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In the latest installment in the Microfinance Matters Interviews series, reporter Lucy Conger speaks with Anne-Marie Chidzero about her career in Africa’s microfinance industry, the developments it has undergone in recent decades, and the work of AfriCap, where she serves as CEO. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

How did you get started in international development?

My passion for development work stems from my upbringing. My father, a native of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), worked for the United Nations for a long time. As we could not live in then-Rhodesia because my parents were a mixed couple, we lived in Ethiopia, where I was born, Kenya, then Switzerland. My father always spoke of his dreams for Rhodesia. Later, my father became finance minister of independent Zimbabwe and that greatly influenced my desire to contribute to the African continent from an economic perspective. There was a slow shift at that time away from a more socialist to a more capitalist approach to development and the private sector was seen as the engine of growth. At the United Nations, I worked with transnational corporations in developing countries, creating links between small businesses and corporations as part of the value chain.

You were directly involved with the World Bank’s initial forays into microfinance and with the launch of CGAP. What was your role there?

At the CGAP, I traveled to African countries to identify the World Bank role in microfinance. At the World Bank, microfinance was seen as a tool for poverty alleviation. They understood the importance of getting this right. My role was to share best practices with country offices in Africa and to feed microfinance into the strategies for the financial sector and the Bank’s country assistance plans. I always believed the private sector was the way to do this; that is a thread throughout my career.

What are the landmarks in the development of the microfinance industry in Africa?

When I began working, microfinance in Africa took the form of either large, informal savings clubs or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing revolving funds and not focusing on interest and repayments. When we engaged with policymakers, they couldn’t understand how you charge interest on loans for the poor. Equity Bank of Kenya was a landmark, it convinced people that one can profitably serve this market, and Equity Bank is run by Africans. Now, there is a real understanding among policymakers that microfinance is part of the financial sector and policies and regulations must provide an enabling environment for microfinance to grow and for the development of more inclusive financial sectors. And also to support innovation in the financial sector to the benefit of those that do not have access to financial services.

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> Posted by Center Staff

For Alex Silva, President of Omtrix and Executive Director of Calmeadow, a transition from industrial engineering and corporate banking to microfinance was natural. In our most recent Microfinance Matters Interview, Silva discusses his unique introduction to microfinance, the commercial approach to microfinance that he was instrumental in developing and much more.  Read this intriguing interview to learn more about Silva’s progression into microfinance and some of the many lessons he learned along the way! Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Martin Connell came to microfinance and development by way of the private sector. He brought his business perspective to philanthropy, a perspective that fired his curiosity to find non-subsidized ways of serving the industrious, if poor, self-employed people in developing countries.

Connell and his wife, Linda Haynes, in 1982 founded Calmeadow, a non-profit that funded non-profit agencies helping the working poor in developing countries.  While fine-tuning Calmeadow’s approach to development, he was introduced to ACCION International, an early promoter of MFIs in developing countries.

Connell shares his observations on the microfinance industry past, present, and future in the sixth installment of the “Microfinance Matters” interview series:

Martin Connell

Making Microfinance Sustainable

As a young executive, Martin Connell polished his skills in the rough and tumble world of mining exploration.  He headed Conwest Exploration Company Limited, a family firm founded by his grandfather.  After building Conwest and creating a business platform that successfully moved into the oil and gas field, Connell decided to do some exploration on a personal level.

Travels to Egypt, India and Bangladesh sparked his desire to promote development. In 1982, Connell and his wife, Linda Haynes, founded Calmeadow, a non-profit that funded non-profit agencies helping the working poor in developing countries…

To read more of the interview with Connell, click here.

Have you read?

Nancy Barry: Change Agent for Financial Inclusion

Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya: Stretching Microfinance, Narrowing Poverty

Grameen Foundation CEO Alex Counts Tackles ‘Re-engineering’ Microfinance

Pilar Ramírez, Microfinance Trailblazer

Where is Microfinance Headed? Essma Ben Hamida Interview Kicks Off ‘Microfinance Matters’ Series

> Posted by Center Staff

It’s great when the Center’s articles are echoed around the Web, and especially when someone else takes the time to translate them. In this case, we’re particularly grateful to the Portal de Microfinanzas, an affiliate of the Microfinance Gateway, for posting a Spanish version of our “Microfinance Matters” interview with Martin Burt.

Burt, who created the microfinance NGO Fundación Paraguaya (FP) in 1985, is one of a score of industry leaders from around the globe who’ve appeared in the Center’s ongoing “Microfinance Matters” series. Other leaders in that spotlight include Grameen Foundation President Alex Counts, CONFIE Holding Chair Pilar Ramírez, Enda Inter-Arabe Executive Director Essma Ben Hamida, and Enterprise Solutions to Poverty founder and head Nancy Barry.

Burt started out with the idea of zeroing in on the problem of chronic unemployment in his homeland’s urban slums and rural areas. FP grew to be one of Latin America’s best-performing microfinance institutions, and today it serves 70,000 clients, most below the poverty line. FP was the first development NGO in Paraguay and the country’s first microenterprise program.

To read the entire “Microfinance Matters” interview with Martin Burt in Spanish, please click “Fundación Paraguaya: Expandiendo las microfinanzas, reduciendo la pobreza.”  To check out the English version, you can click “Martin Burt & Fundación Paraguaya: Stretching Microfinance, Narrowing Poverty.”

Have you read?

