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MFTransparency at the Microcredit Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

Published on May 10, 2010

by Jordan Filko

Last month I attended the 2010 Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit in Nairobi, Kenya to represent MFTransparency along with Chuck Waterfield and Alex Fiorillo. As my first Microcredit Summit, this was an exciting event for me.

My role at the Summit was primarily to man the MFTransparency exhibition space, explaining our work to curious passersby and distributing materials on our upcoming projects. Although unfortunately my posting at the booth meant that I had to miss Chuck’s presentation on the panel “Transparency in Interest Rate Pricing and Other Efforts Toward Consumer Protection,” I think it may have been one of the best ways to experience the event. Many thanks are due to Murray Gardiner and Temenos for their help in arranging this great exhibition space for us. It was my pleasure to meet Murray, an MFTransparency Board member, for the first time and to witness firsthand how ready our Board members are to jump in when needed to actively support us.

From the flood of visitors that I welcomed to the booth, I met more people of a more diverse nature than I had even thought possible. I met people involved in microfinance from a range of angles, including managers of microfinance institutions, investors and regulators. I also met representatives of organizations combining microfinance with other fields, such as Ingenico, a payment solutions company, RETAP, a UNDP biomass energy project and the Microinsurance Innovation Facility of the International Labour Organization. And that doesn’t even get into geographic diversity. It was tremendously encouraging to receive such a steady flow of visitors, excited by MFTransparency and eager to get involved. Norbert Benker of Micro Service Consult happened upon our booth one day and within about 10 minutes of talking to Chuck and Alex had invited them to speak to a group of regulators from Ethiopia about MFTransparency as part of his training program.  Their session with the group later in the week left us with an open invitation to bring the Transparent Pricing Initiative to Ethiopia. I met many people working in countries where MFTransparency will begin operations in the next few months, including MFIs, networks and regulators, readily offering their support and advice. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were with people who were totally unfamiliar with MFTransparency, from women’s savings group members to former Wall Street bankers, who asked some good questions and helped me to think about our work in new ways.

As wonderful as it is to meet new people, there is nothing like seeing old friends. This is how I felt about seeing the representatives of MFIs that we worked with on the Transparent Pricing Initiative in Kenya. It was great to catch up with some of our earliest supporters, including the folks at PAWDEP, Adok Timo and Jamii Bora. It was delightful to meet others for the first time who had worked hard with me virtually on their data submission despite never having met me in person, including representatives of KADET and Yehu. We distributed Certificates of Participation to many of the Kenyan MFIs who we worked with on this Initiative, which was a great feeling of accomplishment for everyone and a strong statement of the Kenyan microfinance industry’s commitment to transparency. Everyone is excited for the Kenya data to be published, which will happen in the next few weeks.

Many opportunities for new partnerships for MFTransparency arose from the Microcredit Summit as well. Alex and I attended the SEEP Members Dinner where we learned more about the activities of the member organizations, such as MercyCorps’ work in hard-to-reach areas of Central Asia. We hope to join this year as a new member of the SEEP Network and begin actively contributing to their ongoing initiatives. We attended another dinner, along with Chuck, hosted by MicroCredit Enterprises. This was a great opportunity to meet people working to alleviate poverty through a variety of innovative approaches, such as KickStart’s new water pump and Solio’s ultra-durable solar-powered cell phone charger. We also had some very positive meetings with potential new funders, exciting prospects for expanding our work to new places.

For me, the Microcredit Summit was a wonderful experience in terms of meeting new people and learning more about this dynamic industry. For MFTransparency, it was incredibly inspiring to see how much support there is throughout the world for our work.  The most exciting aspect was the new ideas, partnerships, perspectives and directions for MFTransparency that came out of so many conversations at the Summit. It made me proud to be part of an organization that is growing and changing to meet the needs of this ever innovating industry.

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