Confirmed Agenda Sessions 2017

Sanabel 2017 Conference


Confirmed Agenda Sessions


Session Track 1: Evolution of Microfinance Institutions and Clients

  • A Collaborative Journey; Over Two Decades of Achievements, Hardships and Impact

The region responded to the call to action in the early 1990's and slowly moved some of its developmental programs of income generation projects to microcredit initiatives. Eventually, the pioneers across several Arab states spun these projects into stand alone institutions which became the leading MFIs in the Arab Region. Several years later they were the founding members of Sanabel, the first regional micro-finance network for the Arab states. Within Sanabel network alone, we can confirm the growth in the last two decades where the number of institutions grew ten folds, and their outreach grew from approximately 100, 000 clients in 1995 to over 4 million in 2016.

While the sector seems to trail behind on several global indicators in comparison to other regions of the world, the region has also established its ability to excel in terms of its resilience throughout the two decades as it moved from one crisis to the next, adapting when required, seeking assistance when needed, and ultimately refusing to fail and growing despite their diverse challenges.

Our panelists will share with us their vision then and now, debate the challenges and the opportunities that still exist, and help us focus on the existing potential that has yet to be explored.

  • Vision 2022; Adaptation or Re engineering?

The micro-finance industry in the Arab world was nascent in the 1990s with only 11 micro-finance institutions (MFIs) registered as NGOs from five different Arab countries offering only microcredit services to low income people. Over the years, the micro-finance industry has grown to become a mature industry with 89 MFIs registered as NGOs, micro-finance companies or micro-finance banks within the Sanabel Network offering a wide range of financial and non-financial services and products, and currently serving over 4 million clients.

In recent years, substantial changes in the environment and the regulatory landscape have evolved which consequently encouraged the sector to reinvent itself in order to adapt to its new reality. Nowadays, the micro-finance industry is full of opportunities due to high demand from a more diversified market, advancements in technology which opened up new horizons for efficient geographic expansion, product development which became more affordable, and new partnerships with different sectors became possible in order to better serve the clients.

The panelists will share their experiences and shed light on historical milestones and debate the potential that we have yet to achieve. By the end of the discussion, the panelists will share with us their vision for the future and whether the current model is still relevant and can be further adapted, or if its time to consider a more aggressive approach in reengineering our current structures.

  • Microfinance Networks and Members: Growing Together or Apart?

Strong regional and national networks and associations enable microfinance practitioners and stakeholder to exchange experience, build common performance standards, and influence government policy to facilitate the growth of the sector with the overall goal of realizing the potential of microfinance in alleviating poverty, achieving broad-based economic development, improving access to finance and ultimately achieving financial inclusion.

Fifteen years ago, Sanabel was established as the regional microfinance network of Arab countries with the mission to support and build the capacity of the microfinance sector, and to serve as its representative body. Moreover, from Morocco to Yemen, we have also observed the establishment of national associations, some of which are well-established, others recently established by law, and some which are just emerging driven by country-level needs.

Like any institution, microfinance networks and associations are also facing a number of challenges when it comes to their sustainability, as well as their roles and relevance in today’s evolving financial inclusion landscape. This session will bring together a representative panel of members from regional and national networks to address key questions covering our evolution vis a vis the evolution of our members, analyzing our governance structures and their ability to be fairly representative, and ultimately our relevance as we look into the future, and questioning the need to reinvent ourselves to improve relevance and ensure significant impact.

Session Track 2: Potential of Existing and New Partnerships in the Race Towards Financial Inclusion

  • One Goal, Different Perspectives... The Potential to Expand Financial Inclusion in MENA

The information revolution began with increased computing power and the development of the internet, but only recently have its implications for the financial sector, and for expanding access to finance, became visible. Through new channels for outreach to clients, particularly financial technology applications, clients can be reached more easily than ever before. The development of new channels, new partnerships, and the potential for new products means that microfinance institutions have the potential to expand their business models to serve more clients, all while achieving their traditional mission of providing greater access to finance for their clients. However, these new development also represent a risk for institutions as new competitors develop, and clients' understandings and expectations change.

The potential for MFIs to expand their outreach to clients and include new parts of society into the financial sector, is witnessing a revolution both in light of new delivery channels, but also because of new partners and products. The session unites panelists from a leading regulator, impact investors, think tanks, and financial institutions to discuss what developing trends they see as the most important, promising, and profitable for MFIs and their clients in continuing to expand access to finance.

  • A Digital Pathway to Financial Inclusion

Digital financial services (DFS) have proved over the last several years to be an important driver to financial inclusion. The facts indicate that nowadays, there are more than 270 DFS providers across 93 countries serving more than 411 million customers. These developments indicate that DFS providers have exceeded banks' outreach in terms of accounts and agents in 19 and 37 developing markets respectively. With these facts, we can safely assume that a trend towards digital is a reality which we need to respond to as we envision progress towards increased financial inclusion.

