John Conroy, Special Consultant, FDC (Australia)
Microfinance Focus, Oct 15, 2010 (Colombo) : On the final day of Asia Microfinance Forum 2010, the Banking With the Poor Network (BWTP) awarded its inaugural BWTP Chairman Special Recognition Award to John Conroy for his inspiring contribution to BWTP Network. The award was one of the milestones of the forum and was presented by Chandula Abeywickrema, Chairman of BWTP Network.
John Conroy is a Special Consultant to the Foundation for Development Corporation (FDC) and has served FDC as its Executive Director for nine years from 1991. He is co-author of several FDC monographs on microfinance including those dealing with NGO-commercial bank linkages and the policy, regulatory environment for microfinance in Asia.
Accepting the award, Mr. John said, “I feel like I am in the position of a policeman in a dock (of the court). I am really overwhelmed by the honour you pay me and I do have some imperishable thoughts to put together.”
He recalled the contributions of the late Mr. William (Bill) Taylor, dynamic founder of FDC, who used his background in SME financing to start the early stages of microfinance (previously known as micro-credit) in various countries. After a long battle with the Australian taxation authority, tax-free funding was in place and FDC was created. Banking with the poor (BWTP) was its primary and initial activity. “The name, BWTP, not banking FOR the poor, not banking TO the poor, but banking WITH the poor. That’s the genius of the name, in my view,” suggested John, in his address to the conference.
“Bill Taylor saw a need for a commercial approach, a business approach, but he’d be horrified to see the situation today. Bill was able to open the doors for us, open the doors to banks, policies, frameworks, documentation of activities etc. He also taught an early team of NGO MFIs how to lend money. The high time was when we had country workshops in seven countries hosted by the central bank of those countries”, he said.
“The first Asia Microfinance Forum was in 2006 in Beijing. The most remarkable thing what I have found is that up till the 1990s, people were paid to come to conferences but now, it is not the case. At Asia Microfinance Forum, everyone here has paid to come. I miss all the buzz about microfinance and I hope the fundamental objectives of microfinance would not be forgotten.”
Giving a word of caution to microfinance institutions, Mr. John said, “I hope that we will walk with the poor as the primary underlying philosophy and I would be deeply hurt if we become over-profitable with commercialization. As it does happen, we must be careful. When you sip with a devil you must use a very long spoon. Bill Taylor, who died 15 years ago, would be astounded to see the direction that microfinance has taken”.
“Microfinance is a constantly evolving message which will continue to evolve and I look forward to the day that the very notion of microfinance will not become a curiosity, as it will be so absorbed in the financial systems. Thank you all”, he concluded with sincerity.