Institute of micro-finance and cooperative development.

First ever National Microfinance Members' Summit held in Nepal

                     “Entrepreneurship Development, the Way towards Poverty Alleviation”

For the first time in the history of microfinance in Nepal, and unheard of in the global context, a national level conference catering to the need of the hour and giving voice to unheard clients who are the heart of the microfinance sector, 'National Microfinance Members' Summit' was held from May15–16,2016 in the capital city, Kathmandu. The two- day event witnessed a gathering of over 500 women microfinance members representing all the districts of Nepal from Mechi to Mahakali and diverse back grounds, and above 150 microfinance practitioners and officials and well-wishers of the microfinance sector.

The Summit was held with the initiative of the principal Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) of Nepal and the coordination of  the Centre for Self-help Development (CSD). The Summit revolved around the theme of  “Entrepreneurship Development, the Way towards Poverty Alleviation”. It aimed at finding pathways to better serve the ultra-poor and marginalized sections of the society and combating the current problems and challenges that have riddled the microfinance sector. It celebrated the success of the Nepalese women microfinance members and provided a sharing ground to exchange their experiences and learnings.

Organizing Committee member Ms. Bhagbati Chaudhary welcomed the honorable guests and the gathering to the two-day event and highlighted the contribution of the MF sector in increasing financial literacy and women empowerment.

The Opening Ceremony was an elaborate function that began with the National Anthem and cultural  program representing the diverse ethnic traditions of Nepal followed by a documentary titled ‘Entrepreneurship Development, the Way towards Poverty Alleviation’. The documentary showcased the success stories of microfinance members spread across the country.

The Rt. Honourable Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr. K.P. Sharma Oli graced the event as the Chief Guest of the ceremony and inaugurated the conference by lighting the traditional lamp ‘panas’. Mr. Oli hailed the microfinance sector as one of the active and effective sector in alleviating poverty from the grassroots of the country. Speaking to the audience, he said, “I would like to thank the organizers for organizing such an event for the first time in the history of Nepal. Microfinance is an exemplary instance of how you can change a person’s life with a small loan amount and give birth to entrepreneurship development. This is a revolutionary campaign and not a profit driven sector wherein the marginalized are given an opportunity for self-employability and entrepreneurship contributing to the local and national development of the country. I wish you all great success in your noble endeavour.”

Speaking as the Special Guest of the ceremony, Governor of the Central Bank of Nepal, the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) Dr. Chiranjibi Nepal lauded the organizing committee for conducting such a timely conference. He said, “We are always in contact with the MF practitioners and officials and have never had the opportunity to interact with the MF members. This conference has given a platform for a two-way communication between the regulatory authorities, MF practitioners and the MF members". Dr. Nepal stressed on the fact that Nepal is a land of opportunities and the youth should be encouraged to stay in the villages and townships instead of seeking employment abroad.

The Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Mr. Shankar Man Shrestha emphasized on taking the great movement of microfinance to greater heights in order to remove poverty from Nepal.Mr.Shrestha said, “Over 18 lakh families in Nepal have been served by MF, but yet there are many who have been left out. MF has played a pivotal role in bringing about a social and economic revolution among the poor". He cautioned saying that the sector should be wary of malpractices that may jeopardize the image of microfinance and take actions to counter these problems in a timely manner.

Mr. Dharma Raj Pandey, Organizing Committee member, gave a vote of thanks to the guests of honor and to all the organizations and persons who contributed in making the conference possible.

Following the ceremony, the Governor of NRB, Dr. Nepal inaugurated an exhibition displaying various products of MF women members and of various women-friendly agricultural tools and machines. The exhibition was a colourful display of products representative of different districts and cultures.

This was followed by the panel discussion on ‘Development, Challenges and Possibilities of the Microfinance Sector’. Dr. Narahari Dhakal of the Centre for Empowerment and Development, Dr. Binod Atreya of NRB, Dr. Sumitra Manandhar Gurung of Mahila Sahayatra Microfinance Bittiya Sanstha Ltd. and Ms. Aasmani Chaudhary of Grameen Mahila Utthan Kendra were the esteemed panelists and was chaired by Chairman of CSD, Mr. Shankar Man Shrestha. The discussion took the audience from the history and background of Nepalese MF to the current day scenario, challenges and the role of regulatory bodies in the development of the sector. Towards the end, the floor was opened for questions from the audience.

