NEW YORK, (UN Department of Public Information) The United Nations launches the International Year of Microcredit today in an effort to build support for making financial services more accessible to poor and low-income people. It will aim to raise public awareness about microcredit and microfinance, and promote innovative partnerships among governments, donors, international organizations, non- governmental organizations, the private sector, academia and microfinance clients.
The Year's overarching goal is to provide greater access to credit, savings, insurance, transfer remittances and other financial services for poor and low-income households in order to move towards more secure livelihoods and prosperous futures.
Launch observances are beginning the day with the ringing of opening bells at stock exchanges around the world by microentrepreneurs from Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Mexico, Rwanda and the United States. The participants are all recipients of the Global Microentrepreneur Awards coordinated by HarvardBusinessSchool and other graduate schools. In New York, local Microentrepreneur Award winners are scheduled to open the NASDAQ market, while nine exchanges from Karachi to Zurich and from Manila to Maputo are also taking part in this coordinated initiative.
"Stock exchanges play an essential role in efficiently allocating capital in national economies and globally", said Stanley Fischer, Vice Chair of Citigroup and Chair of the Advisors Group for the International Year of Microcredit 2005. "Today, the world's stock markets are focusing on the people to whom this Year is dedicated: microfinance clients."
At opening celebrations at United Nations Headquarters in New York and elsewhere throughout the world, experts will address the challenge of expanding the reach of microfinance by identifying best practices and the hurdles to wider availability.
"The world has set an ambitious course to meet the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half, by 2015, the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day. Microfinance is a powerful tool to help us get there", said Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Although microcredit and microfinance have already had a positive impact on the household income and quality of life of millions of poor people, many still lack access to financial services that could raise their standard of living and protect them against economic setbacks. Billions of people could benefit from financial services, although today only a tiny fraction of this demand is being met. To meet this huge gap in services, the Year calls for constructing inclusive financial sectors that strengthen the powerful, but often untapped, entrepreneurial spirit that exists all over the world.
"By viewing poor people as vital contributors to their local and national economies, the International Year of Microcredit 2005 has the potential to unleash a new wave of microentrepreneurship, giving poor and low-income people a chance to build better lives", said José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Another primary aim of the Year is to increase public awareness about the reliability of microfinance clients, especially women, in repaying loans, managing household incomes, building assets and enterprises and contributing to the economy.
One key need is to collect and analyse hard data on the state of microfinance: its availability by region, client profiles, and types and quantities of services offered. As part of the Year's activities, a Data Project will bring together expert statisticians and researchers from the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations, in collaboration with governments and the private sector, to address current data gaps, anticipate future needs, and build agreement on the best way forward for donors, private investors and practitioners.
In addition, the "Blue Book" project will seek to identify constraints and opportunities for the promotion of inclusive financial sectors, culminating in recommendations of concrete actions that countries can take to make microfinance an integral part of national financial systems.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs as focal points to coordinate the activities of the United Nations system for the International Year of Microcredit 2005.
For media information about the Year of Microcredit 2005, please contact: Vanessa Ward, tel.: +1-212-906-6308, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Adam Rogers, tel.: +1- 212-906-6082, e-mail: email@example.com;
Oisika Chakrabarti, tel.: +1-212-963-8264, e- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit: www.yearofmicrocredit.org.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.