Booth conference addresses innovation in microfinance

Leaders in microfinance, which involves providing financial services to low-income individuals and citizens of developing countries, spoke at the conference.

By Sindhu Gnanasambandan

Over 175 students, academics, and professionals came together to evaluate the state of microfinance and predict its future at the 9th Annual Zell Center Chicago Microfinance Conference held at the University Club of Chicago on Friday.

Microfinance involves providing financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services, predominately citizens of developing countries. The underlying theory is that such individuals can escape poverty when given access to financial resources.

A lead organizer of the event, Nitika Nautiyal, a part-time MBA student at Booth and co-chair of the Booth Social Impact Club, explained the importance of the conference in progressing the microfinance initiative.

“The conference, following the University of Chicago’s principles, challenges the status quo in the industry every year, raises the right questions and leaves the attendees with lots of ideas,” she said in an e-mail. “Thus, the conference is critical to furthering the cause of microfinance in a creative and innovative manner.”

The conference, which was organized by students at the Booth School of Business and the Harris School of Public Policy, featured speakers like Alex Counts, the president and CEO of the Grameen Foundation, and Asad Mahmood, managing director of Global Social Investment Funds at Deutsche Bank, along with over a dozen other leaders from microfinance institutions, corporate banks, NGOs, and academia.

The day was full of speeches and panels that discussed current and future trends in the microfinance industry, which, according to Nautiyal, represented the conference’s goal of “bringing together microfinance professionals and enthusiasts from the Chicagoland area to come together and grow their network.”

The conference was originally created by the student club Emerging Markets Group, but the task of organization has now expanded to include the University of Chicago Microfinance Initiative, the Booth Social Impact Club, and students from the Harris School.