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(FROM LEHIGH UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND STAFF)
Thank you for the opportunity to attend the microfinance speakers at the United Nations last week. It was a great opportunity to hear first-hand experiences of people that are directly involved in various aspects of providing microfinance. I really liked the diversity of the panel and how they represented different areas needed to make microfinance work in the poorest nations.
Richard Weingarten explained how the UNCDF helps LDCs build infrastructure, financial sectors and rules of law, which are necessary foundations for microfinance institutions to succeed. He described how "capital follows capacity" and showed how before microfinance can work, there are other steps countries must take in development. Ambassador Chowdhury, the Bangladesh represntative to the UN, gave perspectives on what he had seen work and not work with microfinance in his country. He described how it is a free market way of helping people move out of poverty with dignity, and how it allows a country to change from within. On the other hand, regulation and transparency are needed for it to work, and people need to remember that it is only one tool to fight poverty and often does not reach the poorest of the poor. Sharmi Sobhan of Fonkoze, a Haitian microfinance institution, described the process of trying to create a microfinance plan that works. Her perspectives on the evolution of Fonkoze were really interesting, and showed how often the first method used to try and reached the poorest people will not work, but an organization must adapt, learn from their mistakes, and look to other sucessful institutions for advice.
Overall, the speakers were engaging and interesting. I liked how they showed different aspects of the microfinance process, and they all had extensive experience in the field. I wish they had had more time for questions at the end, but that is my only complaint.