Posts Tagged ‘microfinance’

President Obama will present the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 recipients tomorrow, Wednesday, August 12. Three of this year’s awardees were speakers at the World Affairs Council and the Global Philanthropy Forum in 2008: former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Yunus.

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From a $100 million microfinance fund begun in 2005, Tufts University officials say they are now reaping the benefits.  The fund has been invested solely in microfinance initiatives, and provides economic self-empowerment for the poor along with financial returns for the university.   Just last year, Tufts earned $6.6 million in dividends, money that has “helped counter a decline in the school’s endowment and supported faculty research, student aid, and a program to help Tufts graduates working in government and nonprofit jobs repay student loans,” according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy post today.

The $100 million for the fund came from Pierre Omidyar, founder of  Ebay and co-founder of the Omidyar Network with his wife Pam (see our earlier post on Pam here).  Both Pam and Pierre are Tufts alumnae.   According to the Tufts press release, the Omidyar donation “is the largest single gift in the history of Tufts University as well as the largest private allocation of capital to microfinance by an individual or family.”

Our hats are off to Pam and Pierre, two outstanding members of our GPF community.

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Jane Wales in conversation with Muhammad Yunus.

Tonight, the World Affairs Council of Northern California honors Nobel Peace Prize recipient Professor Muhammad Yunus at our 2008 Awards Dinner held at the Ritz Carlton. We celebrate the progress the microfinance industry has made in eradicating global poverty by honoring the roots it as has grown in Northern California. We recognize three local companies representative of these efforts: Kiva, MicroCredit Enterprises and MicroPlace. As part of our gift of thanks to Professor Yunus, the musical group Talisman will give a live performance.

In preparation for the event, World Affairs Council CEO & President Jane Wales published an op-ed on how tested microfinance strategies from the developing world can be applied here at home. Read the op-ed as it appeared in last Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

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Across all panels in the past two days, and especially this morning, we have seen that technological innovation now arms us with unprecedented opportunities for alleviating poverty. In our final panel for the poverty alleviation track, we heard about the nexus between information and poverty from moderator Sonal Shah, Head of Global Development Initiative at Google.org, Holly Ladd, President & Director of AED-SATELLIFE, Brian Richardson, Founder & Managing Director of WIZZIT Bank in South Africa, and Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President & CEO of Women’s World Banking. Each panelist highlighted the great opportunity presented by mobile technology in expanding and accelerating access to financial services, and explored other ways to leverage information technology to strengthen the service delivery of existing health and microfinance initiatives. Sonal asked each to discuss how technology can best collect and share information about poor communities and individuals, such as demographics, health statistics, credit history, etc.

Holly emphasized that our challenge is to alleviate the burden of disease, so that we can move to alleviate the burden of poverty; creating wealth by creating health. She argued for the use of new technology to capture data more effectively – and more importantly, to make every effort to make this information widely available. Brian seeks to provide affordability, accessibility, and availability in financial services for the poor, and believes that mobile technology is the best way to achieve this. Banking via mobile phones enables up-and-coming entrepreneurs to save valuable amounts of time and productivity. While there remains a lot to be done on regulation and building trust in the security of mobile banking, he is working to prove scalability and commercial viability to take his model global. Mary Ellen pointed out that despite the attention the microfinance movement has received, only 133 million people in the world have access to its services. Banks need information on customers, but we must work out the sensitivities of who owns the information. Sorting this will be fundamental to enabling microfinance to have the impact that it can and should.

At the close of working group sessions, we all moved to the ballroom for the final plenary with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Clinton. We learned of the range and depth of commitments made this year in our 3 days together, and heard from past commitment makers who have made extraordinary progress. Prime Minister Brown spoke of the financial crisis, and argued that there is no future for isolationism, just as there is no future for protectionism. The essential thing to do is to begin to restore confidence in markets, and to do so globally – for this global problem requires a global solution. President Clinton reflected that instead of pouring money into the narrow housing market, we should have invested in our poor neighborhoods, in a clean, independent energy future – in solar power or wind power or bio-diesel or electric cars – into making an energy partnership with Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and our other neighbors in the Caribbean. It would have been a different world out there, and a lot fewer people would have taken improvident risk. He urged us not to forget that as it turns out, doing the right thing is the best economics, and that over the long run, it’s the best politics too.

Now that CGI has concluded for another year and production staff is busy pulling down the lights and microphones, we must pause, reflect, and take with us what we’ve learned. The poor are worthy of our efforts and it is time for us to make good on our promises. It requires a real commitment and true audacity from each of us. I have been moved by each of the members of CGI – experts, activists, philanthropists – and I look forward to advancing their work and the work of others in the year ahead.

Jane Wales
President & CEO, World Affairs Council of Northern California
Working Group Chair, Poverty Alleviation, Clinton Global Initiative

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