Month: March 2012

Developing Developed Nations – WAM UK Event with Prof. Yunus

Yunus on Bringing Grameen to the UK, 8th March, 2012 at Clifford Chance, London

by Lisa Wong, Media & Communication Design, WAM UK Steering Committee 

On the 8th of March 2012, International Women’s Day, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus gave an inspiring address to a room full of over 200 professionals focusing on a simple message: microfinance can work, anywhere.

There have always been naysayers, he said. They first argued that Microfinance only works in Bangladesh, where Yunus first founded the now mainstreamed group-lending model with the Grameen Bank, because it’s this “different”, “weird” or “special” place. Now that Grameen works in 36 countries, with replicas in over 100 countries, these arguments appear weak, yet the developed nations remain sceptical.

Yunus, ever with a smile on his face, has come to debunk this myth that “microfinance won’t work in the UK” and is preparing to prove otherwise with the help of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal and Vice Chancellor of GCU and trustee of Grameen UK, opened Yunus’ speech with some shocking home truths: indicators suggest that more than half of the world’s working age population – that’s 2.5bn adults – do not have access to quality, affordable financial services.  Although the majority reside in emerging countries; in the UK alone statistics suggest that there are more than 1 million adults living in unbanked households. In pockets around the UK, there are communities with 3rd and 4th generation employment, where families live in continued cycles of welfare dependency. Moreover there are predatory lenders targeting these communities charging 400%, and sometimes as much as 3,000 %, APR.

In partnering with GCU, Grameen UK, aims to give people in difficult circumstances new opportunities; “most of the time people are made dependent…turned into passive beings. I want to find ways to encourage people to explore their capacities, to give them a chance to for self-help” elucidates Yunus. Grameen has worked everywhere else, he politely reminded the crowd, and so it can work here.

Grameen UK had dual goals: to encourage and support individuals to become independent of welfare and find jobs or start social businesses and to ensure that Grameen UK branches are self-sustaining social businesses. Grameen UK will offer loans (average size expected £1,000) in the usual group lending model to support income generating activities, offer savings with a partner bank, help customers build credit history, provide financial education and support the borrowers.

Closing the event with a heart felt plea and burgeoning enthusiasm, not to mention the experience and expertise to support the action plan against poverty in the UK, Yunus and GCU were on a mission to raise money for the Grameen UK pilot branch. Requiring £1 million in year 1 in donations, grants and interest-free loans, and a further £500,000 per year thereafter, the pilot branch in Scotland is expected to serve 1,500 borrowers with an assumed interest rate of 19.5% APR on a declining balance.  Already GCU has donated space to head quarter the NGO status Grameen UK and the existing new entity has found a voluntary CEO in Dr Martin Cheyne.

To support this bold initiative and prove that microfinance can work in the UK to address our first world poverty please spread the word – share this blog, visit the Grameen UK website and donate here.

WAM UK is incredibly proud to support Grameen UK and will endeavour to keep you posted on its developments. If you would like to get in touch with ideas on how to progress the initiatives please do not hesitate to contact us by email at

For those who attended the event we thank you for sharing this special day with us, for those who couldn’t join us we hope this blog gave you an idea on some of the stirring debate and hope that you will enjoy some of the pictures of this event which are following soon!

WAM UK Event: An Audience With Yunus

Bringing Grameen to the UK: An Audience with Professor Muhammad Yunus

by Lisa Wong, Media & Communication Design, WAM UK Steering Committee

13.5 million people in the UK live in poverty, with over 1 million without access to bank accounts (4% of Britain’s population) and a further 8 million (15%) underbanked – that’s a lot of people who have to find a way to survive in the 6th richest country in the world.

Recognising this reality, Women Advancing Microfinance UK (WAM UK) are proud to co-host Bringing Grameen to the UK: An Audience with Professor Muhammad Yunus to present the new Grameen UK initiative to provide microcredit to address entrenched poverty and multi-generation welfare dependency in celebration of International Women’s Day, on 8th March 2012, at Clifford Chance, 10 Upper Bank Street, London, E14 5JJ from 11.15am – 1.30pm.

Professor Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in 1976 to break the cycle of poverty and reliance on exploitative money lenders in Bangladesh. He started his microcredit experiment by lending the equivalent of $26 to a group of 42 workers – that’s roughly 62 cents each – so that they could buy material to make chairs and pots for sale. This initial pilot group of committed women sold their work, repaid their tiny loans and, in doing so, paved the way for many others.

Microfinance has since scaled and travelled. By 2011, 20 million borrowers around the world including the US, benefited from Grameen’s services and over $20.5bn of loans were made globally. Today American women can access loans that formal financial services are unwilling to make, because they deem them too risky and small, to start up their own businesses. Sabina of Queen’s, New York, took out her first loan of $1,500 two years ago to buy plants; four loans later she has her own storefront  supplying flowers for all occasions: “In this life, anything is possible with hard work and perseverance”, she beams, proud of her achievements.

Inspired by entrepreneurs like Sabina, WAM UK was founded in February 2011 by a group of like-minded women dedicated to supporting financial inclusion and microfinance. As a small advocacy group, WAM UK knew there was much to be done to promote financial inclusion in the UK, but little did we know that in our first year of existence we would co-host the introduction of Grameen into the UK. We have secured limited spaces for our members to what promises to be a fantastic event with Professor Yunus to introduce a game-changer in the state of UK financial inclusion. The talk will also be followed by a book signing with the Nobel Peace Prize winner from 1.30 – 2.00pm.

So, please come join us on the 8th March and learn about how we can tackle financial exclusion in the UK.

