10 May 2011

Microfinance USA: A Pre-Conference Post

This past fall, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend the Microfinance Impact and Innovation Conference in New York City. There, the top researchers and practitioners gathered to discuss some of the latest findings in the field of microfinance with the intention that the two groups would be able to connect. Abhijit Banerjee presented an idea on the gap between small and large businesses. He was struck by the fact that few small businesses were able to make the leap to larger growth. Siezing on the idea of the 'missing middle' I reflected on the conference writing:
There were some who were encouraged by the dialog taking place in New York, but a ‘missing middle’ remains between the practitioners and researchers. RCTs are too slow, but they are by far the best way at doing the research necessary to understanding what works in development in aid. What I see missing in the middle is that there needs to be an understanding that they can provide information to each other that can lead to the innovations which can significantly shift the trajectory of poverty. There is a need for both, each knows that, but they need to learn to play nice.
The Microfinance USA Conference in two weeks aims to accomplish the same end by bringing together researchers and practitioners to encourage more conversation between the two. What I will be looking for is if the gap between the two has grown smaller since September.

With books like More than Good Intentions and Poor Economics coupled with the recent happenings in AP and the ousting of Yunus, I feel safe in saying that the microfinance landscape has changed rather significantly in a matter of months.

My focal post will be on the "Savings: The Future of Microfinance" session with Robert A. Annibale, Citi Microfinance and Community Development; Dean Karlan, Yale University; Lisa Mensah, The Aspen Institute, Initiative on Financial Security; and Stephen Rasmussen, World Bank. Savings looks to be one of the most promising opportunities in the field of microfinance but gets far less attention being that it is not as sexy as loans that can be used to grow a business or ensure a child's education. What has been lost is that savings, with the right incentives, can have an even greater impact.

Throughout the conference I will be live tweeting to share information and add quick commentary. In addition, I will put up some rapid posts based on my notes and more thoughtful posts which will reflect on specific sessions and the overall event.

Please feel free to use the comments section here if you want to share some ideas before the conference or have any requests for coverage. I am open to requests and suggestions. You can view the entire agenda by going here.