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Microfinance pioneers

Video on microfinance pioneers
There is absolutely no doubt that Muhammad Yunus has played a crucial role in making what microfinance is today, mainly through its institution called “Grameen”. Grameen started as a project in 1976. The term Grameen literally means ‘Village bank’. Muhammad Yunus created the Grameen Bank and succeeded in having a special regulation or status for his bank to facilitate its growth. At first, it was owned two thirds by the government and the rest by borrowers. In 1995, the government transferred a large part of it and only kept a minority of the shares. Muhammad Yunus is a charismatic figure, a true leader who has been decisive in convincing world leaders to support microfinance.
When you hear him for the first time in a conference, it is impossible not to be seduced and impressed by the power of his speech. I personally started to become interested in the year two thousand when I read an article about the Grameen Bank and a few years later, I had the opportunity to meet him in Brussels. This led us to create a masters and a research centre in microfinance. My story is not so exceptional. You will meet many practitioners or academics who have somewhere in their office a picture with Muhammad Yunus! Muhammad Yunus has inspired many practitioners with his organisation the Grameen Bank and his passionate speeches! Nevertheless, microfinance is not only Muhammad Yunus!
Even more,microfinance did not only originate thanks to him. In the seventies too, but thousands of miles away from Bangladesh, other forms of microfinance emerged in Recife, in Brazil. The focus and the terms used were different, the key term at this time was microenterprise rather than microcredit. The key institution in this emergence of microfinance in Latin America was ACCION, an American non-governmental organization. There are of course many important figures at ACCION but I will only name two here. First, Maria Otero who later became the Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights under the Obama Administration. Second, Michael Chu who is currently Professor at Harvard Business School. Both have been very influential at ACCION and in the microfinance sector.
Next to ACCION, I would like to name FINCA and John Hatch. FINCA International was originally an American foundation, established by John Hatch in nineteen eighty-four. The loan methodology used by FINCA is the village banking methodology which is also a sort of group lending. Forty years later, FINCA is present in more than twenty countries worldwide. ACCION and FINCA have been the crucial actors in Latin America. Last but certainly not least, I would like to say a few words about an organization and
a person I truly admire: SEWA and Madame Ela Bhatt. SEWA was created in Ahmadabad, India, in 1972 as an organization of poor self-employed women. You will notice the relatively short time frame in the seventies between the creation of Grameen, the operations of ACCION in Latin America and SEWA.SEWA is registered as a trade union and based in the North of India, in the state of Gujarat. Why was SEWA established? Indian women working in the formal sector get some social benefits and are at least partly covered by social security. Nevertheless, a large majority of women work in the informal or unorganized sector and are therefore not protected. SEWA was thus set up inspired by Gandhian thinking and organized as a union.
SEWA established some cooperatives including one related to access to finance or microfinance! The first microfinance services were provided in 1974, as an Urban Cooperative Bank. In the case of SEWA, microfinance is clearly conceived as one tool among others of the same organization or social movement. In 2012, Ela Bhatt was awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. I hope this video has provided you with an overview of some initiatives that have played a crucial part in the development of microfinance.

If you have heard about microfinance, you will probably have heard about a Nobel Laureate called Muhammad Yunus. Nevertheless, microfinance is not only Muhammad Yunus and I would like to introduce you to other well-known personalities and organizations.

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