Global Microcredit Summit 2011 Report
Friday, December 9, 2011
Monday, November 14th 2011 saw the culmination of several years of delicate preparation in a packed conference centre in Valladolid, Spain. The fifth Global Microcredit Summit (held every few years – with regional conferences in between) kicked off in the magnificent Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes, with an opening ceremony full of music, pomp, and a great deal of gratitude – in the particular direction of Sam Daley-Harris, the outgoing Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign.
Queen Sofia of Spain has been an impressive and dedicated supporter of the microfinance sector since its early days. After welcomes to the city of Valladolid and the region of Castilla y Leon by the Mayor and Governor respectively, and an outline of Spain’s development priorities by the Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Queen Sofia took the podium to declare open the fifth Global Microcredit Summit.
Describing the summit “not just [as] a forum for debate, and for the exchange of experiences”, it aims to promote “two basic goals”: to enable about 175m families to reach basic financial services by 2015, and to get 100m of the poorest families on earth above the US$1/day income threshold.
These objectives date from several years ago, and laudable as they are, it was clear from the offset – not to mention the plenary and workshop papers circulated in the weeks before – that the concerns of the industry have expanded to include other matters. The so-called ’crisis’ in India (Andhra Pradesh in particular) continued to dominate the agenda, not just as a localised, acute issue in one of the largest microfinance markets in the world, but as a clarion call for the industry to wake up.
The industry’s ’father’, as we are repeatedly informed, is Professor Yunus, who reiterated at the Opening Ceremony his vision of a sector that is anathema to profiteering (and probably to profit too), but painted a rosy picture of microfinance compared to the broken, mainstream financial sector. “Microcredit is a way of helping future generations…dark clouds are gathering [in the broader global economy] and they will not go away; they will create frustration and disappointment, a great deal of unemployment and tension [in the West]”. Microfinance, he argued, by contrast “is a shining hope, creating light at the end of the tunnel”.
There must be plenty of light to follow, as it is an industry that was globally well represented. Roughly 1600 delegates were in attendance. Without seeing an actual breakdown, it was clear that Africa, Latin and Central America and the Indian subcontinent were well represented with practitioners. MIVs, commercial banks, analysts and donors made up most of the balance – with a surprisingly broad contingent of media present throughout the whole summit – evidence, perhaps, of the reputational hit the sector has taken in the last couple of years, and how microfinance has long since left behind the periphery of global finance. Having the Queen in attendance obviously helped, too.
The Summit, as each before it, had a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops and associated sessions. Perhaps more than previously, however, there were dominant themes for each day.