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IDB salutes women microfinance pioneers in Latin America

<?xml:namespace prefix = st2 />AREQUIPA, Peru – The Inter-American Development Bank today honored the work of seven women whose dedication into building institutions that provide financial services to the poor and underserved has shaped the microfinance industry in Latin America and the Caribbean.

These pioneers played crucial roles in creating and expanding microcredit programs and developing new services that have given millions of microentrepreneurs in this region, particularly women, more opportunities to grow their businesses, increase their incomes and improve their families’ living standards.

At a plenary session of the Inter-American Forum on Microenterprise (Foromic), which brought together more than 1,500 participants, the honorees shared stories of social entrepreneurship and their views on the outlook for microfinance in this region.

“Empowering women is the very best intervention one can make in children and families,’’ Lynne Patterson, co-founder and director of ProMujer, said in an interview before the event. “Women who know their own worth are better mothers, better workers and better community members.”

Established nearly two decades ago in Bolivia to provide financial services and training programs to women, ProMujer has successfully expanded to Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico and Argentina.

Microfinance is an important tool for development, but credit to the poor must be accompanied by training, better education and health services in order to be an effective tool to reduce poverty, noted Fonkoze director Anne H. Hastings. Hastings was recognized for her work at Haiti’s leading microfinance institution.

Other microfinance pioneers honored were:

Susana Pinilla, founder and president of Edpyme Proempresa in Peru. Pinilla spent 20 years organizing and managing local and international development institutions, focusing on financial services to the poor and services for entrepreneurs. She is an adviser to Peruvian President Alan García and a former minister of labor, social development and women issues.

<?xml:namespace prefix = st4 />Pilar Ramírez, founder of Centro de Fomento a Iniciativas Económicas, Bolivia’s pioneer in microcredit, which <?xml:namespace prefix = st3 />later became one of Latin America’s first regulated microfinance institutions and one of the first to venture beyond its national borders.

Clara Akerman, Women's World Banking (WWB) in Colombia. A founding member of WWB Colombia in Cali, one of the most successful microcredit institutions in Latin America, Akerman has headed the organization since 1992. She has been a consultant to organizations in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and has worked closely with the Colombian government and WWB's World Banking Network on policy reforms to promote microfinance.

Mercedes Canalda, executive director of ADOPEM, an NGO founded in 1982 to provide financing and training to low-income women to help them build small businesses. ADOPEM, which has since become a regulated financial institution, serves nearly half of all Dominican microcredit clients.

Teresa Velilla, director of Financiera El Comercio, Paraguay. Velilla is responsible for microcredit at El Comercio, a company that has specialized in the past 25 years in providing financial services to small rural and agricultural businesses.