Twenty Five Years of Economic Initiatives for Grassroots Development - Hopes and Anxieties -

Asian Regional Conference on “The Potential and Limitations of Economic Initiatives in Grassroots Development – Current Issues and Asian Experiences”,held in Rajendrapur, Bangladesh, November 2000

March 2002

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Summary :

The report on the landmark Conference on microfinance held in Rajendrapur, Bangladesh towards the end of 2000 has deliberately deviated from the conventional format of a report. Instead of being mere documentation of a sequence of events this report has endeavoured to capture the dynamics involved among a group of people surrounding a shared interest. And from the ensuing debate and discussion, to pick out the main threads weaving the fabric of microfinance practice.

The expected outcome of the conference was a sharing of microfinance experiences which would eventually lead to the formulation of a best practice handbook of sorts. Even the most meticulously planned agenda would rarely fit into a conference that allows for creative self-expression of content. And so it was with the Rajendrapur conference. Although the sessions began on the explicit theme of microfinance, which incidentally was put aside in favour of Economic Initiatives, the participants appeared to occupy a continuum of attitudes towards microfinance which for the purpose of analysis has been bisected. The result was that two divergent views soon became apparent.

Some NGOs perceived themselves as quasi bankers catering to the poor who would otherwise have no access to institutional credit. Others dovetailed microfinance into the broad spectrum of development activities they were engaged in finding no cause to accord it greater importance than other aspects such as social, political or spiritual development.

If one were to look for a resolution the search would prove futile and disappointing. There was none, except in a very superficial way in the working groups towards the close of the Conference where concessions were made to ease an otherwise would-be taut relationship. The resolution if there was to be any, was left for a future date.

The report in many ways mirrors the affinities and tensions that were for the most part implicit and at unguarded moments, furiously explicit throughout the four days of the Conference. It is these human emotions and intellectual incitement that kept the proceedings along parallel lines and prompted the layout of the present report. Beginning with a Discourse on the four main elements around which the Conference seemed to revolve the report goes on to document the proceedings and follows with copious annexes for reference and further reading.

Names have been deliberately kept out to avoid labelling. What has been attempted instead is to present the critical points concerning each issue within a context enriched by discussions with the Founder of INASIA and other well-known academics and experts in the field of development and also by further reading of related subject matter/literature.

The very fact of the report being irritatingly inconclusive provokes or rather goads the reader to react be it through intellectual analysis or gut response. To this extent the report is pregnant with possibilities for development thinkers and practitioners in their avowed mission to alleviate poverty.