Last week the impact investing community descended on Barranquilla, Colombia to advance the cause of financial inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean at the annual FOROMIC (Microfinance and SME Forum). The city of Barranquilla, humid as its people are warm, hugs the Magdalena River a few hours north of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea.
As the evolution from microfinance into financial inclusion continues, this year’s theme “reinventing inclusion” seemed fitting. It weaved its way through panel discussions and presentations focused on the link between the financial sector and the “orange economy” and how it contributes to economic and social development. Orange economy is the term used by the IDB to describe the cultural and creative industries, which include activities such as architecture, audiovisual arts, digital services, fashion, graphic and industrial design, handcrafts, music, and software. In 2015, it generated more than $124 billion in revenues and provided jobs to more than 1.9 million people in the region.
The president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, set the tone with his remark during the opening plenary session that a country’s most important resource is also limitless: its’ people in all their diversity, creativity, and potential. Duque also emphasized the importance of digital access and high-speed connectivity to continue development at full potential. In line with the “orange economy” theme, one highlight of the event was to learn from Amazon and Facebook speakers about how they are promoting financial inclusion in emerging markets by using innovation to support small, entrepreneurial companies that focus on digital services, design, and software.
Deetken Impact spent the week meeting dozens of partners and peers. Interesting conversations covering a wide range of topics abounded: one moment we are discussing how to deal with inflation in Argentina; the next we are considering how to approach the emerging middle-class housing issues in Bogota; and later, we are sipping on a Colombian coffee and brainstorming on how to best provide healthcare services in rural Ecuador and Haiti. Needless to say, we left with our pockets full of business cards and our heads full of ideas.
As always, FOROMIC ended with a closing cocktail and show. Against the backdrop of “El Edificio de la Antigua Aduana” (a cultural centre and library), an infectiously energetic and colorful dance performance started the night. The effect of the performance was to reinforce the sentiment from the opening remarks of the event, that our sector must strive to promote financial inclusion and thereby diversity, creativity, and human potential. We left the city with salsa ringing in our ears along with the feeling of a well-known song: “En Barranquilla me quedo!”, which means “In Barranquilla, I’ll stay!”.