Marking the United Nations International Year of Microcredit 2005, financial experts from the UN and Wall Street met today to explore how to make financial services available to millions of poor and low-income people around the world.
"The Year of Microcredit is a chance to highlight what women in poverty can do when given a chance, and the important roles that access to credit, savings, and other financial services play in their lives," Nane Annan, the wife of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told the breakfast meeting.
She added: "It is wonderful that Wall Street has also come on board with this unique gathering of men and women from the finance community to explore how together we can broaden and deepen the access of men and women living in poverty to the quality financial services they need to improve their lives."
The women pursuing these economic opportunities were among the world's greatest hopes for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed on at a UN summit in 2000 and which include halving extreme poverty and hunger, providing universal basic education, promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, she said.
In travelling around the world, Ms. Annan said, she had met many women who had taken the microloans, developed their businesses and used their gains to benefit their families, sending their children to school and keeping their families well-nourished.
"These women are role models for their children and their communities. They are role models for us," she said.
She had met war widows in Guatemala who wanted to find new markets for the products of their weaving cooperative and who looked at themselves not as charity cases, but as businesswomen trying to enter the global market. "We should see them that way, too," she said
Hosting the event were the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Financial Women's Association, Women Advancing Microfinance, the Women's Association of Venture Equity, the Women's Bond Club of New York and 85 Broads.
UNCDF was established in 1966 as a special purpose fund primarily for small-scale investment in the poorest countries and it now works to help eradicate poverty through local development programmes and microfinance operations.
UNCDF's chief technical analyst, Christina Barrineau, has described microfinance as a win-win situation. "Financial institutions and the private sector have profitable new markets, governments have stable financial sectors and poor people can seize opportunities," she says.
The concept of institutional microfinance originated with Economics Professor Muhammad Yunus of the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, who created the Grameen Bank in the 1970s for that purpose.
Working parallel to him were Dr. Esther Ocloo of Ghana and lawyer Ela Bhatt of India, both of whom worked with market women in the informal economy, and helped to conceptualize Women's World Banking at the 1975 Mexico City meeting during the UN Decade for Women.