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Microfinance USA Conference to Ignite Action for Consumer Protection

Despite an economy crippled by stubbornly high unemployment rates and an ongoing credit crunch, microlenders across the U.S. are creating bright spots of economic mobility and small business growth. At the 2011 Microfinance USA Conference (May 23rd and 24th), the nation’s top practitioners, investors, and researchers will convene to discuss the future of U.S. microfinance. There, they will be joined by international microlending organizations to announce a campaign for consumer protection standards.
microfinance in america

While Small Business Lending Stagnates, Microfinance Grows

With a recent Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council report indicating a 30 percent drop in small business lending in recent years, the need for microfinance—the practice of responsible lending to small businesses too new or too high-risk to qualify with mainstream lenders—is clear. And the ability of microfinance to ignite lasting change is proven: Opportunity Fund and the ACCION U.S. Network, the conference presenters, report a business survival rate twice the national average, repayment rates that rival those of mainstream lenders, and a boost in local job creation for each loan provided. Both lenders estimate an average loan size of just over $7,000.

“It’s no wonder that demand for our microloans has nearly doubled since 2010,” says Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund founder and CEO. “Especially since the economic meltdown, people are in need of financial services they can trust. And that’s what microfinance is—a move towards an integrated, inclusive and reliable financial sector.”

“Small businesses create 64 percent of the new jobs in our country,” says Bob Annibale, Global Director of Microfinance and Community Development for Citi. “It’s clear that microfinance is meeting a critical need, enabling very small business owners to access capital, obtain valuable business training and move their way into the financial mainstream.”

Consumer Protection: Strengthening Microfinance’s Future

Microfinance USA 2011 will chart the course for the future of the U.S. microfinance industry by rallying U.S. MFIs around a new effort to create industry-wide consumer protection standards. At the conference, Opportunity Fund, Kiva, and ACCION International will call on U.S. microlenders to join them as endorsers of the Smart Campaign, the first global effort to unite microlenders around the common goal of providing all clients with transparent, respectful, and prudent financial services.

“As microfinance continues to grow and mature, we must always keep our clients’ best interest at the center of our work,” says Michael Schlein, president and CEO of ACCION International. “This means creating products that are fair and transparent, and committing ourselves to strong consumer protection.”

Microfinance in Action

In addition to hearing from over 140 high-caliber microfinance experts at over 40 sessions, conference attendees will tour small businesses in New York that have benefitted from microloans. They will meet with business owners like Fauzia Rahman, a former social service worker who struggled to make ends meet after the birth of her first child. She opened a small Halal food cart in the Bronx, and, with a microloan from ACCION USA, a member of the ACCION U.S. Network, was able to buy a larger cart. She met with great success and she recently received a new loan that enabled her to expand her business, double her locations, and hire another full-time employee. Today, her son is looking forward to starting college in the fall.

Nationwide, microfinance has a meaningful impact in hard-hit communities. Bernard McGraw became separated from his wife and children during the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. The family reunited in San Antonio, TX, where he opened Bernard’s Creole Kitchen, a small makeshift restaurant that quickly became a local favorite, garnering many food awards. A microloan from ACCION Texas-Louisiana, a member of the ACCION U.S. Network, enabled Bernard to relocate the restaurant from a cramped shack to an inviting location, where it has continued to attract a loyal clientele.

“I had the vision of how to rebuild my life,” says Bernard, “but I didn’t have the funds. Thanks to my microloan, I’ve been able to grow my business and support my family.” After receiving help when he needed it most, Bernard also started “Gumbo Under the Bridge,” a program that feeds homeless people.

Portions of the conference will be webcast on May 23 beginning at 9:00 a.m. EST at

Speaker Highlights: Carlos Danel, Compartamos Banco; Jonathan Morduch, NYU Wagner; Felix Salmon, Reuters; Adam Davidson, NPR; Daryl Collins, Financial Diaries and Bankable Frontiers; Bob Annibale, Global Director of Microfinance and Community Development, Citi

  • What: 2nd National Microfinance USA Conference
  • When: Monday, May 23 & Tuesday, May 24, 2011
  • Where: Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th St. New York, NY 10011
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