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Gates Foundation Summit: The Power of Savings

By Opportunity International

On Nov. 16-17, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation held its first-ever 2010 Global Savings Forum in Seattle, Wash. Heads of government, banking, technology and international development gathered from around the world to discuss how to bring financial access to people living in poverty, with a particular focus on helping people protect their futures throughsavings. The forum aimed “to identify new, viable approaches to deliver savings and other financial tools that meet the needs” of those living in poverty.

“At Opportunity Malawi, we have six times more people saving than borrowing. People see how their neighbors’ lives have been impacted by having a secure savings account at our bank, and so they want one too.”
–Opportunity Malawi’s CEO Aleksandr-Alain Kalanda

“Savings doesn’t just help people mitigate the risks posed by a medical emergency or a bad crop,” Melinda French Gates told nearly 200 attendees of the forum on Tuesday. “It also gives them the ability to marshal their resources to build something better for themselves and their children. Savings allows people to fund their own businesses, to look ahead with confidence. Savings helps families to take the giant leap from reacting to events to planning for a healthier, happier future.”

At the forum, Melinda Gates pledged $500 millionfrom the foundation over the next five years to improve access to savings and other financial services. As part of this pledge, the foundation announced a package of six new grants aimed at several goals, including: expanding banking and microfinance services to include savings accounts; innovating new approaches to reach more people through branchless and mobile phone banking; and conducting research to identify how people use formal and informal financial tools such as savings, credit, insurance and payment services, and to analyze the impact of financial services on the lives of people living in poverty.

Among the influential leaders in attendance at the forum were Her Royal Highness Princess Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development; Janamitra Devan, vice president and head of network, financial and private sector development for the World Bank–International Finance Corporation (IFC); Yongbeom Kim, director general of Global Financial Architecture Bureau in the Presidential Committee for the G20 Summit; and many more.

Opportunity International Bank of Malawi (OIBM)‘s CEO Aleksandr-Alain Kalanda attended the summit, offering his expertise as a participant in a working session on Wednesday morning entitled “Making the Economics Work for the Poor,” which focused on “The Challenging Economics of Small-Balance Accounts.” Clients of Opportunity Malawi have access to some of the most exciting technological innovations in microfinance, including a growing mobile phone banking network and biometric technology, as well as new advances in agricultural finance that include access to interest-bearing savings accounts.

“At Opportunity Malawi, we have six times more people saving than borrowing. People see how their neighbors’ lives have been impacted by having a secure savings account at our bank, and so they want one too,” Kalanda says.

This summit also occurred shortly after the release of a new document from the Gates Foundation outlining its financial services strategy and its primary emphasis on global savings. Dennis Ripley, Opportunity’s SVP of International Business Development, comments, “It’s one of the best documents I have seen on the value of savings accounts for the poor. It includes a number of detailed examples from around the world. I encourage anyone who is interested in global development to read it.”

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