In the second session, twenty-two speakers from among the microfinance women members took the opportunity to share their life experience and the changes that was  brought  about  in  their  lives  after joining microfinance program. There were many triumphant stories of impoverished women who endured various difficulties and  hardships  and  who  were  often looked down upon by society, take a life- changing turn in their lives after joining microfinance. Some were very moving and brought the audience to tears. The session commentators were Mr.  Surya Prasad Acharya, Joint  Secretary,  Ministry  of Finance,  Mr. Suresh  Pradhan,  Joint Secretary, Ministry of Cooperatives and Poverty  Alleviation and Mr.  Brihaspati Adhikari,  Deputy  Director,  NRB. Mr. Yogendra Mandal, Chairman of Jeevan Bikas  Samaj  who  chaired  the  session concluded with the note that microfinance has  been  able  to  change  the  lives  of marginalized communities as well as curb domestic  violence  and  increase  self- confidence  among  its  members.

On the second day of the Summit, the participants  were  divided  into  five groups to discuss various challenges and issues  faced by the sector and to find pathways and solutions. The topics were; 1) Client Protection and Development, 2) Enhancing Outreach to the Extreme Poor, 3) Weaknesses and Deviations in Microfinance Operation, 4) Over-financing and Over-indebtedness of Clients and 5)  Graduation  of  Clients  and Entrepreneurship  Development.  Each group presented their findings before the audience and opened the floor for further discussion. The presentation session was chaired by Dr. Binod Atreya of NRB. The discussion led to a lot of brainstorming and finding methods to minimize the problems and challenges.

The  two  day-long  event  culminated with  the  Closing  Ceremony  where Ms.  Padmasana  Shakya,  Organizing Committee member warmly welcomed the  gathering  and  remarked  on  the productive  output  of  the  two-day conference in improving the sector. A 17 point  Declaration  drafted  during  the conference was  presented before the audience  by  Mr.  Rajendra  Bahadur Pradhan,  member  of  the  Organizing Committee and approved unanimously by  the  audience.  During  the  closing session, five MF members shared their experience and suggestions for a brighter future for the sector.

The Chief Guest  of  the  ceremony the Minister of State for Finance Mr. Damodar Bhandari congratulated the organizers for the successful event and noted that the Declaration will be very beneficial for the government as well. Special Guest, Parliamentarian Mr. Rabindra Adhikari expressed, .For those who are poor and asset-less, access to finance is a huge opening  to  self-employment opportunities.. Special Guest, Deputy Governor of NRB, Mr. Shivaraj Shrestha said,  .The  declaration  is  thought provoking and we will  keep it in mind while making future rules and regulations. It is necessary to provide the ultra-poor collateral free loans and the opportunity to  develop  entrepreneurship  skills through microfinance.

Another Special Guest, Microfinance practitioner and Member of Parliament, Mr.  Gopal  Dahit,  shared  his  deep understanding  of  the  sector  and  the various challenges that one faces while working in the sector. He said, .In order to reduce the interest rate charged on loans  by  the  MF  sector,  a  separate package  must  be  provided  to  such institutions as incentive.

Special Guest of the ceremony, former Member of Parliament Ms. Lucky Sherpa credited  microfinance  in  developing entrepreneurship, leadership and self- dignity  among  the  Nepalese  women.

Speaking  on  behalf  of  the  Organizing Committee, Mr. Mahendra Kumar Giri thanked  the  honorable  guests  for their  presence  and  kind  words  of encouragement. Mr. Giri also thanked allthe  participants  for  their  active participation and suggestions that made the conference a memorable program. Lastly, he thanked all the sponsors for their support. Summing up the essence of the two-day conference Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Mr. Shankar Man Shrestha said, .In order to make MF more effective, it is necessary to curb the deviations and malpractices that are currently prevalent in the market. We must  maintain  the  essentials  of Microfinance. Microfinance has served lakhs of households in Nepal, yet there are many who have been left out. We have to reach the un-reached poor families as well. Our clients are the honest poor and we must not over burden them with multiple loans". In the end, he thanked the Organizing Committee for their continued support and encouragement and the entire team of CSD, volunteers, artistes and media in supporting the Summit. He concluded saying, "The massive encouragement and the enthusiasm seen in the faces of our MF women members today, is proof of the success of the program. I am very satisfied that our efforts have reaped fruits".

The Summit was an eventful two-day program where cultural programs from member organizations also provided entertainment to the audience.