Funding initiative excites diplomat

A new way to fund projects in developing countries has attracted New Zealand diplomat and former Dunedin woman Amanda Ellis to a role on the board of an international microfinance organisation.

Ms Ellis (53) has been appointed to the board of Finca International, which is sometimes described as the "World Bank for the poor''.

Ms Ellis spoke to the Otago Daily Times from Hawaii, where she is a visiting fellow and special adviser at the East-West Centre in Honolulu, on secondment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ms Ellis, whose previous roles include a senior position at the World Bank, is excited about Finca's new "social enterprise collider'' programme.

It involves projects that solve environmental or health problems while also making money. An example is solar-powered cooking stoves that reduce the potential for respiratory illnesses when cooking in confined spaces.

Based in Washington, DC, Finca lends to groups that often otherwise miss out, such as women and people in rural areas.

Ms Ellis is particularly focused on giving women more power and promoting gender equality. Empowering women financially was good for the welfare of families, she said.

Asked about the scepticism over how institutions like the World Bank operated in the developing world, Ms Ellis said big institutions always entailed large bureaucracies.

"At my time at the World Bank I found I was working with some of the most committed, passionate, intelligent people that I could have hoped to have as colleagues.''

Ms Ellis said she agreed with some of the criticisms of former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz.

"I totally agree with him about the need for better and more appropriate regulation, rather than deregulation for its own sake.

"That was a big part of the drive behind the Women Business and the Law project I started at the World Bank. It clearly shows the importance of highlighting the ... need for change in terms of legislation: over 90% of countries have at least one discriminatory law on the books.

"Hence the importance of organisations like Finca that can help provide access to finance where women would otherwise be unable to secure it,'' Ms Ellis said.

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