7 Things I Learnt at the Global Social Business Summit 2015, Berlin

By Sophia Velissaratou, co-founder WAM UK


Source: Global Social Business Summit 

Social business is a relatively new concept introduced by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Muhammad Yunus, which he describes in detail in Building Social Business. Simply put, Yunus describes two types of social businesses:

Type I: a non-loss, non-dividend company devoted to solving a social problem (concerning education, health, environment, access to technology etc) and owned by investors who re-invest all profits in expanding and improving the business.

Type II: a profit making company, owned by poor people, either directly or through a trust that is dedicated to a pre-defined social cause.

Professor Yunus distinguishes Social Business from other concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), social enterprise and entrepreneurship; seeing CSR as charity (CSR) and social entrepreneurship as profitable outfit for investors. Since its first inception the Social Business movement had gained momentum amongst many, ranging from businesses to NGOs to academia.

On the 6th and 7th of November, I attended the 7th Global Social Business Summit in Berlin and as the co-founder of WAM UK, I would like to share a few things I learnt with the wider WAM community:

  1. The Social Business movement is here. To stay: During the summit I came to realise that there are many social business initiatives and they take many forms. Take for example Grameen Danone who set up a small unit in Bangladesh to produce nutrition fortified yoghurt for low income families. Or McCain industries who have a program helping Greek farmers in the Northern village, Notia. Not to mention numerous university programmes worldwide focussed on the research and promotion of social business, for example The Grameen Creative Lab and Yunus Social Business, both of which have ample information to share.
  1. It’s not about the star, it is about the purpose: This year’s summit was marked by Prof. Yunus’ absence. A minor health issue prevented him from travelling to Berlin to be there in person but he addressed the participants with a video message. Undoubtedly any event Yunus attends attracts notable crowds and WAM UK experienced that first hand when we organised an event with him back in 2011. Yunus is often lovingly described as a rock star in his own right within the sector, which despite its obvious benefits can also be a drawback, since his absence could have led to disappointment and deflation. However, that was definitely not the case. Organisers and participants alike worked, presented and interacted with incredible drive and on top of it all – we had fun!
  1. Some CEOs get it. Big multinationals like Danone, Veolia, McCain and others talk and think seriously from a business perspective on how to solve social problems. They are not just interested in ticking CSR boxes or having a good PR profile. They are showing commitment to this type of business. They understand that failure is part of the process and not all social business ideas will work but they allocate time, resource and energy just like any other business unit they are running. They showed us that they won’t stop until their social businesses become sustainable and poor or unprivileged people have profited from it.
  1. There is such a thing as ‘good’ business, it’s called social business: During my years in finance I was always wondering why profit and growth usually come at the expense of values such as partnership, compassion or empathy. Can you not have a serious business proposition by combining all these aspects? The summit made me realise that social business is a legitimate answer to this question. Yes, you can have a business which is both profitable and solves a social problem. Yes, you can generate profit and re-invest it in the business to create more jobs; ameliorate conditions for poor people – to change the world.
  1. Partnerships are a must: Listening to the panel discussion during the conference I was impressed to see the degree to which partnerships are important for the success of social business. Words like competition, confidentiality, possession were not part of the social business vocabulary. Instead words like transparency, exchange of ideas, collaboration, resilience, joy and facilitation are the language of social business. This was evident in focus groups where there was a genuine exchange of ideas. The workshop organisers were not interested in telling their stories but in hearing our ideas on how we would approach a social business idea differently or find a better solution than the ones they thought of.
  1. Youth is the future: Yunus’ decision to focus on youth and academia shows he is a visionary. Social business is a relatively new concept that taps on ideas such as non-dividend business, compassion and teamwork etc. These and similar ideas are not commonly found in the conventional business world, and that’s likely because today’s professionals were not educated to think otherwise. Educating people on the concept of social business from an early age is key. Because these young students will be tomorrow’s academics, investors and entrepreneurs who will strive for a better world. On top of that, youth are very creative and driven – and experience suggests they don’t give up easily. Moreover, today’s youth are raised amongst increasingly advanced technology, a leading force in social business.
  1. Location, location, organisation: Last but not least I would like to mention the organisation of the conference. First I was impressed by the venue: Hangar 7 at Tempelhof airport was for me the perfect location for such a conference. The set-up of the venue facilitated the smooth transition from the panel discussions to the meeting area where participants could meet, grab a coffee and roam around the various stands promoting social business. The organising team practiced what they preached: from the conference bags, the conference furniture, the catering, the products, everything had a social business story to tell. Every single moment you were surrounded by inspiring examples. Hans Reitz (Head of GSBS and Founder of the Grameen Creative Lab) and his team created a fantastic environment for participants and they deserve compliments all round.

