CID Empowerment Meeting Focuses on Financial Access for Global Poor

September 22, 2009
by Susan McDonald, Center for International Development

More than 50 top entrepreneurs, scholars, nonprofit leaders, government officials, and other thought leaders convened September 16-17 at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University for the second annual Global Empowerment Meeting hosted by The Empowerment Lab at the Center for International Development (CID). Established with a seed grant from the MPOWER Foundation, The Empowerment Lab focuses on research to promote economic inclusion, finding sustainable ways to empower the global poor by providing access to key markets.

The 2009 meeting focused on opportunities and challenges for financial empowerment in developing countries, with the goal of extending markets and financial services to more than two billion people who are currently unbanked or under-served. Participants participated in panels and roundtables on financial access, savings, regulation, and technology, cutting across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

The keynote address was delivered Sept. 16 at the Harvard Faculty Club by Dr. Andrés Velasco, Minister of Finance, Chile, and a former professor at Harvard Kennedy School. Ricardo Hausmann, HKS Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of CID, moderated the Sept. 17 meeting, which included a luncheon keynote featuring Dean David Ellwood of the Harvard Kennedy School and Lant Pritchett, HKS Professor of the Practice of International Development.

“Inclusion in a market economy is a crucial component of individual economic welfare,” commented Suzi Sosa, MPA/ID 2001 and president of MPOWER Foundation. “More than two billion people around the world lack access to basic financial services. There is no way we can hope to solve the problems of empowerment and financial inclusion without research into the systemic causes. But that research would be futile if it is not disseminated to the world. That’s why we bring policymakers, academics, regulators, and entrepreneurs into one room together.”

Sosa added, “The Empowerment Lab is not just about financial empowerment. Our vision is for the Empowerment Lab to address issues of health and empowerment, gender and empowerment, education, civic engagement, and empowerment.”

Technology and regulation were key themes for this year’s event, as well as a discussion on the effects of the financial crisis. Participants agreed that progress in the area of financial regulation could have a powerful effect on improving access for people not currently using banking services. Regulation of financial products and services -- including laws surrounding consumer protection, privacy, and lending -- can also limit access to financial products and have counterproductive effects. Participants sought solutions that enhance access for individuals while maintaining financial prudence for institutions.

Providing a broad perspective on how countries develop, Hausmann presented research on product space networks, in which countries grow by upgrading from current export products to other, usually more sophisticated, related products. "At CID, we're interested in why some countries are poor, some are rich, and how the poor can become rich," he said. "If you think in this paradigm about how a country develops new capabilities -- and how to leverage those capabilities with other countries -- it offers answers of how nations make that leap to development."

To read the full story, visit the CID Web site.

Ricardo Hausmann, Andrés Velasco and HKS Dean David Ellwood

Ricardo Hausmann (left), HKS Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of CID; Andrés Velasco (center), Minister of Finance, Chile, and former HKS Professor; and HKS Dean David Ellwood (right) served as primary speakers at the Global Empowerment Meeting hosted by the Center for International Development September 17 at the Harvard Kennedy School. Photo credit Martha Stewart.

Andrés Velasco, Chile’s Minister of Finance and former HKS Professor, addressed the topic of modernizing regulation to expand access to financial services, joined by Roy Sosa, founder and chairman of MPOWER Ventures. Photo credit Martha Stewart.

Suzi Sosa

Suzi Sosa MPA/ID 2001 - president of MPOWER Foundation - addressed the Global Empowerment Meeting. “Inclusion in a market economy is a crucial component of individual economic welfare. There is no way we can hope to solve the problems of empowerment and financial inclusion without research into the systemic causes.” Photo credit Martha Stewart.


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