In comparison to global trends, the Arab region is attempting to catch up and working on overcoming several challenges including infrastructure and regulation. While progress has been achieved in terms of accessibility to DFS in the payments and to a certain degree transfers, the aspiration is to be able eventually to move from digital payments to digital credit and beyond. Several issues need to be addressed to ensure success, including enabling regulations, partnerships, risk management and privacy issues. Our panel will shed light on the above and highlight some of the lessons learned over the last decade and how we can benefit from the potential which DFS offers, be it in terms of improved efficiency, or increased outreach to the excluded communities.

  • Serving Clients Responsibly; Experiences with SMART Certification in the Arab Region

Upon achieving financial sustainability and securing strong returns that can help fund an MFI’s future growth, the focus of the sector, both globally and regionally, has begun to shift to ensuring the responsible delivery of financial services and client protection. Today, four MFIs in the Arab region have been certified by the Smart Campaign and an additional number have conducted or are planning to conduct preliminary institutional assessments to determine what is needed for them in order to become certified.

This session will provide a refresher on the seven client protection principles of the Smart Campaign, in addition to sharing some practical experiences from MFIs who have recently become certified in an attempt to present the challenges faced, the perceived benefits of the process as well as the main lessons learned. The discussion will also shed light on digital security and share findings from the newly released SMART Notes.

Session Track 3: Beyond Financial Inclusion; MFIs Role in Advancing SDGs 2030


  • A Call for Action; How can Regional MFIs Contribute to Achieving SDG2030

While Financial Inclusion is not an SDG2030 in itself, it is a target under SDG 10; Reduced Inequalities and recognized as a key implementation tool under SDG 17; Partnerships for the Goals.

However, when reviewing the sub goals and objectives under the 17 SDGs, we realize that financial services indeed help in achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Specifically, under SDG 1 No Poverty (savings, especially), SDG2 No Hunger (agri-finance; savings & credit), SDG 3 Good Health & Well-being (savings & insurance), SDG 4 Quality Education (savings, credit, remittances), SDG5 Gender Equality (savings, credit), SDGs 6&7 Clean Water & Sanitization and Affordable & Clean Energy (digital FS, notably payments), SDG 8 Decent Work & Economic Growth (financial depth & intermediation), and SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities (financial depth & intermediation).

The possibilities are vast, and the time for action is now. During this session, the panelists will help us explore how MFIs can actively contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, including through partnerships with other financial or non-financial institutions be it locally, regionally or globally.

  • Regional Initiatives focusing on Current and Future Displacement Issues; from Refugees to Returnees

Over two million refugees are living in Lebanon and Jordan alone. They are working, starting businesses and creating livelihoods. But are they credit-worthy? This panel will present recent market research in Jordan and Lebanon that sizes the market for refugees, present lessons learned from regional financial service providers, and describe means to facilitate refugee return through the development of a cross-border credit history mechanism facilitated by block-chain technology. The session with the intervention of its speakers, will also shed light on going programs in Somalia where reintegration of the youth population is underway, as well as tap into the new initiative launched by KIVA on the occasion of World Refugee Day earlier this year.

This session with a dynamic and diverse representation, will aim at answering several question including the size of the market, the characteristics of a credit worthy refugee, lessons learned so far and how to ensure repayments are not interrupted once refugees return home. While several initiatives are relatively new, several lessons and trends have already been observed.

 Session Track 4: Strategic Leadership and Its Effectiveness in Overcoming Internal and External Risks


  • The Triple Bottom Line of Transformation; Profit, People and Productivity

With a growing interest in microfinance by regulators in the region and newly issued regulations that today allow - and in some countries, encourage - transformation into regulated for-profit companies, the opportunity for private sector-led microfinance is becoming more and more attractive for the Board Members and Senior Management of the top MFIs in region. With the first full-fledged transformation from an NGO to for-profit company completed in Tunisia and a transformation from a money exchange company into a microfinance bank in Yemen, there are now lessons to share not just from the global community, but from within the region as well.

This session and its speakers will present the main opportunities and challenges presented by transformation, the necessary policies that regulators can put in place to incentivize the process, as well as present a joint Sanabel/IFC Study on Transformation and Staff Compensation and how MFIs can ensure their employees are adequately rewarded for their years of service once the institution transforms.

  • Developing ‘Next Gen’ Leaders; Succession Planning for Micro-Finance Institutions

Executive succession planning is not just another HR process that needs to be implemented in organizations. It is today an integral part of Risk Management governance to ensure the medium- to long-term sustainability of the organization. Planning for executive succession is critical for all corporate organizations and particularly so for micro-finance institutions (MFIs) where one needs to work with a smaller talent pool and the unique leadership complexities of having to balance and meet double and triple bottom line considerations (profits, productivity and people). Moreover, the emotional involvement of founder members / long term leaders in MFIs and social sector organizations, while often well intentioned, can be an additional challenge for these organizations. In this scenario MFIs need to ensure that leadership development, organization strategy and governance are all aligned to ensure successful leadership transitions in key roles.