In short, I can’t wait for next year’s summit.

Find pictures of the Summit on GSBS website newsroom , GCL Facebook page, and a new video on YouTube.

Empowering Women in Fragile States With Progressio

by Monika Jonusauskiene, WAM UK Steering Committee Member


Hot off the heels of International Woman’s Day, on March 17th, WAM UK held a joint workshop with Progressio, a leading international development charity, on women empowerment in fragile post-conflict states, such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Progressio supports poor and marginalised people, especially women, to empower themselves in some of the world’s most challenging situations, with over 70 years of experience. If you missed the event, fear not – we have summarised the workshop in this blog.

Hosted by Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett, the senior leadership of Progressio showcased their most impactful work  to a  wide ranging audience, including WAM members, in the illustrious settings of the House of Lords in London. The event was designed to welcome active participation and suggestion for Progressio on its strategic focus and to highlight development solutions, reflective of the charity’s inclusive approach to development and knowledge sharing.

The event was the first of many to mark the 75th year of Progressio’s important work in some of the world’s most fragile and challenging areas. On the evening, Mark Lister, the CEO of Progressio, shared several impactful stories and case studies of women in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Inspiring examples of women in vulnerable settings working with Progressio to influence local policy were told. He shared the example of a group of women who, against the odds, successfully organised themselves to lobby local municipalities to cover a well known hazard of dangerous well-holes. Lister’s account not only highlighted a practical solution to a community problem, it also showcased an example that, with the right support, even some of the most marginalised women’s’ voices can be heard, and bring about meaningful change.


Presentation by Progressio, photo courtesy of WAM UK

As Progressio highlights, 50% of the world’s poor already live in fragile states and fragile states can make people poor – reinforcing a negative cycle. Moreover, women living in fragile states are some of the most disempowered and poorest of the poor and hence Progressio believes that supporting women in fragile states tackles poverty where it is most needed. Supporting women can help achieve deep-seated social change, transforming fragile states into stronger societies via active civil participation.

The event also discussed some of the key barriers to empowering women in fragile states drawing upon audience experience. WAM members and other members of the audience shared their perception of issues facing women empowerment, globally and at home. In small groups, attendees also discussed how they could individually use their experience and knowledge to help design and implement women empowerment solutions. Bernie Morgan of Progressio described her observation that women often refer to their family members when asked to give an example of a role-model and explained that Progressio was using that knowledge to build development solutions that draw upon the strength of women’s social and familial networks. On the night we also brainstormed various social enterprise ideas to help fundraising at Progressio.

On the night we covered a lot of ground in terms of pressing topics in women’s international development and also how attendees can help support Progressio’s efforts. We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the WAM Members that joined us for this hands-on workshop– it is your very enthusiasm and brain-power that made this event such a success! We invite those who couldn’t attend to learn more about Progressio’s ground breaking work via their website particularly on promoting women’s rights and participation in fragile states.

More about the people behind the event

Mark Lister is CEO of Progressio, having been appointed in 2012. He worked for the charity previously some 20 years ago as a fundraiser. His passion is grass roots international development and ensuring that the voices of the most marginalized are heard at the highest level.

Bernie Morgan is Progressio’s Business Development Manager. When she was CEO of the Community Development Finance Association she was involved in the early days of WAM. Her passion is working for a fairer society for all.

Baroness Ruth Lister is a supporter of Progressio. She was appointed to the Lords in 2011. She is Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University specializing in poverty, social security and women’s citizenship.

FI2020: Financial Inclusion leaders come to London

What is FI2020?

by Lisa Wong, WAM UK


The global forum Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is coming to London this October. A landmark event bringing together a wide range of stakeholders from around the world to commit to achieving full – yes, that’s right, full financial inclusion by 2020.  With approximately half of the global adult population still unbanked this is no small task – but this one-time invitation only event sets to mobilize leaders internationally in policymaking, financial services, technology, NGOs and the private sector to meet the challenge.

