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Women's World Banking Conference

Leaders from Microfinance Institutions in 15 Countries to Focus on Innovation and Peer Learning at Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education

Philadelphia, PA – Today, the Wharton School announced that it will host the third annual Women's World Banking (WWB) Advanced Leadership Program Nov. 28 through Dec. 2, 2011, at Wharton's Aresty Institute of Executive Education's Steinberg Conference Center.

This program, implemented in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, will bring together 25 senior leaders from the world's top microfinance institutions (MFIs) to enhance their leadership skills and expose them to the latest business practices and thinking to help them build a sustainable future.

"WWB has partnered with Wharton to engage leaders of the best MFIs worldwide to wrestle with the tough questions facing the industry, with the ultimate goal of influencing the future of microfinance," says Elizabeth Lynch, Manager, Center for Microfinance Leadership at WWB.

Those questions range from "How do institutions pursue innovation that lowers cost, increases market share, but most of all will have impact on the lives and livelihoods of low income entrepreneurs?" to "How can a leader continue to champion the institution's core mission while creating and sustaining a competitive, sustainable, agile financial institution?"

"These are not easy questions, but they are universal challenges in our sector," Lynch says. "This program introduces microfinance leaders to important strategies, concepts and tools that can be used to navigate these challenges."

Today, one in five people worldwide survives on less than $1.25 a day. Microfinance provides needed financial services to the world's poor, particularly women, who account for 8 in 10 microfinance borrowers. Services range from credit to insurance and savings programs. The impact of microfinance has been significant, enabling many of these individuals to overcome their poverty status and achieve dignity and a brighter future. 

"Grass-roots initiatives drive much development, and when millions of small entrepreneurs can be supported to do so in unison, much will follow," says Michael Useem, William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management and director, Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School. "The biggest barrier is neither ideas nor energy but simply financial wherewithal, and Women's World Banking and its network of micro-finance institutions fills that gap as well as any organization, reaching more than 20 million women and their communities worldwide. For three years it has been our privilege to have worked with the leaders of its microfinance organizations, and our program is intended to help further strengthen their leadership and capacity for innovation."

This year's program will emphasize innovation, including how to equip leaders with strategic thinking and scenario planning skills so they can better plan for and address market changes. Attendees also will work in teams on a real-life innovation case and present their recommendations at the end of the conference.  Wharton's faculty will deliver sessions on critical thinking, negotiation, HR and organizational development strategy and succession planning. The Center's other founding partner, Creative Metier Limited, will also participate.

The program's closing speaker, WWB President and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian, will address the role of principled leadership and innovation in the microfinance industry. The underlying conviction is that innovative products and services can help organizations reach more low-income women. "Historically, much of microfinance's development impact has derived from its focus on women. WWB's research shows that the commercialization of microfinance institutions has been concurrent with the trend of a declining percentage of women being served," says Iskenderian. "Innovation in the products institutions offer, such as savings and insurance, and in the way in which these are designed and marketed to women, is essential if microfinance institutions are to continue to deliver on their social mission. What the industry needs now are leaders who have the technical skills to run successful institutions while staying true to the promise of financial inclusion for women."

To learn more about WWB and the Center for Microfinance Leadership, visit www.leadership.swwb.org.


Women's World Banking is a global network of 39 leading microfinance providers and banks, working in 27 countries to bring financial products and services to low-income entrepreneurs, especially women.


The Center for Microfinance Leadership brings the best of leadership development and organizational diversity initiative to the microfinance sector through workshops, coaching, and support for organizational change. The Center helps CEOs and senior managers hone the skills needed to steer their institutions through this period of rapid change and commercialization. It also supports high-performing microfinance providers (MFPs) in improving the gender diversity of their leadership team and staff to optimize performance. The Center's partners, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Creative Metier Limited, are leaders in executive development and reinforce the excellence and best practice of the program offerings.


The MasterCard Foundation advances microfinance and youth learning to promote financial inclusion and prosperity. Through collaboration with committed partners in more than 45 countries, The MasterCard Foundation is helping people living in poverty to access opportunities to learn and prosper. An independent, private foundation based in Toronto, Canada, The MasterCard Foundation was established through the generosity of MasterCard Worldwide at the time of the company's initial public offering in 2006. For more information, please visit www.mastercardfdn.org.


The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania — founded in 1881 as the first collegiate business school — is recognized globally for intellectual leadership and ongoing innovation across every major discipline of business education. The most comprehensive source of business knowledge in the world, Wharton bridges research and practice through its broad engagement with the global business community. The School has 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA, and doctoral students; more than 9,000 annual participants in executive education programs; and an alumni network of 88,000 graduates.

Media Contact

  • Julie Slama
    Acting Director, Communications
    Women's World Banking
  • Sarah Buitoni
    Women's World Banking
  • Krista Pawley
    V.P. Communications
    The MasterCard Foundation
  • Eleena de Lisser
    Director of Marketing Communications
    Aresty Institute of Executive Education
    The Wharton School
    University of Pennsylvania