Optimism in the Wake of Crisis: A Week at the HBS-ACCION Program

> Posted by Anita Gardeva

Participants from the 2009 HBS-ACCION Course on Strategic Leadership in Microfinance

Participants at the 2009 HBS-ACCION Course on Strategic Leadership in Microfinance

The HBS-ACCION Program on Strategic Leadership for Microfinance took place last week at the Harvard Business School campus for the fourth consecutive year.  Present were over 60 leaders of organizations that bring financial services to the poor all over the world. The program aims to foster creative strategies that microfinance leaders can apply to increase outreach and profits, develop quality services for the bottom of the pyramid, increase efficiency, and align interests among stakeholders.

While not a leader of an organization myself, I got my first-hand look as a Center staff member. Each day of the week was an adventure.  The HBS-ACCION Program teaches via Harvard’s trademark business case studies-immersing the reader in a real-life situation about a specific business at a specific point in time and then asking them to take the next step in deciding the business’s course of action.  How would you solve the challenges faced by the organization? What has made this organization’s business model a success? 

With a room full of seasoned leaders from around the world, such diverse expertise and passion from the participants brought each discussion to life. The case study about Elektra spawned a discussion about the social value of consumer lending. The one on Manila Water Company fostered insight on the roles of the private and public sectors in the provision of important services. And Unilever’s case generated debate on the concept of the double bottom line and how to align business growth strategies and improvements in social wellbeing.

The newest addition to the HBS-ACCION Program was this year’s case on the credit crisis. Understanding the chain of events that unfolded between the U.S. mortgage crisis and the global crisis has a very special meaning for those working in the business of banking the poor.  Many participants agreed that there were golden lessons to be learned from the crisis and that the path of microfinance is being redrawn in response to this.

I took away from the program a sense that anything is possible. The amazing case studies of creative leaders, innovative business models, and win-win outcomes inspired in me the feeling that opportunities abound all around us. In light of the global financial crisis, this optimism is especially important for the growing microfinance industry which stands at an opportune crossroads to transform itself into stronger, more inventive, and still more valuable service to those at the bottom of the pyramid.

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