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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.
> 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.”
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