From this interview from the Business Standard, Sreelatha Menon asks Princess Maxima how she got interested in microcredit, and poses some questions on interest rates charged to the poor.
How did you get interested in the subject of microcredit and financial inclusion?
I am an economist and worked as a banker in New York and Argentina where I was drawn into the area of microcredit. After my marriage, I was invited to the United Nations group on financial inclusion and was later asked to contribute as special advisor.
What are your major worries about financial inclusion?
It is not about microcredit. It is about an array of services such as deposits, insurance products. My core work is to advocate the importance of financial inclusion and I have many agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and International Finance Corporation which are helping me.
How do you help the cause in countries such as India? Do you provide aid to small institutions?
I know people in the sector and I can put people in touch with the right groups.
The growth of microfinance in India is supposed to bridge the gap in financial inclusion. Is it happening?
The growth here is phenomenal at 95 per cent a year. About 20 million Indians now have access to microcredit, compared to less than one million five years ago. This is an impressive growth by any standard. It is also very innovative. The type of services MFIs are bringing to their clients is amazing. But what still has not happened here is MFIs offering deposit services. But it is understood that regulators are concerned about the safety of the money of the poor. When savings products are accessible, they are widely used. For example, in countries such as Kenya and Uganda, when appropriate products are available, savings level has tripled, so has the number of savers.