Wharton School and Women’s World Banking Focus on Global Innovation in the Microfinance Industry

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Second Annual Advanced Leadership Program Unites 25 Microfinance Leaders From Around the World to Hone Skills and Exchange Ideas

Women’s World Banking (WWB) Center for Microfinance Leadership, and the Aresty Institute of Executive Education at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, recently hosted 25 microfinance leaders on the University campus in Philadelphia to share best practices and learn the latest leadership strategies for guiding microfinance institutions in a challenging global economic landscape.

The WWB Advanced Leadership Program, launched in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation and now in its second year, is a unique opportunity for microfinance leaders to reflect on the state of the industry and leverage shared experience to respond to the dynamic conditions of the microfinance environment.

“The new norm in the industry is constant change. Microfinance leaders need to coach and develop their second tier to ensure their organizations’ continued success,” says Elizabeth Lynch, Manager of the Center for Microfinance Leadership.

Reflecting current industry challenges, the major theme of this year’s program was innovation, with an emphasis on practical, actionable tools participants could take back to their home institutions.

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 Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of WWB. “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.”

“Women’s World Banking has assembled an extraordinary group of leaders of microfinance institutions from around the world,” says Michael Useem, Professor of Management at Wharton and director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management. “These microfinance managers face a rapidly evolving market, and Wharton and WWB have teamed up to help strengthen their leadership for challenges ahead.”

Session topics for the five-day program, held January 16-21, included Tools for Customer-Centric Innovation, Customer Centric Product Design, Negotiations, Succession Planning and Organizational Development, Strategic Alignment of Mission and Growth, and Leading the Enterprise. Classes were led by Wharton faculty as well as other experts. Designed to maximize action learning, the program encouraged hands-on problem solving among diverse teams.

Represented in the participant list were microfinance executives from 15 countries around the world, from both for-profit and non-profit institutions. Among them were three leaders from Fonkoze, the largest MFI in Haiti, whose responsive actions during the 2010 earthquake have made the organization a model of creativity and adaptability.

Through networking and structured learning, last year’s program participants came away with greater awareness of leadership qualities as well as tools for effecting change at both the personal and institutional level, and many later participated in WWB’s three-day coaching program. One alumna, Rita Cardoso, executive director of Banco da Familia, a WWB network member institution in Brazil, went on to establish a leadership development program within her organization modeled on the Advanced Leadership Program.

Organizers are confident that this year’s program will prove to be equally effective. “One of the biggest benefits of being a network organization is the opportunity for leaders to learn from one another,” says Inez Murray, Executive Vice President, Programs, at WWB. “The Advanced Leadership Program is a great opportunity for them to share their challenges and successes and work through innovative solutions based on their collective experience.”


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. 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.


Wharton Executive Education programs offer a supportive and challenging context where participants gain the skills necessary for their next level of executive development. In open enrollment and customized programs, participants from a diverse range of industries interact with Wharton faculty, who are the most cited, most published faculty of all top-tier business schools. With a profound influence on global business, Wharton faculty are the trusted advisors of corporations and governments worldwide.

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 more than 4,800 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA, and doctoral students; more than 9,000 annual participants in executive education programs; and an alumni network of 86,000 graduates.


The MasterCard Foundation believes that people have the potential to transform their lives and to improve the lives of their families and communities. Through its collaboration with committed partners, The MasterCard Foundation is increasing access to microfinance and youth education to more than 5.7 million people in developing countries, helping people living in poverty to learn and prosper. Since its inception in 2006, The MasterCard Foundation has partnered with 48 organizations in 33 countries around the world.

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