Lehigh’s Martindale Center, which I direct, hosted a gathering of 32 microfinance and impact investing industry leaders from around the world March 30 –April 1, sponsored by Calmeadow Foundation and the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) to explore “The Microfinance Industry: Revolution or Footnote? And Lessons for the Next 10 Years.”
Open discussions shared diverse perspectives on topics including regional differences, new financial and non-financial products, and competitive challenges from new entrants and digital and mobile technologies. In a preliminary wrap up of the discussions, workshop co-organizer Paul DiLeo of Grassroots Capital summarized a common view that “microfinance is dead; long live microfinance!”, in recognition of the industry’s pre-eminent role as the most successful investment dedicated to creating social value at the bottom of the pyramid, its ability to reach hundreds of millions of poor clients with products and services to improve their lives, and its ongoing innovation to combine “high tech with high touch”.
Over the next five weeks, we organizers will be generating a series of blogs summarizing the discussions of the Lehigh gathering to encourage continued discussion by participants and others. In addition to the leadoff blog elaborating on the “Microfinance is dead! Long Live Microfinance” theme, series topics will include “Time to Ditch Impact Investment’s Unproductive Self-Assessment”; “Can MFIs Deliver What Poor People Need?”; and “Fintech in Microfinance: In Search of the High Tech – High Touch Unicorn”.