Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM) was launched in October of 2003 in response to a growing perception among women professionals in the microfinance industry that the strength of this industry hinges on the depth and breadth of its human capital. Just as women play an important, and often defining, role in the customer base of microfinance, so too do the women who work in the microfinance industry play an important role in shaping its future. Accordingly, WAM was established to fulfill the following mission:
"[t]o advance the microfinance industry by supporting women in the industry in their professional development, promoting leadership opportunities, and increasing the visibility of their participation and talent while maintaining a work/life balance."
The idea of WAM started with a handful of women who began meeting regularly to discuss their experiences as professionals in the microfinance industry. Soon our numbers grew to the point where there were not enough chairs in the room to seat all the women who gathered after work to meet and network with other professional women in the microfinance industry. From this network grew new friendships and from those friendships grew WAM. In retrospect, it all seems a fitting beginning for the first professional association devoted to supporting women in the microfinance industry.
As this brief history of WAM's founding indicates, no donor started WAM. Rather, as the name Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM) suggests, WAM was born of the microfinance industry for the microfinance industry.
Word of mouth spread the WAM mission and its values. Then, as women are often wont to do, concerted actions followed those words. Suddenly the ranks of WAM began to grow not only in the United States, but also in the countries where many of the clients of microfinance reside. This past year's launch of WAM - in the United States, in Africa, and in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe - has tapped one of the richest resources of our industry - the female professionals who work in microfinance.
Some of WAM's members work as practitioners; some work as consultants. Others work as donors, regulators or other stakeholders who care deeply about the health and vibrancy of the microfinance industry around the world. While our professional "hats" may differ widely, what we all hold in common, as members of WAM, is our adherence to the WAM mission and its values.
The promise of WAM is simple. By deepening and growing the talent of women who work in the microfinance industry, our industry can serve the world better. The challenge facing each WAM member is to deliver on that promise for there is no better return on investment in our entire industry than on an investment in its human capital. Those in search of a double bottom line in the microfinance industry will find clear evidence of it within the WAM mission statement, its values, its programs, and its membership.
WAM truly is a gift that keeps on giving. It is a gift we have given to ourselves, to our industry, and, importantly, to those that the microfinance industry serves -- our clients.
I am honored to be among those talented and creative women who founded WAM and then launched it around the globe. And this is just the beginning.
Founder and Past President of the Board of Directors, WAM International