to a coordinated combination of microfinance and other development services to improve business, income and assets, health, nutrition, family planning, education of children, social support networks, and so on.

The question is how to ensure a ‘coordinated combination’ of appropriate services, especially in rural communities and other communities where multiple services are simply unavailable. Microfinance practitioners are often motivated to provide non-financial services to their clients, because they recognize the need and hear the demand. However, the legitimate concern for sustainability, interpreted as the financial viability of the microfinance service as a business, has made practitioners very cautious about non-financial add-ons. They believe that add-ons can only be a drag on the drive for sustainability. Where other, non-financial service organizations can provide these other services for the same clients, some microfinance practitioners have fostered referrals and common points of service with their non-financial counterparts. But most microfinance institutions (MFIs) feel compelled or prefer to focus solely on the financial needs of their clients and do not attempt to meet their non-financial ones. On the other hand, group-based microfinance provides a good opportunity to provide low-cost education services needed by the poor, if only to improve their performance as microfinance clients. This is especially true for village banking and related delivery systems (for example, Grameen Bank) that bring large groups of relatively poor clients together in regular meetings. Good, non-formal adult education techniques can be used effectively at these meetings to cover a variety of topics. Examples include promoting changes in child care, personal health habits, and use of local health services, as well as improvement of business skills that enable microfinance clients to put their loans to more productive use and generate more profit and savings.