Dear Rectors of the Universities of Coimbra and Luxembourg
Dear professors and students
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am truly grateful for the opportunity you have given me to participate in this round table at the University of Coimbra to share and develop some ideas with you on Microfinance and Social Business.
When UNESCO named me Good Will Ambassador in 1997, I discovered Microcredit, thanks to Professor Muhammad Yunus, and I was amazed by the efficiency of this tool in eradicating misery. This subject is of greatest importance to me!
Helping the poorest of the poor to finally have access to the credit system thus delivering them from the dependence of loan-sharks is, I believe, the best way of restoring confidence to those who have always been forgotten by the financial system.
My commitment to society’s most vulnerable, began when I was a student in Political Sciences and continues today as wife of a Head of State.
I try to carry on in active defense for children and the fight against poverty through my roles as UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children, and UNESCO Good Will Ambassador.
I share with you the conviction that Microfinance has an essential role to play in the reduction of poverty and through this, in the promotion of a culture of peace.
We must realize that our destiny is strongly linked to the destiny of the poorest on this planet! The local ist now connected to the global and reminds us that, as never before, individual responsibility and behaviour are linked to global consequences.
I would like to quote U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, underscoring the role of Microfinance, said: “Microcredit (…) has positive consequences on the entire community and creates a fertile soil for democracy to grow because women and men can hope in the future of the planet again.”
Professor Yunus, amongst others, understood this long ago and says in the context of our actual global crisis that: “Microfinance close to ground reality still works, it has not been hit by the meltdown process, but a global economic slowdown affects the lives of the poor people much more than others.”
The financial crisis has shown the fragile nature of our economic system. The avidity and greed of a few have endangered the efforts and the existence of many. It seems unbelievable that the world has been observing and accepting such “gambling” during years.
We live today in a World that is characterized by a paradox: the rise of individualism and the growth of interdependence!
We cannot survive without ethical principles, without social and human rules, if we want the 21st century to create a new alliance between nations, populations and citizens in order to prevent poverty, violence and war!
Globalization is a challenge that must be tackled jointly, leaving aside personal und national interests. Unless we work together, values, identites and efforts could all drown in the surging tide of globalization.
Although many Microfinance institutions and an increasing number of MFIs have integrated new technologies to reach the poor more effectively, we should not be complacent. The truth is that a majority of poor households do not have access to financial services: The sector has not yet paid adequate attention in extending its services to embrace the poorest of the poor. In most countries, microfinance does not yet reach many remote areas either.
The success of a Microfinance institution has been measured for too long with financial performance outcomes, but these indicators can tell only part of the performance story. Stakeholders should also focus on how their efforts have improved the lives and how to better respond to their customers’ needs in the future. MFIs should be accountable for achieving social outcomes!
It is our task not only to be successful in managing crisis and promoting transparency but to promote and strengthen human dignity, social responsibility and justice above all.
Ladies and Gentlemen, after years of visits to the field, I can confirm that the credit tool initiates a virtuous circle restoring dignity to human beings who never should have lost it, especially women.
In many traditional societies, women have been excluded from the market economy. The pioneering women who first braved the market were criticized harshly. But today, with MFIs spreading across large parts of the globe, we know that women default on loans far less than men, and credit extended to women has a much greater positive impact on household consumption and quality of life for children.
Through their involvement in Microfinance, many women are now extending their activities well beyond financial services. They have become leaders, instigating change in social practices and relationships and mobilizing social action. They play an important role in peace-making in communities affected by armed conflict and insecurity.
85% of the poorest clients served by Microfinance are, after all, women. However, women make up less than half of all Microfinance staff members, and fill even fewer of the senior management roles.
The impact of Microfinance on women shows that equality in treatment is the key to achieving the target of bringing down to half extreme poverty and hunger in the World by 2015.
In this respect I would like to emphasize just how powerful Microfinance can be in helping to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Nevertheless, Microfinance must never be considered as a charity, it is a business.
So much remains to be done. It is now that we have to prepare adequate institutional, financial and political measures, if we want to reach the goals.
We see that the distance between rich and poor still continues to grow! To promote a real culture of peace and a genuine respect for human dignity, we must dramatically change our mindset.
I am sure, that if you are participating today at this round table, it is because you are committed in reaching the Millennium Development Goals.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear professors and students, please consider this introduction as an appeal to action: Working together on Microfinance on an academic level is more than philosophy. It is a capital investment in peace and in our future.
Your passion and your ongoing commitment as Microfinance experts, as professors and students are, therefore, crucial!
Thank you very much for your kind attention.