Within an overall context of managing and leading people, this session will focus on the challenges of effective leadership transitions in MFIs and highlight solutions, frameworks and best practices that can facilitate effective leadership succession.

The panel discussion will blend together the actual experiences and on the ground realities with regard to succession management faced by leaders and practitioners in MFIs, as well as provide solution frameworks and best practices that participants can take away for developing tailored solutions for their respective organizations.

  • The Evolution of Risk and Our Level of Preparedness to Face Them

As we are living in era full of innovations, competition, diversifications, political and economic challenges, it is guaranteed that all sectors will always face risks that have the potential to negatively affect their performance and sustainability. Every few years, the types and severity of risks change as illustrated in all the reports that measure risks of a certain sector. The global report that measures risks in our sector is the Financial Inclusion Banana Skins which ranked overindebdeness, credit and competition as the top 3 risks facing the microfinance sector in 2014; however, it ranked strategy, risk management and change management as the top 3 risks facing the sector 2016. A regional report that measures the risks facing the microfinance sector in the Arab World is Voices which ranked external risks, security, overindebdeness as the top three risks in 2015; however, macroeconomics, staffing and overindebdeness became the top three risks in 2017. Surprisingly, the finding that has not changed overtime is the level of preparedness to manage these risks. Our panelists will delve into a discussion which provides a diverse pool of perspectives and attempts to respond to the obvious question; what can we do to improve our level of preparedness for risks facing our sector while examining internal and external controls, Therefore, there is an options for product design and diversification, reform of current regulations and emerging use technology.

  • Process Mapping Methodology; A Comprehensive Approach to Enhancing MFI Performance

Given the growing size and complexity of many microfinance institutions in the region, it has become increasingly important for MFIs to effectively map out their processes and have a comprehensive process mapping repository in place. This not only allows MFIs to effectively identify and mitigate potential risks, but also helps ensure the clear documentation of institutional practices and the uniform application of processes across the institution. Furthermore, process mapping could also serve with its visualization tools, as a communication and business planning tool that supports the overall management function of the organization.

This session will introduce the methodology of process mapping, which several MFIs in the region have already begun to implement. In addition, it will allow us to hear from some practitioners on their experiences with process mapping, its benefits as well as the main lessons learnt so far, and how they perceive its impact on their future plans for growth and diversification.

Session Track 5: Shaping the Future by Advancing Youth Financial Inclusion


  • The 'New' Missing Middle; Regional Experiences in Upscaling and Serving the VSE Market

While the focus of many governments and development agencies in recent years has been on increasing access to finance for SMEs, microfinance stakeholders are slowly realizing that a 'new' missing middle has emerged between the traditional ceiling of MFI micro-lending and the SME population segment that banks are willing to serve: very small enterprises (VSE). This population segment is no less important to local economies than its SME counterpart, it is equally underserved by financial institutions and represents a significant growth opportunity for both MFIs and banks that are uniquely positioned to target them both effectively and efficiently.

The session’s panelists will provide an overview of what, in their experience, differentiates this segment from their traditional microfinance clients, explain the motivation behind their decision to upscale and develop, or even strengthen their VSE or SME offering, outline the necessary resources, and the investment required to successfully serve this segment. Finally, the panelists will share their experiences and present the main lessons learned including the key success factors and the pitfalls to avoid.

Parallel Workshops


  • The Role of HR Practices in Implementing Client Protection Practices

Lately many MFIs members of SANABEL such as ENDA, Attawfiq, Al Amana and others, have participated in the SMART Campaign certification and have got certified. This is a welcome move in strengthening and practicing client protection principles. This workshop highlights the overview of the Primary Client Protection Responsibilities of Each Operational Area

During the workshop we will discuss how those MFIs have become client centric and the organizational structure expanded and new departments added to give it right focus.

In this workshop we will discuss how in line with Client Protection Principles (CPPs), Human Resources is essential for creating a culture of high standards of ethical behavior throughout the organization. The HR policies on recruitment, training, and evaluation help determine whether employees treat clients with fairness.

  • Value-Based Leadership for MFIs' Leaders

During this session we will learn the four principles of Value-based leadership.

The first is self-reflection: You must have the ability to identify and reflect on what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most to you. To be a values-based leader, you must be willing to look within yourself through regular self-reflection and strive for greater self-awareness. After all, if you aren’t self-reflective, how can you truly know yourself? If you don’t know yourself, how can you lead yourself? If you can’t lead yourself, how can you lead others?

The second principle is balance, which means the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives and differing viewpoints to gain a much fuller understanding. Balance means that you consider all sides and opinions with an open mind.

The third principle is true self-confidence, accepting yourself as you are. You recognize your strengths and your weaknesses and strive for continuous improvement. With true self-confidence you know that there will always be people who are more gifted, accomplished, successful and so on than you, but you’re OK with who you are.

The fourth principle is genuine humility. Genuine humility keeps life in perspective, particularly as you experience success in your career. In addition, it helps you value each person you encounter and treat everyone respectfully.

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