Nov 18, 2020

“Past Imperfect; Future Tense”: Online European Microfinance Week 2020 Begins, for a Financial Inclusion Sector with Much to Discuss…

  • Three-day conference with over 50 sessions across various formats – fireside chats, topic lounges, interviews, panels and plenaries
  • Topic streams on the impact of Covid-19, climate change, savings, digitalisation
  • Several plenaries on institutional resilience; post-Smart client protection; housing microfinance; savings; and ‘2020 in the rear-view mirror’
  • Launch of  new Housing Microfinance book “Taking Shelter”; and e-MFP Savings publication “Encouraging Effective & Inclusive Savings”
  • European Microfinance Award ceremony on Thursday 2pm CET

Wednesday 18th November 2020

The online European Microfinance Week (#EMW2020) conference, hosted by the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) opened today, prefacing three days of virtual debate and discussion on the critical challenges and opportunities facing the financial inclusion sector.

#EMW2020 may be fully online – with new streams, session formats and networking models on a new dedicated platform – but it retains many of its core characteristics as a member-driven conference, supported by the Luxembourg government.  Among one of the most important annual events in the financial inclusion sector, EMW brings together all branches of the industry, including e-MFP’s own members, to discuss trends, innovations, challenges and opportunities in inclusive finance in developing countries.

And while the decision to take EMW 2020 online is a result of the obvious current circumstances, it also means abundant opportunities – to bring the work, initiatives, ideas and discussions to a much broader international audience, while at the same time adapting the format of sessions to maximise interactivity and engagement.

#EMW2020 offers more than 50 sessions organised across several thematic streams – including The impact of COVID-19, Encouraging Effective and Inclusive Savings, Housing Microfinance, Digitalisation, Climate Change Resilience and Client Protection, among various other sessions on financing WASH, trends in remittances, refugee finance, and agri-finance. As always, these sessions will be interactive, dynamic, and involve top experts from across the financial inclusion sector – practitioners, academics, investors, raters and others – to lead these sessions and the extensive Q&A and audience engagement activities as well.

Regular conference attendees will also notice a whole range of new session formats designed to be better suited to an online conference, from free-ranging topic lounges, publication launches and working sessions to fireside chats and interviews, as well as the more traditional panel sessions.

This morning’s opening day kicked off with a keynote speech entitled “Microfinance in 2021: Past Imperfect; Future Tense” by Ela Bhatt, Founder of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, who brought a 50-year career perspective to the trends – positive and negative – that have emerged over those years, and what the sector must do to move beyond the challenges of the pandemic. The sector must focus on “helping low-income households to enhance their incomes, investing in skills, productive assets and working capital” to ensure that all “financial tools serve clients, and not the other way around”.

The keynote was followed by an opening plenary entitled ”Institutional Resilience in Focus: What is the Current State of the Sector?” Moderated by Barbara Magnoni of EA Consultants, it brought together Greta Bull from CGAP, Eric Campos from Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation, Sanjay Sinha of M-CRIL and Mohammed Khaled from IFC, to give examples of which types of FSP have struggled, survived or prospered over the past months, how serious the fears of liquidity crises within MFIs were, the likely effects of the ending of repayment moratoria, and the role that investors and others will need to play to continue to help providers sustainably support their clients.

This opening kicks off a series of plenaries over three days, including: the launch of the new book ‘Taking Shelter: Housing Finance for the World’s Poor’; ‘Creating an Environment for Effective and Inclusive Savings’; ‘Client Protection in a post-Smart Sector’; and ‘2020 in the Rear-view Mirror: Conversations on the Future of Financial Inclusion’.

While each of the conference topic streams will have several sessions to look at the subjects from different perspectives, clearly the challenging events of 2020 so far mean that the impact of Covid-19 on the sector will take a significant role in this conference. Besides the plenary on institutional resilience, there will be sessions on: What prior crises tell us about tackling Covid-19; New roles and responsibilities of investors during Covid-19; How is the Covid-19 crisis particularly impacting women?; The impact of Covid-19 on poor households; Successes and failures of the regulatory response to Covid-19; Covid-19 and the financial inclusion value chain; What's going on with remittances?; and Overcoming the current difficulties of field research.

We also look forward to hearing the announcement on Thursday of the winner of the €100,000 European Microfinance Award 2020 – with the theme of “Encouraging Effective inclusive Savings” – during an online ceremony to which all EMW2020 participants are invited. In a pandemic context, increasing access to effective and inclusive savings is more important than ever, enabling low-income clients to weather shocks, meet everyday expenses without resorting to debt, and plan for the future. Multiple sessions during EMW2020 will bookend this topic, including the launch of the new e-MFP paper on the subject and deeper dives into Insurance as a complement to long-term savings; Capturing the effectiveness of deposit accounts; Different approaches to savings; The special role Savings Groups can play; Creating a conducive regulatory savings environment; and The role of support organisations in encouraging savings.

Christoph Pausch, Executive Secretary of e-MFP, says: “It became clear months ago that EMW would need to transform this year while at the same time maintaining the core elements of our member-led conference that facilitates open discussion and engagement. What has emerged is a genuinely global meeting of people, ideas, plans, concerns and new initiatives. We’re offering an engaging, dynamic and interactive event which attendees will find fascinating and invaluable and we’re delighted to welcome so many to this our first virtual EMW”.


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