Scaling Impact: Microfinance and Inclusive Market Systems

by Sharon D’Onofrio

From September 22-25, practitioners and thought leaders from around the world will gather outside Washington, DC to discuss the challenges and opportunities for growing the poverty-reducing impact of market systems. All will be coming together for The SEEP Network’s 2014 Annual Conference on Scaling Impact in Inclusive Market Systems.

The diverse array of attendees include microfinance organizations, funders, representatives from the private sector, and development practitioners, drawing in from SEEP’s global network. SEEP’s members are dedicated to combating poverty through promoting inclusive markets and financial systems. Members include multiple global, regional, and country level microfinance networks active in 170 countries worldwide. Together they engage with nearly 100 million enterprises and households.

Our 2014 Annual Conference will focus attention on the implication and strategies for achieving scale. With in-depth looks into technology, new markets for microfinance, as well as effective research and evaluation methods, the Conference offers  opportunities for the sharing of best practices both in design and implementation.

Technological innovation constantly redefines the world around us. This continual change and growth is reflected in the financial services sector, where mobile financial applications have been expanding to bring financial services to previously underserved communities. Information and communication technology (ICT) offers massive potential to address critical market constraints and support client-centered financial systems. At the Conference, attendees dig more deeply into this potential, exploring questions such as: How can ICT solutions be used to financial system strengthening strategies? What are the roles of development agents such as associations of financial service providers in these processes? What implications may exist for vulnerable populations in technology scale up?

In fact, microfinance institutions have innumerable opportunities to expand their impact while keeping their focus on the most important aspect of their work—the clients. For example, despite significant improvements in recent decades, many people throughout the developing world still lack access to clean water, basic sanitation services or electricity, and live in situations where waste is not adequately treated and access to health services are very limited. Microfinance providers have a unique opportunity to partner with other public and private actors to provide quality, affordable and sustainable services to these markets. These opportunities—and associated challenges—will also be a centerpiece of Conference discussion.

Of course, such interventions call for careful research and evaluation to determine their true impact, and to gain traction with private investors, donors, and policymakers. This year’s Conference will have a track dedicated to precisely this critical element. Workshops will examine how practitioners can effectively use approaches such as formative research, market studies, experimental trials, and participatory research. This will include leading edge approaches to designing market-based innovations, such as user-centered design principles and analysis of “big data.”

Bringing together experienced practitioners from around the globe, we hope that the Annual Conference will continue to inspire transformative solutions to address poverty. We are currently inviting proposals to lead sessions on the Conference learning tracks, and encourage you to share your experiences and vision with your peers in September.


Sharon D’Onofrio is the Executive Director of the SEEP Network. The SEEP Network is a global network of practitioner organizations dedicated to combating poverty through promoting inclusive markets and financial systems. See SEEP Network Annual Conference for more details. 

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