EMW opening plenary; Credit: e-MFP

The European Microfinance Week (EMW) conference, hosted by the Luxembourg-based European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), was formally opened on Thursday in the Grand Duchy.

A member-driven conference supported by the Luxembourg government, EMW has continued to grow as one of the most important annual events in the financial inclusion sector, bringing together all branches of the industry, including e-MFP's own members, to discuss trends, innovations, challenges and opportunities in inclusive finance in developing countries.

Reflecting the broader trends in this sector, the Platform's focus has expanded beyond microfinance into various aspects of financial inclusion, from FinTech to energy finance and from branchless banking to agri-finance. This focus, made possible by the work and expertise of the Platform's over 130 members, fosters innovative action and research to advance sustainable and responsible microfinance around the world.

The EMW 2019 started on Wednesday with Action Group Day, when specialised working groups met to build on their months of work by holding in-depth discussions and training on their focus topics, this year including human capacity development, refugee finance, measuring contribution to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and green smart finance.

Each conference day is headlined by plenary sessions that bring together all members, delegates and speakers. Thursday morning saw the opening plenary on "Strengthening resilience to climate change through financial inclusion"The plenary kicked off with opening remarks from Manuel Tonnar of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, who advocated the "multiplier" effect governments can have in supporting other actors in increasing climate change resilience. This was followed by a keynote speech by Tim McDonnell, journalist and National Geographic Explorer, who presented photographs narrating case stories of the journeys of the people most affected by climate change, from Bangladesh to Guatemala, Nigeria and the US.

Natalia Realpe Carrillo of HEDERA then moderated a discussion with the finalists of the European Microfinance Award 2019 (APA of Kenya, ASKI of the Philippines and FDL of Nicaragua), who presented their initiatives, discussed the main challenges they've faced when developing their programmes and reflected on the role the sector can and should play in improving the lives of those most affected by climate change.

Friday will open with another plenary, entitled "Protecting the working poor in the 21st century through responsible finance". Speakers will include Craig Churchill, head of the Social Finance Programme at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Guy Stuart, Executive Director at Microfinance Opportunities, and Reema Nanavaty, head of the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA).

The conference will close with a debate-style plenary, entitled "Responsible client choices in finance: whose responsibility is it?", which will wrestle with the challenging philosophical issue of when protecting clients becomes a paternalistic limitation on client choice. The speakers taking both sides of this issue will be Gerhard Coetzee from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Roshaneh Zafar from Kashf Foundation; Timothy Ogden of the Financial Access Initiative and Mayada El-Zoghbi, the new Managing Director of the Corporate Finance Institute (CFI). This session will also be live streamed on NextBillion.

The three plenary sessions are once again complemented by a diverse range of workshop sessions, featuring over 90 organisations and covering topics such as impact investing, education, use of data in climate resilient agriculture, measuring outcomes, the Atlas data platform, financial health, financial inclusion in Bangladesh, savings, refugee finance and cooperatives and cyber security, among others.

Thursday evening will also see the announcement of the winner of the €100,000 European Microfinance Award 2019, under the theme of "Strengthening Resilience to Climate Change", during a ceremony at the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Christoph Pausch, Executive Secretary of e-MFP, commented: "EMW evolves each year, partly with the dedicated stream of sessions on that year's European Microfinance Award, but also by bringing in new stakeholders from across the financial inclusion ecosystem to present, debate and exchange knowledge on new issues, challenges and ideas and build new partnerships. We're delighted as always to welcome all the conference delegates to join us in supporting innovation in the sector and identifying the issues and opportunities of tomorrow".