By Meg Gray, KF11 United States

I hope that some of you had the pleasure of attending the Microfinance USA Conference last month in San Francisco. For the many of you who didn’t, I wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes from the event a long with a little context for each one.

“The ripple effect of these loans is the larger part of the story” – Maria Shriver, First Lady of California. Maria is vocal ally of microfinance in California and helped kick off the conference with a panel that included her, Kiva President Premal Shah, and two Kiva borrowers, Erik and Amanda. She emphasized the point that loans to very small businesses ultimately help entire communities by providing employment opportunities and services to others.

“Unregulated industry keeps shooting itself in the foot.” – Sean Foote, Managing Director, Labrador Ventures. Sean kept the discussion about the fair price of credit lively with plenty of controversial and thought-provoking statements. This panel could have lasted all day. I felt like the consensus was that some regulation of the microfinance industry is necessary to prevent usurious interest rates and ensure consumer protections, but that deciding who and how to regulate is going to be a messy and controversial process.

“There are more pay day check cashers in California than Starbucks and McDonalds combined.” – Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco. Gavin joined us for the keynote speech on day two of the conference. He highlighted several innovative programs that San Francisco has launched during his tenure. One new program called PayDay Plus is aimed at providing more affordable alternatives to pay day check cashers, which generally charge excessively high interest rates.

Serena (left) and two other Opportunity Fund, Gloria and Tasneem, discuss their experiences with Kiva at the Borrower-Lender Meet-Up.

“I don’t think I would have been able to bounce back the way I did without the loan.” – Serena, entrepreneur, Opportunity Fund client, and Kiva borrowerSerena came to the conference to take part in the Kiva Borrower-Lender Meet-Up, which gave Kiva Lenders, Borrowers, and Staff a chance to talk about the impact of Kiva loans from a variety of perspectives. Read the full journal update about Serena’s business here: http://www.kiva.org/lend/113838

“We routinely overestimated the change we can make in one year and routinely underestimate the change we can make in five years.” – Andrea Levere, President, CFED. Everyone seemed to be mulling over where microfinance is headed next and an increased emphasis on savings seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I appreciated Andrea’s thoughtful approach to setting realistic goals without underestimating the impact you can have.

For more perspectives on the conference, check out the conference’s blog at http://www.microfinanceusa2010.org/blog/

After six months as a Kiva Fellow in Central America, Meg Gray is currently a Kiva Fellow at Opportunity Fund, a microfinance institution that provides financial services to small business owners in the Bay Area. Learn more about their work at http://www.opportunityfund.org/ or join the Friends of Opportunity Fund Lending Team to get more frequent updates from Opportunity Fund staff: http://www.kiva.org/team/friends_of_opportunity_fund


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