Hanoi, Vietnam (April 8, 2011) – The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation hosted a workshop in Vietnam last week to enhance access to financial services, including for women entrepreneurs, as part of efforts to boost incomes and sustainable economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
The April 7-8 workshop, according to the APEC Secretariat, was to promote government policies and regulations in the region that develop commercially sustainable microfinance, which is key to helping micro, small and medium sized enterprises develop their businesses and increase economic development.
It was held in Hanoi to bring together policymakers and microfinance practitioners to share best practices and build capacity among APEC member economies, particularly developing economies, in this vital area.
“In many APEC economies the percentage of the adult population with access to adequate financial services such as credit and bank accounts is still very low,” said Eduardo Jimenez, from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, and one of the speakers at the workshop.
“Increasing financial inclusion is crucial for disadvantaged groups, the poor and those in remote and rural areas to improve their businesses, their incomes and their lives,” Mr Jimenez said. “Some of APEC’s developing member economies have pioneered many of the most innovative solutions to increasing financial inclusion, but much more work needs to be done.”
Some 2.7 billion adults are “unbanked,” according to the World Bank. That means they do not have the opportunity to save, get loans, manage their finances and grow their businesses through formal or secure financial services.
The Hanoi workshop covered the harnessing new technologies to increase access to financial services, particularly mobile banking, diversifying financial products and services, risk management and consumer protection in microfinance and gender equity. The workshop is part of a multi-year APEC program that aims to showcase best practices in microfinance in the region.
APEC recently completed a case study on Viet Nam with the aim of providing recommendations to policymakers in promoting sustainable, market-based microfinance. The case study will also inform other economies in the region on the key issues for commercially sustainable microfinance.
As part of this program, APEC has also produced a list of best practices specifically relating to women-owned micro-enterprises. Women face numerous and unique challenges, such as gender discrimination, as they try to enhance their businesses and would benefit from greater access to financial services and markets.
The list of 23 practices, including possible affirmative action policies for women, such as special financial funding services and dedicated lines of credit, aims to guide government policymakers in APEC member economies in determining support to women’s micro-enterprises.
The program is just one of the APEC initiatives aimed at improving financial inclusion in the region. APEC, the US Treasury and the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank organised a seminar in February in San Francisco that gathered financial policy makers and other experts to further work in this area. www.apec.org