Billed as the biggest subject-specific gathering in the region the four-day Asia Microfinance Forum kicked off in Colombo last night with 450 delegates present from 50 countries.
Until Friday at Cinnamon Grand will focus on a critical subject “Financial Inclusion – Achieving Asia’s Potential” with around 50 experts sharing key insights. The Forum, convened by Banking WithThe Poor (BWTP) Network, Chairman of which is HNB’s Deputy General Manager Marketing and Retail banking Chandula Abeywickrema, is the third in the bi-annual event with the previous two hosted by Hanoi in 2008 and Beijing in 2006.
Chief Guest at last night’s reception IMF Resident Representative in Sri Lanka and the Maldives Koshy Mathai perhaps set the right tone for the next few day’s deliberations when he quipped “it is said a banker is someone who lends when you don’t need money and micro financier is one who lends when you really need money.”
All for micro finance...
He said micro finance was more than micro credit and effective financial inclusion plays a critical role in bringing people out of poverty. He said that if an ordinary person who lives on a hand to mouth existence cannot progress out of poverty then preoccupation in focusing on macro-economic stability was useless.
Organiser The Foundation for Development Cooperation (FDC) Executive Director Craig Wilson said the biannual forum is the premium microfinance gathering in Asia. He said that financial inclusion has a positive correlation to improving livelihoods in Asia; hence the industry faces significant challenges. The latter was more so because there was huge disparity in financial inclusion across the region with its being 98% in Singapore, 8% in Papua New Guinea, 28% in Cambodia and 59% in Sri Lanka.
Local Host HNB Managing Director and CEO Rajendra Theagrarajah said that hosting of the Forum in Sri Lanka was timely and momentous as the country has set aside three decades of conflict and looking forward with optimism for prosperity in a peaceful era.
He said that financial inclusion is critical as Sri Lanka forges ahead with a heavy accent to infrastructure development, success of which is key to empower the baseline of small and medium enterprises and micro entrepreneurs who are a key part of the value chain yet often neglected.
He said that micro finance has an important role to play to ensure that socio-economic growth gets equitable in Sri Lanka whose economy is largely concentrated in the Western Province. “Rural areas are short of growth and wealth hence financial inclusion is critical to address this,” Theagarajah added.
Glen Rase, Country Head and CEO of Lankan operations of Citi Fioundation, which has sponsored the previous two forums too, said Sri Lanka has a long history of microfinance and the Forum could learn from the country as well as the host gaining valuable lessons from the rest of the region’s success stories.
“Micro finance industry has an important role to play in the economic revitalisation of post-war Sri Lanka,” Rase said adding that Citi has a strong pipeline of support to the micro finance sector within Asia.
From today, the Forum until Friday via main, plenary and special sessions and workshops will focus on a host of important issues concerning micro finance. Later today there will be a special session on Sri Lanka focusing on the state of the industry and ways forward.
Other topics include role of microfinance in achieving financial inclusion today morning, followed by governance and management, transaction and portfolio risk management – inclusiveness and sustainability; special performance management – ensuring inclusion; essential checklist for successful investor relationship management, policy making – are we getting the framework right; financial literacy – whose responsibility; savings and inclusion; investing in Asia – opportunities, challenges and impact; invest Asia marketplace; housing finance; how do MFIs mainstream client protection; alternative delivery channels – overcoming geographic exclusion responsible lending – a new industry benchmark; youth entrepreneurship – diversifying income generation; and Human resources – the role of field officers and a robust HR policy.
On Friday afternoon the closing plenary session will deal with financial inclusion – what are the core priorities whilst Deputy Finance Minster Dr. Sarath Amunugama is scheduled to deliver the closing keynote address.
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