Organised by Accion’s well regarded Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) in partnership with Citi, Visa Inc, MasterCard Worldwide, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Western Union Foundation, and the Financial Times, participants will use their experience, data and vision to build the case for full financial inclusion and  the accompanying roadmap.

Full financial inclusion is defined by CFI as:

“A state in which everyone who can use them has access to a full suite of quality financial services, provided at affordable prices, in a convenient manner, with respect and dignity. Financial services are delivered by a range of providers, in a stable, competitive market, to clients who are financially capable”.

Quite the mouthful, but the definition is an ambitious goal. Those familiar with the challenges of providing financial services to the under and unbanked will know of problems such as balancing pricing for consumer protection and organisational sustainability, outreach in often isolated and unsecure areas, poor financial literacy or cultural barriers to finance. So called “soft”-challenges of low-income persons daunted by the physical brick and mortar of a bank, or attitudes that women are not to be trusted with money remain a credible threat to financial inclusion.

Although considerable gains have been made in financial inclusion, particularly with the rise and establishment of microfinance, FI2020 estimates that a further 2 billion people globally need to be reached before the world can reach full financial inclusion. The impact of which would change the global landscape remarkably – 2 billion people able to manage their financial lives formally. This is a great opportunity for both global development and business: the ability to unlock the power of the “invisible market”.  There is still much to be known and understood about the under and unbanked, and FI202 seeks to find ways to explore how major trends will influence the evolution of financial inclusion over the next decade. CFI has also published a list of resources associated with the event, ranging from data sets to analytical papers which can be accessed here.

Women Advancing Microfinance UK strongly supports the efforts of FI2020 and eagerly awaits the results. We are pleased to announce that we are co-hosting an event with Citi and Microfinance Club UK with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG) to share the FI2020 project with a wider audience than that of the forum on the 30th October in London.

On the night, we will be hosting a panel with the executives of the Grameen Foundation, Freedom from Hunger, Pro Mujer, Accion, Microfinance CEO Working Group and Citi Microfinance.  The CEOs will have just participated in FI2020 and will share their key takeaways from the forum and the strategic process that will shape the future of financial services at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Places are limited, and as we anticipate high demand we will be running a ticket lottery and those selected will be informed in advance. Enter the draw by signing up for a free ticket here.

You can also follow the events on Twitter with the #FI2020 or follow@CFI_ACCION.  We will be. In the meantime share your thoughts with @WAM_UK!

Event Speaker Details

The Microfinance CEO Working Group, sponsored by Citigroup, is a collaborative effort by numerous leading international organizations that promote microfinance around the world. The Working Group seeks to work together to support the positive development of its member organizations and the microfinance industry at large.  Its members advocate in favour of responsible microfinance practices and commit to upholding their organizations to the highest standards.

Alex Counts founded Grameen Foundation and became its President and CEO in 1997, after having worked in microfinance and poverty reduction for 10 years. A Cornell University graduate, Counts’ commitment to poverty eradication deepened as a Fulbright scholar in Bangladesh, where he witnessed innovative poverty solutions being developed by Grameen Bank. He trained under Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, and co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Since its modest beginnings, sparked by a $6,000 seed grant provided by Prof. Yunus (who was a founding board member and continues as director emeritus), Grameen Foundation has grown to a leading international humanitarian organization with an annual budget of approximately $25 million.

Steve Hollingworth has served as President of Freedom from Hunger since September 2011. An expert in international development, his fields of expertise include: microenterprise and microfinance, health, education, agriculture, environment, civil society strengthening, local capacity-building, governance and emergency relief and rehabilitation. Prior to joining Freedom from Hunger, Hollingworth spent 26 years with CARE, most recently as Chief Operating Officer, based in Atlanta, GA. In this capacity, he was instrumental in developing and implementing organization-wide strategy and was responsible for direct line management of global operations and programs with a total of 13,000 employees and a budget of $650 million.

