Press Release: UN event honors founders of first women’s global financial network

Women and men who met in Mexico City in 1975 at the first UN Conference for Women, and resolved to work together to bring women everywhere into the formal financial markets, will be honored at the United Nations on December 5. The event formally launches Founding a Movement: Women’s World Banking 1975-1990, by Michaela Walsh, one of the founders and the first President of WWB.

Walsh’s book, in her words, “shines a light on the value that women contribute through work, and when they support one another, to become full participants in the economy.”

This book illuminates the birth of a culture of trust — from Kenya to Colombia, from Brazil to the Philippines — where women entrepreneurs could learn from and teach each other to gain control over their economic destinies. Currently WWB serves as an umbrella organization to a network of 39 financial organizations from 27 countries that provide small loans, from $100 and up, to borrowers to start their businesses: with a portfolio of $7 billion and $3.5 billion in savings, 26 million clients are served by the WWB network, 80% of whom are women.

The UN event will feature a discussion recalling the ideas and conditions of 1975—very little knowledge by women across cultures, difficult communications, legal barriers to women regarding credit and bank loans—and reflect on change.  Elements of the process that remain important today include being open to knowledge from all sources, crafting solutions based on grass-roots needs, and providing training as needed rather than by formula.  Of particular importance, according to the book and the founders, is creating a culture of personal trust based on working together.

Lilia C. Clemente, who wrote the financial history for Founding a Movement, and Shamina de Gonzaga, co-author, will comment on how the book developed.

The event sponsor is the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the UN.  Institutions and citizens of The Netherlands played an important role in the history of WWB, which was incorporated there in 1980.

The Mexico City UN Conference was a milestone for changing the role of women.  Founding a Movement emphasizes the crucial role played by the United Nations Development Program.  Former UNDP administrator Bradford  Morse, and Tim Rothermel, the chief of the executive office at UNDP, provided both moral support and a grant to underwrite the global meetings at which women came together and created WWB. Margaret Snyder, the first director of UNIFEM, was part of the original organizing group with Ms. Walsh.

Leading the discussion will be Zohreh Tabatabai, formerly with the UN and currently managing director of Quince Partners.  Participants include Mary Okelo, first African manager of Barclay’s Bank in Kenya and founder of the Makini School; Barbro Dahlbom Hall, Sweden, management consultant and author; Hon. Dag Nissen, former Norwegian Ambassador; Ron Leger, former director of the Canadian International Development Agency; and Deanna Rosenswig, former executive vice president, Bank of Montreal.  Patricia Cloherty, author of the discussion paper for the first global meeting (Amsterdam) will be present, as will Mary Houghton and Ron Grzywinski, who suggested the design of the first global guarantee fund.

Also participating will be other founders and book contributors, including Nancy Barry, Ela Bhatt, Sylvia Chinn, John Hammock, Mary Ellen Iskendarian, John Long, Russell Phillips, and Sara Stuart.

Following the discussion there will be a reception hosted by Wm. Bohnett, long-term WWB supporter and dear friend.

For more information:
United Nations contact Graciela Hall at 516 458-4310

Book and background contact Nancy Carson


MICHAELA WALSH is an activist, scholar, mentor, educator, and author. She has been a pioneer female manager for Merrill Lynch, the first female partner at Boettcher & Co, and the founding president of Women’s World Banking. She taught at Manhattanville College, served on the Boards of several institutions, and was chairperson of the 59th United Nations DPI/NGO Conference in 2006. She has received numerous awards, including an honor in 2012 from Women’s Funding Network for changing the face of philanthropy.

FOUNDING A MOVEMENT: Women’s World Banking 1975-1990
Michaela Walsh, with Shamina de Gonzaga and Lilia C. Clemente

Cosimo Books, September 2012
ISBN 978-1-61640-717-9
Paperback, 370 pages, $24.99 / £19.99