Good workshop today hosted by UC Irvine's Center for Unconventional Security Affairs on the subject of how social entrepreneurs and microfinance can help address climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Much of our conversation focused on whether microfinance is a viable solution for alleviating poverty, especially among the poorest of the poor. Microcredit started out as a mission-focused option for providing credit to those who do not have access to traditional institutions. But it has matured and evolved to a point where commercial interests are moving into microfinance.
There are many questions surrounding this entry of big finance, including Citicorp, into this space. Chief among them: what happens to the "real bottom" of the pyramid if commercial interests are appealing to those already up a couple of rungs on the ladder out of poverty?
We seemed to arrive at consensus around the need for donor money -- with its greater tolerance for risk -- to back fill at the bottom.
Anne Hammill, of IISD, presented some of her excellent work on climate change adaptation issues, which led to a discussion about appropriate responses for microfinance and social entrepreneurism.
Where are the clear "no regrets" needs for such interventions? How can investments be directed to the best adaptation strategies and most promising mitigation applications?
How to address the perpetual concerns about the need for increased, longer term capital for social entrepreneurs who are acting in this arena?
A few thoughts emerged:
1.) clearly identify the opportunities for enhancing adaptation and mitigating the known impacts of climate change;
2.) identify the most promising social entrepreneurs working on agriculture/food security, water, and alternative, distributed energy;
3.) stratify the financing products and asset classes associated and develop new products and mechanisms;
4.) integrate environmental concerns into MFI offerings much the way HIV concerns have been integrated, rather than creating yet another layer of complexity to due diligence by loan officers.
Anne Hammill and Richard Matthew, director of the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, will be compiling recommendations about social entrepreneurs and microfinance to bring to the climate change adaptation community at December's Climate Change meeting in Bali.
David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World and The Price of a Dream, gave an inspiring talk in accepting the Center's 2007 Human Security Award. The talk was videotaped; I'm hoping it will be posted on the Center's web site in the near future.