Question 1: Can you please appraise Islamic Microfinance News readers about your educational background and professional career?

I studied for my Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD in the UK in the fields of Economics and Agricultural Economics. For my doctorate my research focused specifically on microfinance. In total I studied for around nine years. Subsequently, I have worked for more than two decades in international development, most of it living overseas in various countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. While I have helped to establish several microfinance institutions during this time, my work has been more broadly concerned with promoting sustainable livelihoods and I have also had the opportunity to work in post-conflict and emergency environments in which I have managed large-scale reconstruction, health and education projects.

Question 2: What is it about microfinance that excites you?

I think microfinance (by which I mean savings, insurance and money transfer as well as loans) can, when properly provided and accompanied by training and other interventions improve the welfare of poor people. It promotes self-reliance and independence and allows people to maintain their dignity while working their way out of poverty. Rather than focus solely on the ‘micro’ though, I am always keen to stress the importance of small and medium sized enterprises as I think they possess considerable potential to create employment and promote growth.

Question 3: Can you share a success story of Care International?

I think the project that I have had the good fortune to be involved with, which is called lendwithcare (http://www.lendwithcare.org) has been a remarkable success story. It is a peer to peer microfinance platform that we established four years ago with relatively few resources. We have now expanded to work with microfinance partners in eight countries and we provide funding to support thousands of small businesses each year. One of the institutions we collaborate with is Akhuwat which as you probably already know is one of the largest providers of Islamic microfinance in Pakistan. We hope to expand to work with MFIs in another two countries in 2014. We thought that through providing interest free funding to our microfinance partners we could encourage them not only to grow and achieve greater scale but also simultaneously maintain a focus on promoting financial inclusion. Our concern is that in recent years many MFIs in have become susceptible to ‘mission drift’ with an increasingly commercial focus.

Question 4: What steps does your organization take to increase its outreach of services?

As already mentioned we are trying to extend lendwithcare to new countries – we are currently exploring potential partnerships in 4-5 different countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and we are hopeful that concrete partnerships will materialize in at least two of these in the next few months. Separately CARE International has also helped to establish thousands of village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), particularly in Africa. These have provided basic financial services to millions of people, particularly women living in rural areas.

Question 5: Which factors do you consider for designing the financial services for your clients?

There are several factors that we consider when designing financial services including defining target groups, the economic characteristics of potential clients, their location, the level of community cohesion and even their religious beliefs, so that the services developed are adapted to meet the needs and preferences of clients. Thereafter, I think that it is important to regularly evaluate whether the services are in fact meeting the needs of clients, and if not make necessary modifications.

Question 6: In your opinion, which is the most responsive financial product in Pakistan?

I am probably not best placed to answer this particular question without a more in-depth knowledge of the finance sector in Pakistan.

Question 7: What is the mission of Care International?

The mission of CARE international is to fight poverty and injustice in the world’s most vulnerable places. We save lives in disasters and conflicts. We stand with women, girls and their communities to achieve lasting change for a better future.

Thank you very much for your time and the valuable information that you provided about your organization. Any other information that you would like to share that you think important for your organization?

Question 8: Any message for Islamic Microfinance News

In my opinion Al Huda is playing an important role not only in providing much needed technical assistance and guidance in the area of Islamic microfinance, but now through the Online Islamic Microfinance News in disseminating information and keeping all of us involved within the sector abreast of the latest developments. I highly commend Al Huda for this initiative as I believe it will drive the Islamic microfinance sector forward – one of the problems we have faced in recent years is lack of information about best practices, forums for discussion, and sharing of expertise and information.