“Building fair financial markets for all” - Welcome remarks by Juan Somavia to the World Micro Finance Forum Geneva

Statement | Geneva | 29 November 2007

Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to welcome you all to the International Labour Organization for this first World Micro Finance Forum Geneva.

You are an impressive group with day to day practical experience in different dimensions of micro finance.

Tomorrow we will have the pleasure of receiving Muhamad Yunus, Nobel Peace Laureate who will be joining us. A leader who has inspired so many throughout the world.

As a tripartite organization composed of governments, employers and workers, the ILO mandate is to promote economic and social justice through life at work.

The 21st century vision of the ILO’s mandate is expressed as decent work for all.

“A fair chance at a decent job” is a universal aspiration.

A decent job – with rights, voice, respectful of working conditions and social protection. Without child labour. Without forced labour. Promoting gender equality.

To have Decent Work you need to have work.

So the Decent Work concept is also a productive vision based on stimulating entrepreneurship, investment, initiative and sustainable livelihoods. And if we are talking microfinance, concentrating particularly on organized women.

We believe in inclusive markets and inclusive finance providing opportunity to all those aspiring to seize them.

Yet decent work is far from being a reality for millions of working poor: still 2.5 billion people live on less than US$2 a day, the same figures as in 1981.

This is an ethical indictment of a world economy that has created so much wealth.

A few days ago at the UN General Assembly Ela Bhatt, Founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India and one of the most respected world civil society personalities, said: “In my experience the link between poverty and growth is decent work”.

With this in mind, we are particularly pleased to be associated with this Forum.

The idea of locking together innovation, financial markets and social objectives is a powerful one.

It is closely linked to the values, mandate and tripartite structure of the ILO.

By now, the world microfinance movement is a mature one.

Your presence here attests to this.

The techniques of microfinance are now well understood and we know much more about financial sustainability and institutional viability.

It is an innovation that is working.

But as the present crisis has taught us, non transparent financial innovations can be dangerous.

Can you imagine how more stable our world would be if some of those billions that are disappearing had gone into sustainable enterprises, large and small, in the real economy.

We care about this because the ILO constituents represent the real economy.

So we must learn the lesson.

I think we must all reflect on the reality that globalization as we know it today has become unbalanced, unfair and unsustainable.

We need a new balance.

A new balance between the public policy and regulatory functions of the State, the dynamism and creativity of markets, the democratic voice of society and the needs of individuals, families and communities.

In due time, I am certain we will agree on it – but there will be a lot of unnecessary suffering.

So, given the uncertainty around us, I believe governments working together internationally should, without delay, implement policies that can help protect ordinary people, working families and productive enterprises from the financial fallout and looming recession.

Your voice will be key on the choices we make.

So, in a small but significant way, microfinance has shown that it can play a major role in enhancing the life of people living in poverty even in crisis conditions.

The ILO has an important programme on social finance led by Bernd Balkenhol and his colleagues which we want to expand.

We have just entered into an agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to explore together new financial instruments for development. I invite you to work together with us.

The dialogue that will take place here over the next two days will undoubtedly give us at the ILO a lot to draw on in using microfinance to advance the objectives of decent work.

Again welcome to the ILO. Feel at home. I wish you lively and fruitful deliberations.

I also hope that through our collaboration you may also take away with you the importance of promoting decent work - a fundamental in people’s lives - in building fair financial markets for all.

Merci beaucoup