Sunday, November 12, 2006

Halifax Dispatch

I'm attending the Microcredit Summit here in Halifax, Nova Scotia--a gathering of some 2,000 professionals from around the world who are involved in the microlending movement to alleviate poverty. At this morning's opening session, after speeches by dignitaries including the president of Honduras, the prime minister of Pakistan, and Queen Sofia of Spain, we heard from Mohammad Yunus, founder of the microcredit movement, managing director of the Grameen Bank, and this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Compared with the other speeches--which were admirable but somewhat vague statements of renewed commitment to the goals and methods of the microcredit movement--Yunus's speech was notable for its down-to-earth, practical quality. He focused on some of the very specific steps that need to be taken to enable the expansion of microcredit beyond the current total of some 113 million recipients worldwide, such as the creation of financial regulatory regimes that recognize and accommodate the unique purposes and challenges of microcredit. I think this is typical of Yunus: Like Gandhi, he is an idealist firmly rooted in realities on the ground.

I'll share more news from the summit as it unfolds. Meanwhile, this quick observation about Halifax. It's a modest-sized city, with a population of around 300,000; for a New York comparison, it reminds me a little of White Plains. But when I walked this morning from my hotel to the convention hall along Barrington Street, which is one of the main business streets downtown. I saw the usual mix of restaurants, clothing stores, retail shops, opticians, travel agents, etc. etc., except that in a ten-minute, five-block walk, I passed no fewer than six bookstores. So this is where all the literate people have gone--!

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