Monday, September 14, 2009

Financial Inclusion: Microfinance to Mainstream

Every year I try to do one hike in the Himalayas. It takes me back to my roots in Dehra Dun, inspires, energises and engenders hope. So in September 2008, when we did the gruelling 14km uphill trek to an elevation of 3584m (Gaurikund to Kedarnath), as usual, the mountains were unimaginably majestic but this year I saw something unexpected- man-made but equally mesmerising for me. Beyond the hike trail, on the dirt path to the last village on the India border, there flew a banner that read something like "Proud to reach 100% financial inclusion - State Bank of India". I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture (too tired is my excuse). Sure it is an ad. But look at the lofty goal. In a country largely supported by a rural population, where less than 50% bank and even fewer have access to credit, to reach the remotest corner of India with a goal of 100% financial inclusion is nothing short of ambitious. And indeed, all the huts I saw looked clean, had roofs and there were tiny, immaculate gardens with cabbage, cauliflower growing; chickens running around and nobody looked cold or hungry. For developing economies, microfinance (and micro-franchising) must become mainstream. So I am pleased to be invited to the Microfinance India Summit to be held October 26-28, 2009 at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The theme this year is "Doing Good and Doing Well: The need for balance". The summit will look at both the trade-offs and points of convergence as the sector grapples to balance between building the social as well as the financial capital; scale and soul; social performance measurement; client protection; products and services that the poor need; and issues linked to last-mile connectivity, among others. I also look forward to interviewing ordinary and extraordinary folks I meet at the conference - so send me your questions and I'll report back on what I hear - right here.

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