Tuesday, December 4, 2012

United Nations Event Honors Founders of the First Women’s Global Financial Network

Women and men who met in Mexico City in 1975 at the first UN Conference for Women, and resolved to work together to bring women everywhere into the formal financial markets, will be honored at the United Nations on Wednesday, December 5. The event formally launches Founding a Movement: Women’s World Banking, 1975-1990, by Michaela Walsh, one of the founders and the first President of Women’s World Banking (WWB).

Walsh’s book, in her words, “shines a light on the value that women contribute through work, and when they support one another, to become full participants in the economy.” Founding a Movement illuminates the birth of a culture of trust—from Kenya to Colombia, from Brazil to the Philippines—where women entrepreneurs could learn from and teach each other to gain control over their economic destinies. Currently, WWB serves as an umbrella organization to a network of 39 financial organizations from 27 countries that provide small loans, from $100 and up, to borrowers to start their businesses: with a portfolio of $7 billion and $3.5 billion in savings, 26 million clients are served by the WWB network, 80% of whom are women.

The UN event will feature a discussion, moderated by Zohreh Tabatabai, former Director of Communications at the United Nations, recalling the ideas and conditions of 1975—very little knowledge by women across cultures, difficult communications, legal barriers to women regarding credit and bank loans—and reflect on change.  Elements of the process that remain important today include being open to knowledge from all sources, crafting solutions based on grass-roots needs, and providing training as needed rather than by formula.  Of particular importance, according to the book and the founders, is creating a culture of personal trust based on working together.

The event sponsor is the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the United Nations.  Institutions and citizens of The Netherlands played an important role in the history of WWB, which was incorporated there in 1980. According to Walsh, “The trading tradition of the Dutch, and their concern for the interests of women and developing economies, meant that WWB found natural allies in Holland.” The Dutch appreciation for WWB is also evident from the comments by former Minister for International Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Jan Pronk, who said:

“Women’s access to finance, including microcredit is crucial. Michaela Walsh and Women's World Banking have broken new ground. Those who wish to follow in their footsteps should read this story!"

Among the participants at the UN discussion will be other WWB founders, book contributors, and leading figures in  finance and international development, including Mary Okelo, first African manager of Barclay’s Bank in Kenya and founder of the Makini School; Barbro Dahlbom-Hall, Sweden, management consultant and author; Hon. Dag Nissen, former Norwegian Ambassador; Ron Leger, former Director of the Canadian International Development Agency; Deanna Rosenswig, former Executive Vice- President, Bank of Montreal; Geertje Lycklama, formerly with the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation; Klaas Molenaar, formerly with Triodos Bank; and others.  

For more information about the event, please contact Graciela Hall at 516-458-4310.

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