Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, gave an interview to Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC) at University of Hong Kong during “MaD 2010” conference organized by Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture. He talked about technology, social media, and microfinance in China. TEDtoChina writer Jinxin Ma brings us from Hong Kong her interview with Alex Counts.
Microfinance, a worldwide movement to grant as many as possible poor people access to high quality financial services, has rooted in China since early 1990s. Only in recent years; However, has the general Chinese public been witnessing its growing momentum thanks to the development of technology and emerging social media channels.
As one of the leading NGOs in this sector, Grameen Foundation has inspired globally many seed projects including Qifang.cn, a China-based, fast-growing, person-to-person student loan program, showcasing how philanthropy and social enterprise can help the unprivileged weaving their dreams.
Counts believes that technology has a huge positive impact on the development of microfinance. “We have been involved in technology and microfinance in almost ten years, as a major program of Grameen Foundation,” said Counts. Grameen Technology Center started in 2000 has proved how they take it seriously. The Chinese version of MIFOS, an open source system that initiated by Grameen Foundation is expected to function in a year.
Click the below mp3 track to listen to his explanation on how technology shifts microfinance in three different ways: on management, security and individual’s life:
Social media is booming this decade, but for its influence on microfinance, Counts considers it only as early stage. Grameen’s Mifos system has already shown how social media can be an efficient and effective way to organize people, since “there is a community of software developers all around the world that help write all parts of the code”, said Counts. From Mifos, as well as Kiva, another online platform for microfinance, he spots huge possibilities. The next mp3 track reflects his elaborations:
Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, talked on “China Microfinance Summit” held in Beijing in November 2009, saying that microfinance in China should be in the form of social enterprise, and Counts agrees with Yunus’s “for-profit, but non-distributing” social business model. He also points out the challenges Grameen Foundation faces in China: the first is that they “can provide grants but not loans”, due to Chinese regulations; and the second is that “a lot of people that can be microfinance entrepreneurs in the rural areas are migrating to the cities”. Despite the problems which are “solvable”, as Counts states, he sees mostly big possibilities in China.
About Alex Counts
Counts served as a Fulbright scholar at the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in 1988, right after he graduated from Cornell University in the United States. The Grameen Bank and its founder, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, later won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Grameen Foundation was founded in 1997 by Mr. Counts with a mere $6,000 in seed capital and a charge from Yunus. It is Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization and has grown to a global network in 22 countries.
Alex Counts (the second to right) on a panel discussion on MaD 2010, photo by Jinxin MA
About “MaD 2010” Conference
MaD 2010 was held at the Kwai Tsing Theatre on 22-24 January, 2010, in Hong Kong. Over 800 participants from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Macau, Thailand, South Korea and the U.S. attended the event, which was composed of 26 talks and 27 workshops, challenges and chatrooms.
Jinxin MA, Yolanda (馬金馨)
Writer at Global@TEDtoChina Group
A Chinese freelancer located in Hong Kong, focusing on new media, digital marketing, social enterprise and civil society development in China. Worked at various industries including media, non-profit, real-estate, etc. with a Master of Journalism and a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Major in Political Science) from the University of Hong Kong. Fond of poetry, photography, architecture and documentaries. Enjoys TED as it is one of the best platforms to meet intelligent, passionate and solid people.
Email: yolandahku AT gmail dot com