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The 1997 Microcredit Summit celebrated the experience of microcredit as a tested and viable strategy to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty. Over two thousand participants from more than one hundred countries attended the Summit.

The Summit plenaries were addressed by the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Mozambique, the Presidents of Mali, Peru and Uganda, the President of the World Bank, the heads of UNDP and UNICEF, the First Ladies of United States, Malaysia and Angola, a former Prime Minister of Japan, Queen Sofia of Spain and others. The heads of ACCION, FINCA, Grameen Bank and SEWA among others, spoke at the plenaries, providing the powerful perspective of practitioners at the grassroots who have already successfully scaled up their operations.

The participants included representatives from every sector of the community: governments, banks and international financial institutions, UN agencies, corporations, microcredit practitioners, donors, NGOs, parliamentarians, educational institutions, private sector organizations, charities, religious institutions and various advocacy groups. This broad based participation provided a strong endorsement of the Summit's goal to reach 100 million families with credit for self-employment by 2005.

The Summit was more than just an endorsement of microcredit as a movement to rid the world of poverty. Council meetings and Meet the Challenge sessions during the conference provided a forum to further the Summit's learning agenda. Participants exchanged experiences, information and technical skills, identified resources and contacts needed to contribute to the fulfilment of the Summit's goal. Experienced practitioners made presentations in the working groups on issues relating to the delivery of credit to the poor, providing practical guidelines for designing more effective programs. Technical matters such as targeting, management information systems, spreadsheets for modelling and planning for financial sustainability of credit programs, the measurement of impact on the lives of the poor, were highlighted.

The Summit Declaration cautioned orga-nizations not to expand credit programs at a rate that threatens sustainable operations and results in wasted efforts and resources. Participants at the Summit also recognized that microcredit is one weapon to fight poverty and should be combined with other instruments i.e. health services and education to eradicate poverty.

The setting of a concrete goal of the Summit, enabled individuals and organizations to prepare and submit action plans during council meetings, outlining quantitative goals, methods and the time frame for achievement of those goals. Representatives of government, donor, financial and grassroots organizations, strategized under the same roof, representing a departure from the international summits of the past. Informal meetings between sessions and at booths in the exhibit hall were useful for forging new contacts and establishing new goals for various programs

The Plan of Action to achieve the Summit's goal stipulated the need for mobilization of an estimated US$ 21.6 billion, the creation of enabling institutional arrangements, identifying social entrepreneurs and staff, building the necessary institutional and technical capacity, improving performance standards and achieving the macro-level policy reforms that will enable microcredit programs for the poor to flourish. The funds sought are small in relation to total development aid. The World Bank plans to spend US$ 200 million in expected donor pledges on microcredit. Other organizations including commercial banks and corporations, new actors in the field of poverty alleviation are expected to announce their contributions by February 1998.

Grameen Trust is committed to reaching 10 million poorest families with credit for self- employment by the year 2005 through its network of Grameen replicators worldwide

The institutional arrangements and capacity building pose a greater challenge than mere mobilization of funds. A proposal is now under consideration for the creation of national-level wholesale organizations which provide financial and technical support to microcredit initiatives

The challenges of reaching 100 million of the poorest families with credit by the year 2005 and thus making a significant dent in poverty is indeed very big. The signing of the Declaration of Support by each participant at the Summit in February indicated that there are many who are ready to take up that challenge right now.

Report by Lamiya Morshed, Grameen Trust.