10 May 2011 Back

Wharton Advances Micro-Finance Leadership

Women's World Banking  PROGRAM NEWS: Executive education is too frequently thought of as being the exclusive preserve of the elite cadre of global executives at Fortune 1000 companies – and this is not the case. Indeed, for it to be the force for good and change that we all want it to be, executive development programs need to reach out to all sectors of society and organisations.

Women’s World Banking (WWB) is a global network of 39 microfinance institutions (MFIs) located  in some of the poorest countries around the world to provide small loans, sometimes as modest as $100, to people to start their businesses. The network is headquartered in New York and advocates the benefits of microfinance, conducts research and shares best practices; it also develops vital financial products, such as savings and insurance, to enable microfinance organizations to better serve their clients and achieve their mission to bring people out of poverty.

Earlier this year, 25 global leaders from the field of microfinance gathered at Philadelphia’s Wharton School for the second session of an innovative program focused on research-based business concepts such as enterprise leadership, scenario planning, product development, and negotiations strategy.  The core objective was to help these executives establish more effective practices for issuing credit to underserved populations—particularly women.

The  WWB’s participation in the Advanced Leadership Program came about through its Center for Microfinance Leadership, which was launched in partnership with The Mastercard Foundation through a $3.5 million initiative .

Reflecting current industry challenges, the major theme of this year's program was innovation, with an emphasis on practical, actionable tools for MFIs. “Historically, much of microfinance's development impact has been derived from its focus on women. The underlying conviction is that innovative products and services can help organizations reach more low-income women”, said Vikram Jetley, COO of Indian MFI Ujjivan’s North region.

"Microfinance managers face a rapidly evolving market. This Program by Wharton and WWB helps us learn from one another and strengthen leadership for challenges ahead” he added. 

The five-day program, held January 16-21, covered issues such as Tools for Customer-centric Innovation, Customer-centric Product Design, Negotiations, Succession Planning and Organizational Development, Strategic Alignment of Mission and Growth, and Leading the Enterprise. Classes were led by Wharton faculty including Jack Hershey, Mike Useem, Dana Kaminstein, Nien-he Hsieh, Erwann Michel-Kerjan, Kathy Pearson, and Jim Thompson,as well as other experts. Designed to maximize action learning, the program encouraged hands-on problem solving among diverse teams.

Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of WWB, said, "Innovation in the products institutions offer, such as savings and insurance, and in the way in which these are designed and marketed to women is essential if microfinance institutions are to continue to deliver on their social mission."

Through networking and structured learning, program participants came away with greater awareness of leadership qualities as well as tools for effecting change at both the personal and institutional level.

“The Advanced Leadership Program was a great opportunity to share our challenges and successes and work through innovative solutions based on our collective experience", says Vikram Jetley.

The program also showcases the growing impact and reach of custom programs in executive education. In this case, officials from Women’s World Banking identified a need and approached Wharton to conduct a market/organizational assessment and develop a comprehensive program design tailored to aid executives in a time of rapid change in the financial services industry.

Advanced Management Program - WhartonThe partnership between Wharton and WWB leverages the resources of both institutions and represents the strengths of collaborative design process. WWB contributes knowledge of the complexities facing microfinance executives—including the balance of mission versus growth.  And Wharton provides the thought leadership and implementation strategies for tackling these challenges to realize maximum return on investment.

When it first ran in 2010, the ALP focused on a number of key strategic pressures including talent engagement, human capital management, and personal leadership. As new needs unfold, program content evolves.  The most recent session emphasized product innovations in areas such as savings and insurance, and marketing these to strategic target audiences.

The partnership also allows Wharton to extend its commitment to creating positive social impact. WWB addresses the needs of poor women and their families in 27 countries. By equipping microfinance leaders with the competencies required to provide economic empowerment, Wharton is furthering the mission of both the school and Women’s World Banking.


Dr Jason Wingard, is Vice Dean, Aresty Institute of Executive Education and Adjunct Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


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