Blog of Hoi-Ming Mak (ING): Boulder Microfinance Training Program

29 August, 2017

On the 16th of July I landed at Torino Airport. At that moment, I was still flabbergasted that I was selected by CGAP, NpM and ING to participate in the Boulder Microfinance Training Program. Boulder is a renowned institution in the area of inclusive finance and is doing this for already 22 years. As such my expectations were high and I was eager to learn the latest challenges/trends.

The next day was the first day to meet my 300 fellow participants! A very diverse group with (1) 140 nationalities, (2) from different levels (from loan officers to CEOs) and (3) different organisations: 75% were from MFIs (Microfinance institutions) and 25% from Investors, Central Banks, Ministries of Finance, Development Organizations etc. Bringing these people together broadened my views:  I met a Saudi-Arabian working on projects with a focus on women empowerment, a Norwegian in Vietnam working with rice farmers to help them anticipate climate changes, a Brazilian in Mozambique to tackle deforestation and many more! Although diverse, they shared one common interest: how to improve lives of underserved in the world.

Soon I also learned that I was the only person from a large commercial bank and many persons found that surprising. They didn’t expect that ING would have a social agenda and an impact finance department with amongst others local microfinance operations in Turkey and wholesale lending capabilities.

Each day started at 8.30 and ended around 19.00 with a mix of plenary courses and over 50 classes to choose from. I decided to take management and digital financial services courses. A lot of relevant topics were touched upon as trainers were experts from institutions like CGAP, IFC and Mastercard Foundation. During these classes two main challenges of MFIs kept coming back:

Digitalisation/mobile banking: Most of the MFIs still use traditional financing methods. Telcos    (like Mpesa in Kenya) or fintechs (like Alipay in China) are increasingly stepping into the microfinance domain with low transaction costs and easy usage. To anticipate, MFIs are looking for partners which can help them to digitize their systems to reach the poor within the regulated environment.

Climate change: more extreme weather and rising sea levels impact the borrowers of MFIs, such as rice farmers in the Mekong delta. How to help these and make them resistant? Examples were shared of fintechs which are using new techniques like satellites (to give MFIs/farmers proactive advice on dealing with changing climate conditions).

Time flies with such a schedule and at August 4 it was time to say goodbye to my new friends. Meanwhile I was joined by my family and after a short, but relaxing break at the beach, we returned to Amsterdam at August 9. Looking back now, this was a unique experience, which accelerated my knowledge in inclusive finance and allowed me to meet people helping the underserved at a daily base. Again grateful for CGAP, NpM and ING who gave me this opportunity. But there is still a lot to do!

If you want to know more about this experience and/or what Boulder and ING Impact Finance is doing, please feel free to reach out to me. I am always available for a chat.

For this 3 weeks, I decided not to stay on campus, but rented an apartment in the historical city centre with a 3min walk from the royal castle. Torino is after Milan the largest city in Northern Italy and well known for Juventus and Fiat. But it also has a rich architectural and cultural past with buildings from the Baroque and Renaissance. When I had the opportunity (and that was almost each evening) I took a walk to see a glimpse of Italian life.

In the spare time, Boulder organized daily activities such as a museum visit but also trips to Rome, Monte Carlo etc. Most of these trips were >10 hours travelling. As such I decided to stay a bit more in the area and visited the Picturesque village of Portofino and Forte di Fenestrelle. The latter is the biggest alpine fortification in Europe (we had to climb more than 4000 stairs) and sometimes we thought we were in Winterfell.

Back to News