Empowering Women Through Microfinance

26 Apr

I recently got invited to a panel discussion on ‘Empowering Women Through Microfinance’. This panel is being held at 7:00 PM on the 28th of April at UCLA Anderson School of Management at Los Angeles. It is being hosted by the Yale Club of Southern California.

The panel has some outstanding speakers – Jessica Jackley, Co-Founder of Kiva.org; Dean Karlan, President of Innovations for Poverty Action & Professor of Economics at Yale University; Jon Yasuda, West Region Vice President of Opportunity International and Eric Weaver, CEO of Opportunity Fund.The panel will be moderated by Professor Robert Spich from the UCLA School of Management.

Lisa Kant, who is organizing the event sent me a brief note sharing the fascinating and thought provoking questions Professor Spich may ask.

-Why do microfinance organizations usually focus their assistance on women?

-Is focusing on women the most effective way to fight global poverty?

-Are there other tools, instead of or in addition to microfinance that add to women’s empowerment?

-What are some of the biggest problems or challenges with the microfinance industry today?

-Which parts of the microfinance chain are most inefficient? What are the best ways to address them?

-What changes need to happen in order to improve the microfinance industry as you see it?

-How do you respond to criticism regarding negative impact on individuals and high interest rates?

-What types of environments can benefit the most from microfinance? The least?

-What are some of the other areas that microfinance channels can be used in: (such as healthcare, education, social)?

-How can technology help? Hand held devices? Cameras? Mobile banking?

-How do you test that microfinance is working? What Statistical methods do you use? What do you think the role of analysis should be in philanthropy and microfinance?

-What does the future of microfinance look like? 5 years from now? 20 years from now?

I am really looking forward to hearing the views from my co-panelists. It is going be an excellent education opportunity. If you are around Los Angeles and have not yet registered for the event, please do so. It is not too late.

Professor Bhagwan Chowdhry from the UCLA School of Management will be delivering the keynote address. He has recently embarked on a project called ‘FAB – Financial Access at Birth’. The goal of FAB is to ensure that every child born in the world starts life with a deposit of US$100 in a bank account at the time of official birth registration.

The stated benefit of FAB account is “Relatives, private donors, other social organizations could design plans in which regular payments are made to FAB accounts to provide for education, training, immunizations and health-care.”

I think the potential outcomes from the successful execution of this campaign are mind boggling in areas ranging from poverty reduction, health, education to better governance and accountability. If every child born has a bank account various governments and related agencies can directly send payments to the bank account of the child bypassing several intermediaries. This has huge potential to reduce corruption and leakages in delivery of public services. Readers of this blog may recollect a similar point made by Nandan Nilekani where he recommended money reaching the beneficiaries directly and the beneficiaries exercising choice on how they would use the money. To quote Nandan Nilekani “1)Money in your hands – direct subsidies. In the form of cash to an account held by each citizen, which would replace the creaky indirect system of ration shops and subsidized rice/fertilizer/kerosene. 2) School vouchers, which give poor students the option of attending either private or government schools. These two alone would bring more cash into the hands of citizens, and give them access to markets.  And it would as a result, create more pressure towards better infra that connects markets, and less red tape in education.”

The FAB campaign is a Big Hairy and Audacious Goal (BHAG). Interestingly if we look at some of the BHAGs, when we have tried to achieve those goals in all earnestness, we have made remarkable progress on many of them. Congratulations to Professor Chowdhry.

I will also be presenting in two microfinance classes taught by Prof. Chowdhry – one for undergraduates and the other for MBA students. Recently I also took a couple of classes at Santa Clara University and at Berkeley. It is most invigorating talking to students who are so invested in the future and have a strong desire to make the world a better place. I am eagerly looking forward to these classes over the next two days.

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