Microfinance Focus, Nov. 4, 2009: Wherever Women’s World Banking CEO Mary Elen goes, she faces one obvious question from the audience or the media. That is the microfinance sector’s focus on women. But she is happy to answer, as ever with a smile on her face, that she is glad that the microfinance sector has not deviated from its prime focus on women as borrowers, come what may, whether credit crunch or recession.
So did she when Microfinance Focus team caught up with her on the sidelines of Microfinance India Summit 2009 that was held last week in New Delhi.
Move over from the obvious, she recollects host of programmes the WWB is channelizing to build future women leaders apart from the entrepreneurial courses they have
on the offer. The latest one, funded by Master Card and the Gates Foundation, will soon see workshops hosted in many parts of the world and the first one will be held in Bangalore, India in cooperation with Ujjivan. “We need to build a talent pool from within to take up future challenges,” she asserts.
Did women’s position become better after the microfinance movement? She is emphatic in her reply that it was. The pace of their growth may have remained slow but certainly their financial and social elevation is there to see, she said. She quickly attributes the slow pace to women’s family responsibilities which limit their time. “But women are great savers and financially they know how to balance their needs and run family as well as businesses,” she asserted.
On transparency in the microfinance sector, Mary Elen is quite clear. She explained that the WWB is already giving awards to encourage transparency in the sector and hoped that one day the borrower would be in a position to know exactly what she is getting and how much she has to repay.
WWB is keen to sensitize society on the gender issue and recently the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation has come forward to fund it, she explained. Some Women Leadership Training Programmes have already been taken up in Pakistan, Colombia and Kenya, she noted.
She is clear in her message to the microfinance sector that it should not deviate its focus from women and strive to strike a balance in its commercial and social goals.