By Brigit Helms and Therese Turner-Jones
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -- Later this month, over 1,000 people from all over the Americas -- or even further away -- will gather in Montego Bay, Jamaica, for the 19th annual Foromic conference, the region’s most important event focused on financial inclusion and how it drives economic development and innovation. This is the first time Jamaica will host Foromic, and only the second time the conference is taking place in the English-speaking Caribbean.
It is a unique opportunity for people working in financial services, business and entrepreneurship development, and impact investment to network, learn about key trends and challenges in the region, and explore opportunities to work with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Sophistication built on success
When the first Foromic took place in 1998, there were only about 200 microfinance institutions in the region, serving 1.5 million clients, and the sector was highly dependent on subsidies from nongovernmental institutions. Today, the region boasts one of the world’s most diverse, stable, and inclusive financial systems, with more than 1,000 providers – most of them regulated and sustainable -- and 20 million clients. This shift from microfinance to broad-based financial inclusion happened through a lot of hard work, openness to innovation, and catalytic partnerships.
The groundwork is laid, and increasingly microfinance is seen not so much as an end in itself, but rather the means to achieving high-impact economic growth.
Are there ways for talented micro and small entrepreneurs to get the financing they need to build their firms and create jobs? What are the unique and unmet financing needs of women entrepreneurs, tech startups, or family farms? How should businesses and households respond to the effects of climate change already being felt on our coasts and in our forests, and what kinds of financial products would help build crucial climate resilience?
These are some of the urgent questions that Foromic will address.
Just as the microfinance sector is looking to sharpen its focus and reach new sectors and segments, so too is the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), Foromic’s organizer. For over two decades, the MIF has served as an “innovation lab” for the IDB, responding to emerging needs in Latin America and the Caribbean and partnering with local actors to pilot market-based development solutions.
This year has been a transformative one for the MIF, as we have sought to maximize our impact by channeling our work into just three thematic areas: climate-smart agriculture, inclusive cities, and the knowledge economy. By bringing our vast expertise, including our groundbreaking work in fostering innovation in financial inclusion, to these three topics, we believe we can make a meaningful contribution to region-wide innovation, sustainability, and opportunity.
The Caribbean as a pioneer and example
The smaller size and unique geographic characteristics of the Caribbean islands provide optimal conditions for the kind of work the MIF does. Since our founding in 1993, the MIF has invested more than $105 million in more than 180 projects in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Our priority work areas address many of the island’s most pressing needs. Our climate-smart agriculture interventions can strengthen food security and reduce dependence on imported crops. Our inclusive cities projects will improve urban life through transit, basic services, entrepreneurship support, and more. And our focus on the knowledge economy will help create information-age jobs and train a generation of workers to fill them.
One of our recently-approved projects, about which we are very excited, will launch the first regional clean energy fund with a focus on the Caribbean. The Caribbean Basin Sustainable Energy Fund, with an expected capitalization of $63 million, will foster private investment that promotes energy security and environmental sustainability, and expand access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises in the energy sector.
Opportunities at Foromic
The conference is only days away, but there is still time to register at www.foromic.org and hear more about potential partnerships and investments across the Caribbean and throughout Latin America.
We have organized more than a dozen panel discussions focusing on such rich and important topics as ethical banking, corporate venturing, and promoting circular economies. Though our Meeting Point system, more than 1,000 meetings between attendees are arranged each year -- and this does not include the networking that takes place over coffee breaks, at lunch, or during social events.
Please consider traveling to Montego Bay, Jamaica on October 24-26 to attend Foromic 2016.
Brigit Helms is the General Manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and Therese Turner-Jones is the General Manager of the Caribbean Country Department at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).