This week the Microfinance USA 2011 conference took place in downtown Manhattan. It was buzzing – not thanks to the old guard like me, but because so many younger people are doing so much interesting work. There were lots of sessions running in parallel, and I couldn’t see more than a fraction, so here are 5 highly-selective take-aways.
Folks working on the international side and the domestic side have more to share with each other than ever. Why? The international side has moved beyond the focus on Grameen Bank-style micro-credit to support micro-enterprise. Even Grameen Bank has moved beyond that (most notably, they’ve become a deposit institution big-time: the last figures I saw showed them taking in $1.47 in savings for every $1 they lent). That puts focus on a wide range of new financial ideas, from mobile telephone banking to insurance. The U.S. side is also engaged in new uses of technology and ideas that are more about banking than traditional microfinance (credit scoring, debit cards, etc.) Maybe the most interesting thing about the conference was how little it actually had to do with traditional microfinance - and that turns out to open up lots of wide-ranging conversations.