Who could have foreseen, as EMW2020 wrapped up, that a year later, European Microfinance Week would once more be online? While the inaugural online conference had been an enormous success, putting it together had been a complex exercise. Yet we had all hoped that, for all its success, it would be a one-off: that by EMW2021 we would be able to gather in Luxembourg once more for this special event – especially as it would be a chance to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the European Microfinance Platform.
Of course, this was not to be, and it became clear during 2021 that getting people together in person would not be prudent or viable. So, we began the process of building on the successes of 2020 to put together an online conference that would capture the best of EMW and build on what we learnt from the year before.
The range of challenges facing the sector have never been more diverse and complex. Two years into a crisis that has posed an existential threat to the sector and the lives of its clients, there remains much to be understood and done. Even if the worst forecasts thankfully did not come to pass, it’s clear that there have been major shifts in the roles of stakeholders, a growing understanding of the need to bolster institutional resilience, and to respond forcefully to the outsized impact the pandemic has had on women. If this is a moment for a re-think, a re-embracing of the root mission of financial inclusion, how can we do it?
EMW2021 offered a great opportunity to discuss these concerns and their potential solutions. The decision to do it online meant of course huge challenges but also great opportunities. Once more, we could bring speakers and participants who would normally be unable to come to Luxembourg. We could offer sessions in parallel that were not limited by the logistics and availability of physical rooms. And we could offer a diversity of session types – live and pre-recorded; mainstream and niche; open and closed; big and small – to ensure the conference really covered the ideas and initiatives most important to the financial inclusion sector – while remaining as always fundamentally a member-led event.
What this meant in practice was over 120 speakers and over 500 attendees at four plenaries and 50 other sessions. They covered many themes, as diverse as smallholder finance, climate and green finance, social performance, outcomes and impact management, women’s financial inclusion, digital finance, Covid-19 and financial inclusion, WASH, child labour, capacity building and youth finance – and of course the topic of the European Microfinance Award 2021 – Inclusive Finance & Health Care.
This last topic could scarcely be timelier. Covid-19 has put all countries’ health care systems under a microscope, and one legacy of the pandemic will undoubtedly be a re-thinking of how societies take care of their most vulnerable people. And what role can financial inclusion providers play in increasing access to affordable health care to these communities? From initiatives on education to health insurance to screenings and the catalyzation of tele-medicine – the Award topic revealed a dynamic field of initiatives. Some of these were seen at the (now hybrid) finalists’ ceremony, which was streamed worldwide, and many more in e-MFP’s latest publication on the topic, ‘The First Wealth is Health’.
All these topics and sessions were complemented by e-MFP’s Action Groups – more numerous and active than ever before, presenting their ongoing work in their varied fields – and a variety of online networking innovations made possible by the conference platform we had chosen.
In short, we believe this was an ambitious, vibrant, and very successful event. We would have loved to have everyone together in person – and our hope is that in 2022 and beyond we will be able to do that again – although possibly in a hybrid model that continues to involve those who cannot be there in person.
Putting together this conference report, which involves coordinating note-takers throughout the conference and condensing, with the speakers themselves, the takeaways into a single publication. The result is a snapshot of the state of the sector each year and a valuable resource for the whole financial inclusion community. We are of course enormously grateful to all the speakers and participants who joined us again in putting together this online version of the conference, and to many others who supported us in producing the content that makes this report possible. We hope you get a lot of value out of it.
All the best in 2022, and we hope to see you in person in November.
Laura Hemrika, e-MFP Chairwoman
Christoph Pausch, e-MFP Executive Secretary