“Microfinance does help to reduce poverty, and increase economic and social inclusion”, Anna E. Cabral, Chair of the BBVAMF’s Board of Trustees
She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, a master’s in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a doctorate in law from George Mason University. She has been at the helm of the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility and the Smithsonian Latino Center. In 2004 she was appointed the 42nd Treasurer of the United States and in the last ten years has managed the InterAmerican Development Bank’s external relations. Since December 2018 she has been Chair of the BBVAMF’s Board of Trustees.
Something as small as a microloan can offer hope and a way forward for so many families
1) Last year, you took over the Chair of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s Board of Trustees in December. What does this position mean to you and what do you think you have achieved so far?
Assuming the role of Chair of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation Board of Trustees is of great personal satisfaction for me. Having grown up in a very poor home, and watching my parents struggle to provide for me and my brother and sisters, has given me the opportunity to really understand and appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in many Latino families. My father lost his job due to some very serious injuries, after which he couldn’t find traditional work. So he had to borrow $200 to start his own business to feed his family. He and my mother never gave up. Following the examples set by their own parents and grandparents, one in which they made great personal sacrifices and endured tremendous risk to be able to create an opportunity for their children, my parents taught me that where there is a will, there is a way. But sometimes that way needs a little help. Something as small as a microloan can offer hope and a way forward for so many families. It’s an important first step on the path to prosperity for many.
2) To what extent can microfinance help mitigate poverty and foster economic and social inclusion? What do you think is needed for it really to be effective?
The evidence is clear; microfinance does help to reduce poverty, and increase economic and social inclusion. It is also become clear that a microloan alone may not be enough to create sustainable change. We need to leverage technology to lower costs of providing financial services. We need to expand access to financial services beyond loans and savings accounts, to include such services as micro health and life insurance policies, and we need to support families with education and information to ensure they can grow their business. When we support families it’s not just the children in the household, and the elderly members that benefit. Success for one family means the entire community benefits. Business growth leads to jobs and economic prosperity up and down the supply chain. The old adage was never so true: A rising tide lifts all boats.
We live at an extraordinary time in the history of the world. Technology, itself, can be used as a tool for leapfrog barriers that exist to economic and social inclusion. We are only beginning to understand the power at our disposal. It’s not just a tool to expand access to services; it can deliver education, improve business products and services, and eradicate physical barriers that exist for families living in remote areas.
3) For many years you worked in the InterAmerican Development Bank, with which the Foundation has been cooperating closely since the Foundation was created in 2007. What is the role of public/private partnerships in the development of regions such as Latin America?
My own personal experience has taught me that if we are to expand opportunity and achieve financial and social inclusion, we need to bring governments, NGOs and the private sector together to support solutions to the challenges we face. I worked for many years at the senior levels of government in my own country and found that government alone could not solve the problems that exist in our communities. I’ve led nonprofit organizations and came to realize that they, too, were incapable of enacting solutions on their own And I’ve worked with and for the private sector, and it too, working alone, cannot solve the problems of inequality and financial and social exclusion. I have, however, witnessed the incredible power that results when we bring these three segments or forces of society together.
Many Development Banks and Institutions have learned these hard lessons over the years, and now seek public-private partnerships to provide solutions. Small business is the mightiest engine for growth, but to ensure there is sustainable growth, we need public-private partnerships. Through those partnerships we can leverage not only dollars, but public policy solutions, the talents of trusted community leaders, and the knowledge they each hold.
4) Recently you traveled to Colombia, to see the MEbA (Microfinance for Ecosystem-based Adaptation) program for yourself. With this initiative the Foundation is helping small-scale farmers to tackle climate-change risks. Why is it so important to mainstream sustainability into organizations?
My recent travel to Colombia was very uplifting. I witnessed firsthand the partnership between MEbA and the Foundation at work as they help small farmers mitigate the risks of climate change. None of us alive in the world today can afford to be short sighted. The world around us is changing quickly. To hide our heads in the sand is to concede defeat, or in the case of microfinance, to give false hope. We need to continue to adapt to the challenges that exist in the world today, as well as those we anticipate will arrive tomorrow. To truly succeed at expanding financial and social inclusion, we cannot be satisfied with helping a family put dinner on the table for a day, a month, or a year. We have to strive to support families and business owners in anticipating and conquering the challenges of today and tomorrow. The effects of climate change are known; their impacts are predictable. For small farmers to succeed today and tomorrow, they have to adapt the way of running their farms to produce greater yields with fewer resources while cutting costs, and working to ensure they don’t add to the factors that fuel climate change. The techniques, knowledge and information that accompany microfinance loans for small farmers is serving to help grow profits and protect the resources the small farmer needs for years to come.
5) In your public speeches you often talk about education as a driver for change. What role do you think it plays in development?
Education is known as the great equalizer. I am a fervent believer that this is true. My parents had to leave school early to go work in support of their parents and brothers and sisters. While they knew that education was important, they didn’t know just how powerful an education could be in terms of opening doors. I was fortunate that a high school math teacher took an interest in helping me to succeed. He convinced me to go to college, His kindness served to open many more doors for me than would have been possible had I gone to work after high school. And as I benefited from that education, I came to share the importance of that opportunity with many others. So he not only changed my life for the better, but his kindness has sent ripples through a pond that touched the lives of my own children, family, friends, and strangers I have encountered. He made a disciple and I plan to continue to preach the good word for the rest of my life. It’s not just a formal education that can make a difference. I’ve come to believe that each of us can benefit from dedicating ourselves to a lifetime of learning. Whether we achieve learning through enrollment in a University, a technical school, or through a course offered at a local community center, or from our own efforts to read and research the answers to our questions independently makes little difference. Education and information open doors and create opportunity for success for us today, and for generations to come.
6) What do you think are the most urgent challenges on the global socio-economic horizon which the Foundation should tackle to meet its purpose and so that more people can get ahead with their small businesses?
The Foundation has to straddle a variety of challenges, from navigating the unique elements of each country in terms of regulation, economic stability, availability of natural resources and evolving opportunities, education levels, the amount of urbanization versus rural communities, and the availability and sophistication of infrastructure to support growth. And because we live in a very connected world, we have to monitor larger economic trades, whether regional or worldwide, to understand the impact on our clients.
As well, the Foundation has to focus on the role of women, and the unique challenges they face in each of the communities we operate. The key to success is to leverage technology and innovation in both providing services, and expanding opportunities.