At 12:30, President Shaun called the high-spirited, festive group to order. Cell phones were silenced.  American members pledged allegiance to the flag. 

Words of inspiration were delivered by Dick Pyle, who took note of various aspects of the season and the history of service.

Secretary Tim Hurd introduced the guests of Rotarians:

  • James Butler, President, Guardhouse LLC, guest of Sam Hancock
  • Francisco Anguito, guest of Guillermo Grajales
  • Diego Grajales, VP of Kazen, guest of Guillermo Grajales
  • Nahla Alnuaimi, of Iraq, guest of Marjorie Scott
  • Tomer Shoval, Sun Trust Investments, guest of Deraux Branch

Sergeant at Arms David Treadwell announced the birthday:

  • Susan Neely, December 20.  Sponsored by Brice Oakley, Past President Susan joined our club in 1990, and was our club’s first female president. Her classification is Associations: Marketing & Communications. Susan is the head of the American Beverage Association, whose building houses our office.

In announcements:

Past President Howard Davis again announced the opportunities to begin of interior work on the Habitat for Humanity House 1/11/2014 with another work session 2/1.  He then made a pitch for our Rotary Foundation, which was also promoted by Santa’s elves before  the meeting.

Treasurer Stefan Alber then introduced the speaker, Valerie Kindt, Vice President and head of training at Accion International.  The organization is a pioneer in microfinance, active worldwide, is supported by prominent financial institutions, and was founded some 50 years ago. She has 20 years of experience in the field as a professor, trainer, provider of technical assistance. She has degrees from the UK University of Sussex and Georgetown, and has worked all over the world.

Valerie Kindt came to the podium and lo and behold, her computer Powerpoint presentation worked flawlessly.  This was consistent with all of her briskly competent, business-like speech, a good advertisement for the virtues of Accion International.

First we learned that the term “microfinance” is more and more out of fashion now, the preferred wording being “financial inclusion.” The new title conveys the need for people to have well-run institutional arrangements, safe places to save and send money, as well as access to capital.

More than 2.5 billion people worldwide have no access to the services we take for granted.  Out of 10,000 microfinance activities, only 40% are self-sustaining, and four out of five are served by only one hundred institutions. Few provide a full range of financial services. 

Why is it important to reach the population without financial services?  Ms Kindt explained that it reduces vulnerability and increases opportunity.  The goal is to create financial providers who can deliver a range of suitable services.  She makes the business case that this can be done in a self sustaining way, satisfying both the traditional bottom line of commercial profit and a net social benefit.  The environment can be served, too.

They invest in small for-profit concerns and work with large banks, seeking to harness the efficiency of the world’s capital markets. They often take an ownership provision of the companies they help create, and in fact have tens of millions in reserve from a past success. They inaugurate credit bureaus, payment services, banking agents, even phone doctors.  They demand consumer protections, transparency, protection of data and freedom from harassment.

She gave a history of Accion, founded in 1960 with its roots in Latin America.  She related a series of innovations and successes in what she calls commercial solutions to poverty. There is now a staff of 200, with 35 in Washington, DC.

Three-quarters of the people they work with are female, she said. Men may make high-profit deals, but the risks are greater.  Accion focuses on women and families.

In questions and answers, she said what we have heard before – mobile phones are revolutionizing local business, driving the cost of transactions down to a dollar or two.  She did note a growing problem of fraud.

In response to a question about activity in the US, she said she didn’t know much about Accion USA, but that a plethora of regulations, restrictions and ceilings makes it difficult to do profitable small-scale projects here.

She answered a question about microfinance in India in 2010.  This was clearly a very painful and devastating episode, involving bad practices and a fierce government crackdown which ended up greatly reducing the number of financial inclusion projects in that area and hurt the reputation of the whole enterprise.

She touched on the difficulties of simply understanding cultural financial institutions, said there were no Accion projects in the Middle East, and finessed a question about typical interest rates.  In answer to a question about Rotary International involvement, she said the organization is not really equipped to manage volunteers, but they appreciate their various partnerships.

The tree certificate was issued.  Dressed as Santa’s elf, Nancy Riker offered lottery tickets in return for foundation pledges, before bringing the lottery bucket forward.  Peter Kennedy won the $41 small pot, but the $249 prize was not claimed.

Bill Busker, Michael Robinson and Dr Sam Hancock were greeters.

Balraj Gupta and Stu Shalloway ran the hospitality table.

The meeting was adjourned at 1:30 p.m. until January 8, 2014 – both Christmas and New Year's Day are on Wednesday.