Financial Education & Fundación Paraguaya – ACCION Ambassadors Blog the World – June 15, 2011

¿Medir? ¿Aliviar? No, Eliminar la Pobreza

Measure? Alleviate? No, Eliminate Poverty

 

> Posted by Center Staff

Nancy Barry pioneered lending to small enterprise at the World Bank in the late 1970s, and she later wrote its policy on this type of lending. She also designed projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and led expansion of the World Bank’s small business portfolio from zero to $3.3 billion in only a decade.

While at the World Bank she joined the board of Women’s World Banking (WWB), a network of women-led microfinance institutions, serving as its president and CEO for 16 years. Most recently, she founded  Enterprise Solutions to Poverty, which works with about 130 leaders of emerging market corporations and multi-national corporations that are engaging large numbers of poor people as suppliers, distributors, and consumers of products and services that build assets.

Barry shares her thoughts on the microfinance industry past, present, and future in the fifth installment of the “Microfinance Matters” interview series:

Nancy Barry

Change Agent

In her early days as a young professional at the World Bank, Nancy Barry traveled to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. She observed micro-venders everywhere — selling farm produce in villages or whatever they could in the streets of cities. “I became obsessed with finding ways to build out to the bottom 50 percent of the economy,” she recalls.

Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, she pioneered lending to small enterprise at the World Bank in the late 1970s, before microfinance was known among development professionals. Barry went on to write the World Bank’s policy on small enterprise lending, design projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America and lead expansion of the Bank’s small business portfolio from zero to $3.3 billion in 10 years.

While at the World Bank she joined the board of Women’s World Banking (WWB), a network of women-led microfinance institutions…

To read more of the interview with Barry, click here.

> Posted by Center Staff

Martin Burt created the microfinance NGO Fundación Paraguaya (FP) in 1985 with the idea of zeroing in on the problem of chronic unemployment in his homeland’s urban slums and rural areas. FP grew to be one of Latin America’s best-performing microfinance institutions, and today it serves 70,000 clients, most below the poverty line.  FP was the first development NGO in Paraguay and the country’s first microenterprise program.

Burt has further ambitious plans to build microfinance’s potential as a tool to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

“If we want to graduate people across the poverty line, we have to visualize what that means—what type of latrine they should have, what vaccinations,” he says. “Any family can obtain a good latrine or stove if they have the will; they usually are held back by a lack of motivation and skills, as well as by doubts—can I do it? We’re working on motivation and skills.”

Burt shares his thoughts on the microfinance industry past, present, and future in the fourth installment of the “Microfinance Matters” interview series:

Martin Burt

Fundación Paraguaya: Stretching Microfinance, Narrowing Poverty

Imagine yourself as an idealistic new graduate eager to make a difference in the world. You probably don’t want to come home to a malevolent old dictatorship. When Martin Burt returned to his native Paraguay in 1983 after graduate studies in public administration in the US, he saw no room for his new skills in the oppressive government run by General Alfredo Stroessner, then in his 39th year in office.

Burt could have easily fled and become part of the Latin American brain drain. But he never seriously considered that option. “In a poor country, if you’re born into a family that can send you to a good school, you have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate,” he explains.

To read more of the interview with Burt, click here.

> Posted by Center Staff

Siddhartha Chowdri with clients from Bihar

Alex Counts, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation, speaks with community members in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Why do so many capable people put their lives into building the microfinance industry? What do they hope to accomplish? What motivates them? Why do they think microfinance is a solution? Are they pleased with the results?

The Center for Financial Inclusion is interviewing founders, pioneers, and entrepreneurs in order to answer these questions and capture the scale and impact of microfinance in today’s world.

During 2011, we’ll bring you a score of such ‘Microfinance Matters’  interviews from leaders around the globe. These authentic voices will speak about what is most meaningful to them in their work.

Today, we talk with a leader in the international dissemination of the Grameen model…

Alex Counts

Reaching Out to the Poorest

In the spring of 1987, Alex Counts, a student at Cornell University, wrote to Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, and expressed his interest in working with one of the world’s first microfinance institutions.

“God bless him, he wrote me back,” says Counts. That was the beginning of a career in microfinance that led Counts and other friends of Grameen Bank to the 1997 founding of Grameen Foundation, an independent organization that collaborates with microfinance organizations around the world to deepen services provided to the poorest and more remote communities…

To read more of the interview with Alex Counts, click here.

> Posted by Jon Pattee

Pilar Ramírez, a pioneer of microfinance in Latin America, in 1985 launched FIE, Bolivia’s first MFI. Her personal journey in the industry parallels the Bolivian microfinance sector’s development from its beginnings to its current mature status.

Ramírez, whose passion for social justice has never flagged, believes that she, FIE, and microfinance in Bolivia have all made significant contributions to the lives of low-income Bolivians.

Today, however, she sees troubling developments that are products of the industry’s very success. As MFIs become more profitable, Ramírez worries that the field is luring in professionals who lack the social commitment of the founding leaders. “It’s becoming like any business,” she laments.

As 2011 begins, Ramírez shares her thoughts on the microfinance industry past, present, and future, in the second of the “Microfinance Matters” interview series:

Pilar Ramírez

Defying Conventional Wisdom, Pursuing Social Justice

Although born into a wealthy family in Bolivia, Pilar Ramírez was part of a generation whose social conscience was formed by the events of the late 1960s.  As a high school student, Ramírez was galvanized into activism when the revolutionary hero Ché Guevara came to Bolivia and was killed by the military dictatorship in 1967.  “Ché had impressed the youth here, as he represented change and hope that a ‘new man’ – one who cared about the needs of the poor – was possible,” she says. At that time, she might have been stunned to learn that her belief in social justice would ultimately lead her to become a banker, and eventually the chair of CONFIE, a bank holding company.

To read more of the interview with Pilar Ramírez, click here.

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