Rosario Pérez, based at Pro Mujer’s international headquarters in New York City, leads the organization’s executive team in providing hands-on technical expertise and strategic support to more than 1,900 employees who serve more than 270,000 clients across Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. Rosario was appointed to this position in 2008 following a distinguished 21-year career in private banking where she led multinational businesses and teams, and executed organizational transformations. Prior to joining Pro Mujer, she spent more than two decades in a number of senior leadership positions for J.P. Morgan Chase, culminating in becoming the executive in charge of its Private Bank Latin American division. Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Rosario received her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from Universidad de las Américas (Mexico) and a Master’s degree in European History from Yale University.

Michael Schlein is the president and CEO of Accion, a global nonprofit dedicated to building a financially inclusive world. A world pioneer in microfinance, Accion has helped build 63 microfinance institutions in 32 countries, which currently reach millions of clients and provide them with the financial tools that can help improve their lives. Mr. Schlein brings nearly 30 years of extensive international banking, management and public service experience to his role as president and CEO of Accion. As president of Citigroup’s International Franchise Management, Mr. Schlein managed the bank’s network of 100 Chief Country Officers. Before that, Michael ran communications, philanthropy, government relations, branding, and human resources for Citigroup. He served as chief of staff at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the Clinton Administration and in New York’s City Hall in the Dinkins and Koch Administrations. He began his career in investment banking.

Anne Hastings, Manager of the Microfinance CEO Working Group, has been the Executive Director of Fonkoze since May 1996. Under her leadership, the Fonkoze has grown from 2 volunteer employees to over 750 full-time employees and is now the largest Microfinance Institution in Haiti. Fonkoze now has 36 branches throughout rural Haiti, with over 165,000 clients, more than 50,000 of whom have microcredit loans. In July 2004, Fonkoze spun off its financial services component to form a commercial financial institution. Ms. Hastings also serves on the board of directors of that institution. Before coming to Haiti, Anne had fifteen years of experience in providing strategic management services to executives and in managing young organizations for high performance and steady growth. Anne holds a PhD from the University of Virginia. She completed research fellowships at the Brookings Institute and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, both in Washington, DC.

Unlocking the potential of women benefits all

Half the Sky: Why Unlocking the Potential of Women Benefits Us All

by Marjolaine Chaintreau – WAM UK Co-Founder


On May 14th 2013, the WAM UK and Women in Social Finance networks got together to organise the UK Premier screening of the highly acclaimed film documentary Half the Sky. As a co-founder of WAM UK, I wanted to explain why it was such an important milestone for us and why we wanted to share this movement with you.

Half the Sky started as a book, written in 2009 by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, both acclaimed journalists at the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winners. At its core, the book seeks to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide. For Nicholas and Sheryl, the fight for gender equality is the moral challenge of our century, like slavery was before us. Further, the key to our economic progress they argue, lies in unleashing women’s potential. Building on the tremendous success of the book, the Half the Sky film documentary was then shot in 10 countries with 7 celebrity advocates; America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde; and released in October 2012.

Half the Sky represents a breakthrough on how the world should think and talk about gender equality. Unfortunately one thing has not changed: the topics covered in Half the Sky are as heavy, difficult, and overwhelming as issues related to girls and women have always been for everyone. What makes Half the Sky unique is the strength of Nicholas and Sheryl’s method, painfully documenting the facts, clarifying the drivers and mechanisms behind some of these issues, and providing a balanced diversity of examples.

But Half the Sky is not about showing how difficult the life of women and girls are in some parts of the word.  It is about promoting examples of courage; life transformation; hard work; virtuous circles; leadership and the economic power and hope represented by women worldwide. Both the book and the film are based on the power and emotion of the extraordinary, and hopeful, stories of women and of the local organisations supporting them.  Half the Sky focuses on the solutions and opportunities that women represent in the fight against oppression and poverty.

Today, in some countries women and girls represent the greatest unexploited economic resources of our time. Unleashing women’s potential is not only the right thing to do, but it is the best strategy for fighting poverty globally and benefiting everyone in our society. This is the reason why “it is impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading/watching Half the Sky”.

Our only objective is that learning about the Half the Sky movement will urge you to become a champion for women globally and act to unlock the opportunities women and their businesses represent for the world’s economic and social development.

Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM UK) and Women in Social Finance are two networks bringing together women professionals working in the field of social impact finance or personally engaged in women empowerment, financial inclusion and how to use the power of business to solve some of the world’s pressing issues.