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Regional Conference on Advancing Financial Inclusion in Northern India

Chandigarh: Sa-Dhan, a collective of Impact Finance Institutions including Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) and a Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) for the microfinance sector, orchestrated a 'Regional Conference on Advancing Financial Inclusion' in Chandigarh on August 3, 2023.

The eminent speakers of the conference were Ms Deepa Bordoloi Guha, CGM NABARD Haryana, and Mr Raghunath B CGM NABARD Punjab.

Addressing the conference, Mr H P Singh, Chair Sa-Dhan and CMD, Satin Creditcare Network emphasized the role of the microfinance sector in driving financial inclusion in the North. He advocated for the sector's progression in supporting borrowers to transition into higher-level entrepreneurial activities, with banks providing the necessary backing.

Shrimati Jayashree Vyas, Co-Chair of Sa-Dhan and Managing Director of SEWA Bank, underscored the vital connection between empowering women and propelling economic growth. She stressed the importance of supporting women-led microenterprises and urged the microfinance sector to play an active role in facilitating this empowerment.

Welcoming participants, Mr. Jiji Mammen, Executive Director & CEO of Sa-Dhan, highlighted that this marked the second regional conference organized by Sa-Dhan. The conference's objective was to discern the unique needs of Northern states in comparison to other regions across the country, thereby paving the way for novel microfinance products and processes that align with financial inclusion objectives. Given the region's distinct geography and socio-economic conditions, achieving these goals necessitates innovative initiatives.

Mr. Amardeep Samra, MD Midland Microfin said that Microfinance institutions have fostered entrepreneurship by providing budding entrepreneurs with the capital needed to launch and sustain their ventures. This has not only spurred job creation but has also diversified the economic landscape. Beyond the economic impact, microfinance has contributed to social empowerment by promoting financial literacy and inclusion, empowering women to take charge of their financial destinies, and fostering community development initiatives. In essence, microfinance stands as a cornerstone in Punjab's journey towards inclusive growth, propelling individuals and communities towards a brighter and more prosperous future.

Ms Deepa Bordoloi Guha, CGM NABARD Haryana said on this occasion that the microfinance sector, a cornerstone of the country's financial landscape, particularly in uplifting underserved communities. The northern and northwestern parts of India represent the latest phase of microfinance development in the country and are still in their nascent stages. Remarkably, microfinance's penetration in North India stands at a mere 8.24%, in contrast to the Eastern region's 32.20% and the Southern region's 27.87%. Focusing on this backdrop, the regional conference was convened in Chandigarh to explore avenues for extending microfinance initiatives to various states in Northern India.

Mr Raghunath B CGM NABARD Punjab said that Microfinance has emerged as a transformative force in the state of Punjab, playing a pivotal role in driving economic growth and alleviating poverty. This financial innovation has enabled countless individuals, particularly those from underserved and marginalized communities, to access small loans, savings, and insurance services that were previously out of reach. In Punjab, where agriculture forms the backbone of the economy, microfinance has empowered smallholder farmers to invest in modern agricultural practices, acquire vital inputs, and expand their productivity.

The conference encompassed three sessions that delved into the pivotal role of microfinance in driving financial inclusion in Northern India. It explored the supportive ecosystem that catalyzed such achievements, examined innovations and impacts instigated by the microfinance sector, and assessed the opportunities and challenges in extending credit through microfinance institutions to realize financial inclusion targets.

The discussions during the conference centered around tailoring financial products and services to resonate with the cultural, social, and economic dynamics of diverse contexts. Additionally, the challenges associated with serving geographically challenging terrains and rectifying prevailing credit culture perceptions were brought to the forefront. The discourse also encompassed designing financial services tailored for regions susceptible to disasters, acknowledging their unique financial vulnerabilities. Moreover, digital platforms and mobile banking solutions were spotlighted for their role in streamlining financial transactions and elevating customer experiences.

Distinguished speakers including Mr. Puskar Tarai, Mr. Hemant Tamta, Mr. R P Singh, Mr. Balbir Singh, Mr. Amitesh Kumar, Mr. Mohit Rana, Mr. Pramod Kumar Paliwal, Ms. Arpita Pal Agrawal, and Mr. Anil Dewani shared their insights throughout the conference.

The conference culminated in a reflective session, drawing lessons from past initiatives, and engendered a comprehensive dialogue on areas for future enhancements.

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