Oct 03, 2019

In anticipation of European Microfinance Week, happening 20-22 November, our media partner MicroCapital caught up with e-MFP Chairwoman Laura Hemrika of Credit Suisse to see why EMW is the must-attend event of the financial inclusion sector this Autumn.

MicroCapital: How is European Microfinance Week (EMW) different from other financial inclusion conferences?

Laura Hemrika (pictured): It's unique in several ways! First, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) is a member-led platform; our over 130 individual and organization members represent all types of stake­holders. They're active at the highest levels of the sector, and we work closely with them on all aspects of our work, especially for EMW. We put together the programme with their input, and they are strongly represented as speakers, moderators and Action Group partici­pants. Second, EMW is particularly interactive. We don't see value in serial presentations of projects or products; all work­shops and plenaries are designed to be provocative, interactive, and to stimulate debate and discussion. Third, the confer­ence is the culmination of the annual Euro­pean Micro­finance Award; and each year there is a stream of sessions on the Award theme, which for 2019 is Strengthening Resilience to Climate Change. Fourth, EMW has an especially diverse attendee group, in terms of organisation types and home countries. It's a truly remarkable breadth of stakeholders. Finally, we take great efforts to improve the conference iteratively and leverage its output via feedback surveys, offsite sessions, the compre­hensive conference report and other publications.

MC: What kind of feedback do you get from attendees?

LH: Stellar! And extensive. Through our EMW 2018 feedback survey, we've learned that attendees especially value the diversity and seniority of speakers and participants as well as the high-quality opportunities for networking and knowledge exchange. This is in addition to the environment being conducive to safe and open dialogue, as well as the beautiful setting of the Abbaye de Neumünster.

MC: How has EMW evolved over the years?

LH: It's definitely bigger, for one thing. The attendance has grown to almost 500, representing an increasing number of countries as well as specialties, such as fintech and telecom­munications. We have also introduced new session formats. Last year there was an Oxford-style debate for the closing plenary; we've also had TED-style talks; "world café" sessions, at which speakers rotate among small groups of audience members; and various invitation-only sessions, too. We're always willing to experiment with session designs to make them more productive and participatory. Of course, the content evolves as well. This includes the move beyond the microfinance focus of 10 years ago to the broader financial inclusion sector today, with its range from fintech to behavioural economics to agri-finance to standard setting in social performance management and more.

MC: Is there a session you are particularly excited about?

LH: Climate change is front and centre in the media, business world and public discourse – rightfully so! It's key for our industry to articulate our role in climate resilience. The plenaries on protecting the working poor and protecting financial-services clients both have great speakers, as well. Building on last year's focus on digitalisation and other forms of tech­nology, there are also several sessions on the growing relevance of data analytics, including for climate-resilience agriculture and via the Atlas Data Platform.

MC: How would you describe the competition for the European Microfinance Award?

LH: It's a diverse and intriguing field of 41 initiatives on climate resilience! The applicants include banks, NGOs, cooperatives, insurers, networks and technical-service providers, among others. Their areas of focus vary quite a bit, including innovations in index insurance, agri­cultural practices, value-chain development, nutrition, education, clean energy, disaster preparedness, and the use of geodata and other tech­nologies. Whatever the final result, the Award has already shone a spotlight on an area of the financial inclusion sector that will become more and more important in the years ahead!

Ms Hemrika is the Global Head of Corporate Citizenship & Foundations at Credit Suisse and Chairwoman of e-MFP.

This interview was first published by MicroCapital and is reposted with permission

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