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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Microfinance CEOs: Smart Campaign Certification is a Clear Step Toward Responsible Microfinance

By Mary Ellen Iskenderian and Rupert Scofield

As co-chairs of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, we are pleased to share with NextBillion readers this joint statement from the Working Group in support of the recently announced Smart Campaign Client Protection Certification Program. Certification will offer public recognition for institutions that meet adequate standards of care in appropriately protecting microfinance clients, as verified by an independent evaluation. It marks a clear step forward in ensuring the microfinance industry puts the treatment of its clients first.

As we wrote about last year on NextBillion, when the working group came together in 2011 we were adamant not to “reinvent the wheel,” by creating another performance measure for the industry. In fact there are many organizations doing great work in promoting responsible microfinance—they just needed an advocate to build a broader range of commitment. We also saw a need to move beyond the simple endorsement of the initiatives to developing the processes and procedures needed to transform these principles into action.  Working Group members analyzed the current status of our organizations’ engagement with the initiatives, worked with our staffs to build capacity, and tracked our success.

Since then, many of the Working Group’s discussions have focused on the fundamental question of what the microfinance industry requires to flourish in the future. We believe that client protection is central to the answer. It is common sense – and good business practice – that a fair and respectful relationship with clients is required to develop trust, reduce risk, and serve them appropriately. As leaders of FINCA and Women’s World Banking, we are especially concerned with the fair treatment of women clients, the traditional backbone of the microfinance industry, who are often more vulnerable to exploitation.

Client protection is a responsibility that all of us in the industry share. In the last three years, the Smart Campaign has helped to develop the needed language, tools, and training to institute strong standards of client protection. Now, through the rigorous evaluation for certification, we have a way to allow institutions to demonstrate that they meet our shared client protection standards.

The Working Group has issued a joint statement because we want to go on record in support of the Smart Campaign Client Protection Certification Program. We are accountable for holding our own networks and partners to a high standard, and we urge both our own affiliates, subsidiaries and partners, and others throughout the microfinance industry, to work toward certification. We expect that these efforts will contribute to an industry recognized as a model of responsible financial services.

We celebrate this important new contribution to ensuring the health of the microfinance industry and congratulate the people and organizations across the industry who worked together to enable the certification program to begin. We look forward to working with all to advance responsible, client-focused microfinance.

Read the full Microfinance CEO Working Group statement here

The Microfinance CEO Working Group is a collaborative effort by the leaders of Accion, FINCA, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation USA, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International, and Women’s World Banking. Mary Ellen Iskenderian and Rupert Scofield, respectively the CEOs of Women’s World Banking and FINCA International, serve as the group’s founding co-chairs. 

 

►Related: A New Roadmap for Microfinance Transparency, Client Protection and Social Performance By Mary Ellen Iskenderian

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