Muslim Women Shine at the 2011 Microcredit Summit

Published on Dec 11, 2011 by Sheila McLeod Arnopoulos

Filed under: Conferences, Microcredit

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Despite the preponderance of men on podium of the microcredit summit, it was Muslim women from Pakistan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Sudan and Egypt, who offered some of the most inspiring leadership models at the sessions in Spain this year.

There was, for example, Roshaneh Zafar from Pakistan. Back in 1996, using her own family’s funds, her personal car and a volunteer workforce of five women, she started microfinance centres in faraway villages. This turned into a foundation and a bank with around 300,000 clients that has had an enormous impact on poverty in the country.

From Tunisia there was Essma Ben Hamida, co-founder with her husband of the pioneering Enda Inter-Arabe which provides income, housing, and education loans to mostly poor and vulnerable women who also receive business development training and services. Since its inception in 1993 it has helped more than 300,000 clients in poor suburbs and in rural areas.

From Grameen-Jameel Pan Arab Microfinance, which works to alleviate poverty in the Arab world through financial and other support, I met general manager Julia Assad, an Arab Christian who has several years of senior banking experience in the Middle East and South Africa.

Less well-known but also striking was Rogaya Hamza Osman from Sudan with the Port Sudan Association for Small Enterprise Development who served on a panel on how to make microfinance more useful to women.

But the two women I got to know best at the conference were Ranya Adbel-Baki and Abeer Mahous from Sanabel, a Cairo-based microfinance network of 83 members from twelve Arab countries –  Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Established in 2002, Sanabel promotes microfinance best practices, fosters innovation by researching and highlighting leading trends in microfinance, provides training, and runs annual conferences.

Bursting with boundless energy and ideas, Ranya and Abeer,  like their other Muslim colleagues, come with impressive professional and academic credentials.

Ranya, the executive director of Sanabel, worked for several years with a bank as well as an environmental consultancy firm. She has a BA in economics from the American University in Cairo and a masters in urban economic development from University College London.

At the summit, she chaired a plenary session dealing with sustainable rural livelihoods and bringing clean energy solutions to the poor. In addition she led a very important workshop on building a successful business model for Islamic microfinance.

Abeer Mahous who has a BA in information technology and an MSc in electronic business from the University of Tasmania in Australia, runs Sanabel’s impressive Arabic Microfinance Gateway (AMFG), the leading source of information on microfinance in Arabic-speaking countries.

Linked to the Microfinance Gateway, the key source of information for and about the microfinance industry, AMFG provides a daunting range of services.

This includes the largest online collection of Arabic language microfinance library documents in the industry, links to newsletters and microfinance journals, and regular daily news updates. In addition there are country profiles relating to microcredit, a consultant database, information on conferences and training programs as well as jobs.

A delegate at the summit, Abeer spent her time at key workshops meeting people and gathering information.