WAM UK is a unique networking association and one of 14 chapters of WAM International. To attend  the event with Professor Yunus on the 8th March please become a member here and then RSVP to . Please note WAM UK spaces are open to our members only.


This blog first appeared on the website of our online community partner, Business Fights Poverty.

Welcome to WAM UK!

Welcome to our Blog!

Please let us introduce ourselves. We’re WAM UK.

WAM UK is a unique network advancing and supporting women engaged in financial inclusion and microfinance through education, networking and promoting leadership and volunteering opportunities.

Established in 2011, we are one of 14 chapters of WAM International, the only global network for the advancement of women in the microfinance industry, with a special focus on financial inclusion in the UK.

The network is run by 9 professional women based in London and we’re always looking out for great ideas to progress financial inclusion internationally and in the UK. Please reach out to us at if you have any questions and inspirations!

To give you a better idea of who you are please find our bios here – better yet, come to one of our events and meet us!

WAM UK Steering Committee

Outreach & Strategy: Sophia Velissaratou (Moody’s), Safiye Ozuygun (Citi Microfinance), Maria Largey (CDC), Hajar Barbach (Clifford Chance)

Treasurer & Operations: Marjolaine Chaintreau (Citi Microfinance)

Communications & Blogger: Lisa Wong (Nikko Asset Management)

Marketing & External Partnerships: Carole Seignovert (Lloyds & Entrepreneur), Anna Brown (Citi)

Membership Manager: Fatima Iqbal (Citi)

WAM UK Bios (by alphabetical order)

Hajar Barbach (Outreach & Strategy) is a lawyer at Clifford Chance in the banking and finance group, specialising in emerging markets. Hajar is also running the Clifford Chance Microfinance Group. Hajar studied at the London School of Economics, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris) and Universite Paris I Panthon-Sorbonne. Hajar is also a trustee of the microfinance organisation Entrepreneurs Du Monde UK.

Anna Brown (Marketing & External Partnerships) is an Associate at Citi in the Global Industrials Corporate Banking team covering names in the Transport and Industrials sector. Anna studied Law at the University of Liverpool and before joining Citi spent a year working for Birnberg Peirce & Partners solicitors and completed a one year internship in New York as part of the Mountbatten Programme. Anna is also a Trustee of the microfinance organization, Entrepreneurs Du Monde.

Marjolaine Chaintreau (Treasurer & Operations) is currently Vice President at Citi Microfinance with a special focus financial inclusion in Latin America and Africa. Working across Citi’s businesses, product groups and geographies, Citi Microfinance serves more than 100 microfinance institutions (MFIs), networks and investors as clients and partners in over 40 countries to expand access to financial services for the underserved. Prior to joining Citi, Marjolaine graduated from a Master of Corporate Finance and Strategy from Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris) and worked for a microfinance institution in South India in their finance and product research departments. Marjolaine is fluent in English, French and Spanish.

Fatima Iqbal (Membership Manager) currently works in the global pitch & proposal management team in Citi Transaction Services.  She took part in the graduate analyst program in the same division and spent one year training in Istanbul, Turkey.  She completed her undergraduate degree at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London with a Bsc in Development Economics.

Maria Largey (Outreach & Strategy) is the Microfinance Investment Manager at CDC, the UK’s Development Finance Institution. Prior to this, she worked for Opportunity International and Agora Microfinance Partners. Before joining the development sector, Maria worked at JPMorgan Asset Management in both London and New York City. Maria holds a BS in Biological Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has taken International Finance courses at New York University.

Safiye Ozuygun (Outreach & Strategy) is a Business Director responsible from Institutional Relationships for Citi Microfinance based in London, U.K. Safiye joined Citibank Istanbul Turkey in 1994 and has worked in various areas of Citi such as corporate bank and internal audit. She has 20 years of international banking experience 18 years of which were at Citigroup divided between Istanbul, Turkey and London, U.K. (12 years). Safiye is the co-chair of Citi internal Women’s Network and co-founder of WAM UK Chapter.

Carole Seignovert (Marketing & External Partnerships) has been managing a Community Investment project from Lloyds Banking Group around financial education for a year and a half and  is now starting her own business/social enterprise. Prior to this, Carole started her career at BNP Paribas investment banking in South America. She then worked at TechnoServe in Chile where she advised social entrepreneurs, worked with Wal Mart on supply chain issues and looked for private sponsors for an education project. Carole holds a Master in Management from E.M. Lyon business school. She speaks fluently English, French and Spanish and has a working knowledge of German and Portuguese.

Sophia Velissaratou (Outreach & Strategy) is an Analyst at Moody’s Investor Services and co-founder of WAM UK. Sophia’s prior jobs include freelance microfinance risk consultant in London and risk researcher at ING’s Corporate credit Risk in Amsterdam. Throughout her career Sophia has volunteered in various microfinance initiatives and in 2009 she attended the Boulder Microfinance Training in Turin. Sophia has studied at the University of Athens and University of Amsterdam.

Lisa Wong (Communications & Blogger) is a writer and economist, covering Latin America and social and environmental investments across emerging markets at Nikko Asset Management (Nikko AM).  Previously, she was at Citi in the global Microfinance group. Aside from managing the WAM UK blog, she is also a contributing blogger for Business Fights Poverty and columnist for the International Museum of Women on the topics of financial inclusion and inclusive business. She holds a dual-degree Master of Public Administration (MPA) from both Columbia University and the London School of Economics in international finance and public policy respectively and a MA(Cantab) in English Literature from the University of Cambridge.