(Texte uniquement disponible en anglais)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel very honored that I can speak here today at such a distinguished University.
I thank M. Zhang Jikang, Director of the Center for European Studies, for giving me the opportunity to visit your splendid campus and to talk to you.
I must admit I am really impressed by the development of your country, by the ambition and hard working people and above all by you the students.
Every year an increasing number of young Chinese come to Belgium to follow courses at one of our well-known Universities. They are among the most eager and motivated students, and they are an example to many of us. I can only encourage you to continue to do so. We all know that a good education is very important if you want to ensure a decent life for you, your family and your communities. And we can learn from each other.
I am delighted that an agreement was signed between Fudan University and the University of Antwerp Management School in the field of innovation and innovation management. This agreement will be mutually beneficial to the two Universities as well as to the economic development of both countries.
Universities can play a crucial role in creating a stimulating environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. New ideas, new concepts, new techniques are often developed within Universities, including the University of Antwerp.
M. Van Dyck, Vice Rector of the University of Antwerp, will tell you more about it in a little while.
As I mentioned before, education is an important tool in life. But so is the fight against poverty. What is especially important in helping people to rise out of poverty, is the possibility of gaining access to adequate financing to realize their projects. I am sure that several among you are interested in finance and banking but that at the same time you are committed to help poor and low-income people to improve their standard of living.
Microfinance is, I think, an ideal tool to combine these two concerns.
And innovative thinking also plays a role in microfinance.
As you probably know, 2005 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Micro credit. I am very pleased to have been appointed a member of the Emissary Group for the Year, and as such, I would like to speak to you today about the critical role that microfinance plays in alleviating poverty around the world. I am especially pleased to address a group of such talented students, because you are the future ? the next generation of microfinance policy-makers and practitioners.
Microfinance is one of the most powerful tools we have today to alleviate poverty. It helps poor households meet basic needs by increasing their assets and income, which in turn leads to substantial improvements in housing, healthcare and children?s education. We also find that women benefit enormously from micro credits. So by supporting women?s participation, microfinance promotes gender equality in the home, and a greater complementarity between men and women.
Yet, most people in developing countries do not have access to financial services.
So a key question we plan to address this Year is: why are so many poor people perceived as ?unbankable?? Why are the poor considered a financial risk?
The poor do not want charity, they want to be sustained in their own economic activities, however small. As we all know, economic activity is the best way to generate increased earnings. The poor work tremendously hard ; we know that 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 adapted 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
So stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit of poor people is a crucial step in eradicating poverty.
Microfinance is not new to your country. Decision-makers have long believed that the provision of small loans is a necessary and helpful tool for poverty alleviation. While microfinance?s initial focus in China was on farmers in rural areas, it has been expanding into urban areas, and now plays an important role in generating employment opportunities for laid-off urban workers and university students, as well as for poor rural farmers.
The potential demand for microfinance services in China is huge. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that with more than 60 million rural households currently receiving micro credit loans, the total demand for micro loans could reach 59 billion yuan (7 billion US dollars). When savings deposits are taken into account, even larger potential demand exists for microfinance services.
It really hope that you, the next generation, will seize the tremendous opportunity that exists in your country. You already possess the tools to improve the lives of millions and millions of poor people. And while China is on track to reach its Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living below the poverty line, efforts should be continued.
I hope you , at the Fudan University, will use the Year of Micro credit as the chance to get involved, just as students from all over the world are joining our effort. Take for example, the group of innovative Harvard Business School students who are conducting a major initiative called the Global Micro entrepreneurship Awards. This initiative has now become an official activity of the International Micro credit Year and has enticed top university students and young professionals from around the world to collaborate with microfinance partners, UN Agencies and National Committees and become a part of the microfinance movement. I am sure you, here at Fudan University, can come up with similar initiatives! Whatever they are, I invite you to take action, and to join us in making the Year of Micro credit, and beyond, a milestone in expanding opportunities for poor people everywhere.
I thank you.