Empower the Grassroots

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Empowering the Grassroots Economy

Microfinance for Growth and Happiness

 

International Conference

November 24-25, 2005

Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok

Empowering the Grassroots Economy:
Microfinance for Growth and Happiness

November 24-25, 2005

Shangri-La Hotel

Click here for Conference reports and other documents

Thailand hosts conference on microfinancial services AND sustainable development (original press release)

“Empowering the Grassroots Economy: Microfinance for Growth and Happiness” will be held November 24-25, 2005 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok. The international conference is hosted by the Government Savings Bank of Thailand and co-sponsored by the Secretariat of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance and other Thai government ministries and agencies.

Prime Minister of Thailand Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra will deliver the welcoming keynote, addressing the use of microfinance and grassroots empowerment as part of an integrated approach to sustainable poverty alleviation and balanced national economic growth.

“This new emphasis on strengthening the grassroots is an effort to empower our country’s most important asset, its people, so that they can take charge of their own lives and build more wealth and a better future for themselves, for their children and—not trivially—for the rest of the nation,” the Prime Minister said in a letter announcing the conference. “Why shouldn’t local economies be turned into knowledge-based economies, too? We want to liberate the latent economic and social power in our grassroots communities and start them on a path towards economic prosperity and sustainability, so that they can become more self-reliant, more innovative and more productive.”

CONFERENCE AGENDA

Dr. Thaksin will be joined by a panel of world leaders in a public dialogue discussing the sometimes-controversial role of microfinance in government policy.

Additional keynotes will be delivered by recognized thought-leaders in microfinance and grassroots development (see attached)

A grassroots “Customer Panel” will offer perspectives from the “end-users” of policies and programs. Successful and sustainable microfinance programs must begin with an understanding of the needs of individual grassroots customers and the hidden economic dynamics of grassroots communities.

Interactive sessions and workshops on topics related to administration, operations, design and delivery of microfinance products and services will be covered in concurrent sessions for government policymakers, program administrators and program operators:

1.       Effective Government Regulation and Support

2.      Designing Microfinance Products and Services

3.      Appropriate Microfinance and Grassroots Technology

4.      New Programs for Microinsurance

5.      Supporting Micro-Entrepreneurs

6.      Dealing with Growth and Sustainability

7.      Asset Capitalization Lessons Learned

8.     New Programs for Microsavings

Thai Case Studies and Demonstration Exhibits will showcase Thai programs such as the Village Fund, People’s Bank, Poverty Eradication Caravan, Fix-It centers and One Tambon One Product (OTOP).

The Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy

The conference will include a special presentation on “The Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy.” Proposed by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Sufficiency Economy advocates taking a middle path in life as the optimal route for personal conduct at all levels: individuals, families and communities. His Majesty counsels moderation, self-reliance, honesty and integrity while exercising knowledge with prudence. While certainly complementary to the nation’s Buddhist heritage, Sufficiency Economy espouses a secular philosophy. It does not reject either economic theory or economic progress. Neither does it denounce globalization, as some have tried to interpret. Instead, the middle path the King’s philosophy speaks to is a lifestyle governed by contentment, balance, sustainability, resilience and interdependency.

The philosophy has played a unique and important role in the shaping of development policies and programs in Thailand towards grassroots empowerment.

LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

“At this conference, we are offering to share the case study of Thailand’s efforts, while seeking to learn from the experiences and best practices of others,” says Mr. Goanpot Asvinvichit, President and CEO of the Government Savings Bank of Thailand (GSB), who chairs the conference organizing committee. With almost 100 years of experience delivering grassroots customer service, GSB has become an internationally recognized leader in the delivery of microfinancial services to more than 1.4 million customers directly though its People’s Bank operation and more than 13 million through its financing of other government programs such as the Village and Urban Community Fund.

Khun Goanpot outlined the objectives of the conference as follows:

·         To promote and support internationally the role of microfinance as a critical policy tool for effective and sustainable poverty reduction and to encourage multinational cooperation in the development and improvement of microfinance programs.

·         To offer, as a case study, Thailand's government policies and programs to alleviate poverty and stimulate economic and social development at the grassroots level.

·         To create a forum for the exchange of learning, best practices and technology in development of microfinance and delivery of financial opportunities and service for grassroots-level populations worldwide.

·         To contribute to the United Nations’ designated “International Year of Microcredit 2005”, particularly the stated goal of increasing international dialogue at the highest levels.

DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCE

Thailand has many years of experience with microfinance. However since 2001, the Government has made it the centerpiece of an integrated and innovative “Dual Track” Policy, according to which the modern industrial and business sectors are encouraged to prosper efficiently in order to create one part of the country’s wealth. The other part of the country’s wealth, however, must be created at the grassroots level through government-assisted programs such as microfinancial services, asset capitalization, small enterprise incentives, and local product marketing support, while insuring that all people have access to housing, healthcare and education.

Since 2001, Thailand has, with these goals in mind, pursued an aggressive and progressive blend of economic and social development policies, adapting and inventing global best practices in grassroots empowerment. The new key to sustainable and sound growth should be creating greater opportunities for people to thrive by expanding their access to capital, to technology and to markets. The result has been an accelerated recovery from the devastating economic and social effects of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and significant progress toward the nation’s stated goal of eliminating poverty in Thailand by 2010.

While poverty alleviation is the primary goal of the Thai government’s Dual Track Policy, a national economic strategy based on grassroots revitalization had many other advantages:

·         The policies unleash the tremendous, untapped intellectual capital and entrepreneurialism inherent in traditional crafts and rural occupations.

·         Integrated programs create a multiplier-effects by complementing those existing skills with modern financial services, production and information technologies, and cutting-edge management and marketing expertise.

·         The national economy gains both flexibility and stability through expanded diversity of the economic base.

·         Economic opportunity and stimulation reach more people throughout the country than only stimulating of industrial activities, which are concentrated in urban areas.

·         Grassroots activities are less dependent on imported technologies, materials and components, so there is less impact on trade and account balances.

Information about the Thai government’s microfinance and development policies is available at www.gsb.or.th. Additional details about speakers and programming will be forthcoming.

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