“The effectiveness of microfinance in reaching the world’s poor is beyond any debate,” said Professor Muhammad, at the Middle East/Africa Region Microcredit Summit Meeting of Councils (MEARMS) that took place in Amman, Jordan on October 10 – 13, 2004. Nearly three decades of success of such organizations as Grameen Bank, which is self-sustaining and has graduated more than 51% of its members out of poverty, have proven that microfinance works to eradicate poverty. He called on individuals, institutions, government and non-governmental agencies to step up their commitment to microfinance in an effort to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving the world’s poor by 2015.
MEARMS was the first microcredit conference held in the Middle East. The summit was co-organized by the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Organizations (AGFUND), the Jordanian Ministry of Planning and the Microcredit Summit Campaign (MSC). Her Majesty, Queen Rania of Jordan and His Royal Highness, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia served as honorary co-chairs of the summit that was attended by more than 600 delegates from 75 countries. Large delegations from SANABEL and Africa Microfinance Network (AFMIN), the regional microfinance networks from the Middle East and Africa, were in attendance at the conference.
In the opening ceremony HRH Prince Talal expressed his concern for the lack of social interest in the microcredit sector in the greater Arab region. He mentioned that MFIs were not gaining any traction in poor countries in the Arab region and Africa, while growing in industrialized nations like Norway and the United States. He said that, culturally greater emphasis is put on short-term charity in the Arab world, when sustainable microcredit deserved more attention. “Microcredit … pushes the poor towards self help and effective participation in the process of improving their own lives, rather than provide them with short-term assistance,” he said. His Royal Highness highlighted the progress AGFUND made in Yemen and Jordan, as he announced AGFUND’s initiative to set up an Arab African fund for microcredit that would actively promote microcredit solutions for the poor of the region. He also called on the Secretary General of Arab League to include microcredit and combating poverty in the agenda for the next Arab League Summit in Algeria.
Attendees at the Grameen Trust Associated Session at the Middle East/Africa Region Microcredit Summit Meeting of Councils in Amman, Jordan
HRH Prince Talal acknowledged that he was very inspired by the simple yet revolutionary philosophies of Professor Muhammad for alleviating poverty and empowering the poor through microcredit, and how they were successfully put into practice by Grameen Bank. He reaffirmed his commitment to raise awareness about the Grameen Bank methodology in the Arab region.
The four-day conference featured six plenary sessions that discussed various commissioned papers focusing on creating sustainable MFIs and promotion of microcredit in the region; 18 workshops where practitioners shared their expertise on overcoming various challenges faced by MFIs; 18 associated sessions where representatives from various organizations presented the latest developments in the microfinance world and six day-long courses led by experts in the field. Three Councils of the Microcredit Summit Campaign also held their meetings during the conference.
Grameen Trust hosted an associated session of GT partners from the Grameen Global Network (GGN) entitled: Experience of Grameen Replicators: Financing, Institutionalization, Innovations, Achievements and Grameen Generalized System: Grameen Bank 2 on Sunday, October 10, that was attended by more than 200 delegates. Mr. Zahirul Alam from Integrated Development Foundation (IDF), Bangladesh, Mr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe from Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO), Nigeria and Mrs. Olivia Kayongo from Microcredit Development Trust (MCDT), Uganda presented papers in the session moderated by Professor Yunus.
Sam Daley-Harris, Director, MSC, dispelled the three myths often quoted to discourage MFIs. He said that the poor can be reached through microcredit services; MFIs that serve the poor can be financially self-sufficient; and that the very poor, whom economists often cite as being the most costly to reach, can be reached successfully by the MFIs. He mentioned the legislative initiatives in many countries and the commitments by more than 700 legislators in five continents to promote ways to reach the very poor – those earning less than $1 a day – is reinvigorating the microcredit sector.
MEARMS concluded with reaffirmation of the four core themes of the Microcredit Summit Campaign: reaching the poorest, reaching and empowering women, building financially self-sufficient institutions and ensuring a positive and measurable impact on the lives of the clients and their families. The delegates agreed to extend the mission of the MSC beyond 2015.
Report by Tamim Islam