The 2nd Annual IMFN Conference titled ‘The Age of Sustainable Development: Bridging Gaps with Islamic Microfinance’ was held at the University of Lahore on November 4, 2017.  Structured around five sub-themes – Poverty Alleviation, Cross-Cutting themes, Women Economic Empowerment, the World Tomorrow and Technology and Financial Inclusion – the conference sought ways of  how United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) could be achieved through Islamic Micro-finance.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, SDGs framework applies to all countries in order to identify the root causes of poverty despite any differences between the ‘developed’ and the ‘developing’ countries.

Out of a total of 17 SDGs, our conference successfully covered 6 sub-themes, each covering one or more of the SDGs in detail.

The conference kicked off with the welcome address by Dr. Amjad Saqib, Chairman IMFN, regarding the role of Islamic Microfinance and how it can contribute towards achieving the SDGs.

 

In his opinion, a more integrated approach should be taken by the Islamic Microfinance Industry to diversify its domain in order to achieve SDGs in the long-run and thus improve the economic and social aspects of an individual. Accordingly, its positive effects can be spread over to various other disciplines (e.g. poverty alleviation, education etc)­ rather than just being limited to small enterprises.

A video was screened to create awareness about the issues that SDGs aim to address. 193 member countries are now unanimously working to end poverty, fight inequality and justice and to tackle the climate change problems.

The Chief Guest of the Conference was Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary Education Government of Punjab, who suggested that the main cause of poverty is the current state of education in the country. He emphasized the potential role of microfinance in providing quality education so as to escape the vicious circle of poverty.

Mr. Syed Mohsin Ahmad, CEO of Pakistan Microfinance Network, stressed upon the need for institutional framework for the acceptance of diversity among financial institutions, which in turn will create synergy and innovation with the help of microfinance structure.

Mr. Awais Rauf, Chairman University of the Lahore, stressed upon the importance of a joint collaboration between the Islamic micro-finance industry and the academia for research, training and development for further improvement.

Session One – Poverty Alleviation

Academic paper: Dr. Hafiz Zahid Mahmood (Associate Director COMSATS)

Moderator: Syed Khurram Khurshid (Muslim Aid)

Panelists: Mubarak Sarwar (AGAHE), Farid Sabir (PPAF), Zubair Mughal (AlHuda CIBE), Yasir Tariq (IR-W)

Dr. Hafiz Zahid gave the paper presentation titled ‘Impact of Islamic Micro-finance on Poverty Alleviation’.

The panel session progressed on to discuss the current challenges faced by the Islamic Microfinance industry locally. Additionally,  the possible ways to maximize its outreach were contemplated in order to analyse the impact of micro-finance on poverty alleviation.

Session Two – Education

Talk Session: Dr. Mariam Chughtai (LUMS SOE)

Moderator: Tanya Iqbal (IMFN)

Panelists: Fayaz-ur-Rehman Khan (Ihsan Trust), Mumtaz Iqbal (Kashf Foundation)

The entire panel discussions evolved around the current challenges and how can they be improved through the efforts of Islamic microfinance in a sustainable manner. Moreover, the efforts for the education should not be only limited to financially help the poor but also create awareness about it.

Dr. Mariam Chaughtai (Associate Director, School of Education, LUMS) had a talk-session titled ‘Overview of the education sector, highlighting its problems/challenges’ and the audience actively participated in it.

Session Three – The World Tomorrow: Clean Energy

Moderator: Khurram Lalani (Consultant)

Panelists: Saadia Qayyum (Consultant), Umul Awan (Lighting Pakistan)

Allocation of microfinance to the environmentally-friendly business has recently gained more attention and is popularly known as green micro-finance. The idea behind this is to improve the sanitation, hygiene, and environmental health by reducing the practices that are harmful for the environment. Environment-friendly practices like renewable energy resources were encouraged and awareness was created among the individuals.

Session Four – Fintech and Impact on Women Economic Development

Moderator: Minal Khan (Akhuwat), Amin Shah (Founder of Nazdeeq)

Panelists: Shahzad Akram (Akuwat), Umer Munawar (FINJA), Dr. Kausar Abbas (UoL), Jasim Sheikh (IR-W)

Women empowerment is a key policy matter especially in the developing countries, where 40 percent of the women are below poverty line. Microfinance institutions like AGAHE, Kashf Foundation and Akhuwat etc have reached out to these individuals and helped them establish small-scale business to make them economically independent.

As far as fintech is concerned, there is a great deal of creating awareness among those borrowers who can make significant differences in their families. Fintech aims to build a link between these individuals and the microfinance industry in order to analyse the progress of microfinance in achieving SDGs. It was proposed that an ecosystem of digital money should also be created so that the individuals do not have to face any economic hindrance due to their geographical positions.

 

We were also joined by Iqrar-ul-Hasan, famous television anchor person & journalist. He stressed on institutionalizing grass-root level engagement and youth mobilization to work for a poverty-free society. To make microfinance that development tool, awareness needs to be created for which the industry needs to reach out to the masses, he said. Iqrar extended all support in helping the local industry create that value.

All in all, the conference successfully provided information and created awareness about the current developments in the Islamic microfinance and how can it contribute towards achieving the overall Sustainable Development Goals 2030. By focusing and working on these aspects, Pakistan can boost its economic growth rapidly and positively improve the quality of life for its individuals.

Lastly, we would like to thank University of Lahore, our venue partners for being with us. A special thanks to Akhuwat, Careem, A-Clan, Pastry Perfection, Redingote and Bogo.pk for supporting us.