While microfinance has been a popular and successful tool in third world countries for more than four decades, the overt theme at the Microfinance USA 2010 conference in San Francisco is that domestic micro lending is an untapped, growing market that is not only much in demand, but is greatly in need. In simplest terms, the conference fuels the debate that the system of banking for our communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs is broken. If you have tried to get a small business loan recently you will most likely agree.
Microfinance organizations including Opportunity Fund and Kiva are seeing not only a need for entrepreneurs based locally to use their services, but significant success in lending to small businesses in their own back yards. It’s interesting to note that this could even be a driver to our economic recovery. Every new dollar invested with Opportunity Fund has a proven return of 2 to 1, as it flows through the regional economy creating new wages, new spending, and new tax revenues. The general opinion here is that new micro lenders are not saddled with legacy systems/thinking, are nimble, and embrace technology to bring more loans more quickly to entrepreneurs.
If growing from a regional to a national conference over the course of a single year is any indication, next week’s Microfinance USA conference (May 20 & 21 in San Francisco) is sure to attract plenty of attention.
Concentrating primarily on domestic microfinance, it “will bring together investors, policymakers, social entrepreneurs, practitioners, small business owners, and curious individuals to explore how microfinance produces jobs, increases incomes, and creates opportunities to build stable and sustainable communities.” A host of industry veterans will be speaking including Martin Eakes, founder of Self-Help, Premal Shah, president of Kiva, Janie Barrera, founding president and CEO of ACCION Texas-Louisiana and Peter Bladin, executive VP of programs and regions for the Grameen Foundation.