Speech by Princess Máxima

Amsterdam, 21 January 2007

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address this special group of people tonight. I would like to thank Mr Moreno for inviting me and allowing me to share some thoughts with you as a member of the Executive Committee on the UN Advisors groups on Inclusive Financial Sectors.

For many people, having access to financial services can just be that little spark to reach independence, pride and dignity. We know that having access to credit, a savings account and health insurance can help people help themselves out of poverty.

Over the last year and specifically since December last year, microcredit became a very popular issue. This of course helps to make the sector grow. But it can also be very dangerous if people, with all best intentions, destroy the work that has been done until now.

Let us be clear from the very beginning, microcredit is not a quick fix to the poverty problem. Without adequate levels of basic education, health care, water and sanitation and housing, access to finance is like a raincoat in the middle of the desert. It takes a concerted development effort to fully tap the opportunities that microfinance offers. This concerted development effort calls on private sector, donors and governments alike to each play their natural role.

Let's focus on ourselves now, sitting here tonight: governments and donors. I call on all governments to resist the temptation of becoming a finance provider themselves. No government scheme has ever reached true sustainability and efficiency, and certainly has not assured greater access. Governments are the enablers, providing the right environment and removing obstacles.

This translates into governments providing the right legal environment, adequate regulation and supervision, investing in technology and consumer education and working for economic stability. There is a part of the population that will always be harder to reach: the rural areas and certain productive sectors. Here lies a task for donors and practitioners alike: find your added value, challenge yourself to reach that extra mile, and work together towards a sustainable common goal.

I am thrilled about the Opportunities for the Majority Initiative, singling out Financial Democracy as one out of six priorities. I believe the IDB, together with all of you here present tonight can really make a difference in rolling out accessible financial services throughout the Latin American continent.

My message to you tonight is:

Microfinance is not a quick fix: it can however be a catalyst for growth. For governments and donors it is a delicate balancing act that requires careful and wise decisions on how to enable it, not smother it. I am confident that together we can bring financial democracy to many Latin Americans who are craving the opportunity to create a better future for their families.

Thank you very much