I am delighted to be among you today to ring in the International Year of Microcredit. As a member of the Emissaries Group, I am pleased to support such a dynamic and ambitious undertaking. I fully adhere to our main goal : that of supporting poor and low income micro finance clients and entrepreneurs all over the world. I am keen to start straight away : indeed my first activity on behalf of the Year takes place as early as next week, when I will visit microfinance clients and talk to university students in China.
Microfinance is one of the most powerful tools for alleviating poverty. It helps poor households meet basic needs by increasing their assets and income. This in turn leads to substantial improvements in housing, healthcare and children?s education. By supporting women?s participation, microfinance promotes gender equality in the household. And microfinance is critical also to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals ? especially the goal of reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
Yet, most people in developing countries do not have access to financial services. A key question we plan to address this Year is: why are so many poor people perceived as ?unbankable?? The poor do not want charity, they want to be sustained in their own economic activities that generates increased earnings. The poor work tremendously hard ; micro-entrepreneurs are one of the most vibrant and energetic groups in the developing world. And they have proven time and again that with access to financial services, they build their businesses, repay their loans, will save money, and ultimately give a better life to their family and especially their children.
Tapping the entrepreneurial spirit of poor people is a crucial step in eradicating poverty. The task we have before us is to address the barriers to economic ? and financial ? participation for the poor. With the help of all of you in this room, we will use 2005 ? the International Year of Microcredit ? to promote those inclusive financial sectors that will allow the world?s micro entrepreneurs to meet their full potential as economic actors, and, above all, as human beings.
The International Year is indeed a crucial starting point with a lot of commitment. But I do think it is also very important to continue our efforts beyond the Year 2005. Only a continuing process can lead to sustainable results. Let us work together to get there!