At Opportunity International’s US office, we draw our motivation and sense of purpose from the stories of our clients and their families as they build a bridge out of poverty. This week, I am further inspired by a different group of people – the members of Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM) Chicago.
On September 17th this group of women microfinance professionals met together for the first time. Even in its infancy, WAM Chicago is the fastest growing chapter of WAM International. At the inaugural meeting we heard from women across the microfinance industry – Shorebank,ACCION, Opportunity International, SEEP, and others – who are doing incredible work to advance the field and impact the lives of the poor.
Jessica Horn of ACCION Chicago shared about the microfinance activity happening in our own backyards. The organization provides small loans (average of $8,000) to men and women in the Chicagoland area who have been shut out of the traditional banking sector.
The SEEP (Small Enterprise and Education Promotion) Network was represented by Mary McVay, who has over 20 years of experience in microenterprise development (10 as an on-the-ground practitioner in Kenya). She now directs SEEP’s Value Initiative, which is pooling learning from practitioners in Indonesia, India, Kenya, and Jamaica to advance urban value chain development.
I was thrilled to hear a report from one of the two men in our group (men, you are invited too!). Paul Christensen, senior lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management and founder of Shorebank International Ltd., described the Financial Inclusion 2020 project at the Center for Financial Inclusion. This is an ambitious initiative to accelerate progress towards achieving “full financial inclusion” around the world by 2020. The pilot program in Mexico (which Opportunity is involved in) has taken an all-encompassing approach to address the multiple leverage points – private, public and social sector – needed to make the vision a reality.
Sitting in that room, I felt honored to be a partner in microfinance with the incredible women who surrounded me.
And as I sit down at my desk today, my motivation comes not only from knowing that lives are being transformed in the field, but that I stand shoulder to shoulder with women and men in Chicago who are doing groundbreaking work to advance the impact of microfinance in every corner of the world.
You can learn more about WAM International at http://www.wam-international.org. The mission of WAM International is to advance and support women working in microfinance and microenterprise development through education and training, by promoting leadership opportunities, and by increasing visibility of women’s participation and talent while maintaining a work/life balance.