The Flemish Interuniversity Council (Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad/VLIR) host an International Seminar « Microfinance and New Left in Latin America » the 12-13 November. The conference will be in Spanish and English. It is open to all academic microfinance experts and political scientist, coming from Latin America, Mesoamerica, Europe (Belgium, France, Netherlands, …); stakeholders from the microfinance sector and policy circles (MFIs, MFI-associations, regulators, public bankers, consultants, politicians or activists) coming from Latin America (Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, … ) and Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, …), and academics and microfinance stakeholders (funding agencies, consultants, NGOs, …).

In Latin America, both microfinance and the so-called ‘New Left’ governments have originally emerged as a reaction to the perceived negative consequences of neo-liberal free market policies. Despite this common origin, the relationships between the often quite substantial microfinance industry and the ‘New Left’ governments are not always as smooth and cooperative as one might expect (see article Bédécarrats, et al, 2011). Microfinance largely represents a private-civic response to the deficiencies of the market. Banking with the poor is held to contribute to more inclusive economic growth as well as to popular (and in particular female) empowerment. The ‘New Left’ governments all express the return of an active state, which not only guarantees the functioning of the market economy, but is also engaged in changing economic pathways in favour of the excluded majorities, or at least correcting them with more substantial social spending.

Stand-alone microfinance faces increasing (self)criticism for being an insufficient answer to the challenges of inclusive social development and for suffering from excessive commercialization and mission drift, showing more concern for the profit of investors than the welfare of poor clients and even less for the required structural change needed to reverse inequity. As a reaction, news codes of conduct as well as alternative approaches such as ‘value chain microfinance’ and ‘Finance Plus’ are experimented with. At the same time, doubts and questions emerge about the social and political expectations raised by the ‘New Left’ governments. To what extent and in what way do they promote structural changes in the economy? What does the much publicised concept of the ‘social economy’ as a kind of popular ‘third way’ in between market and state really imply, and how and when does it promote alternative economic pathways that permit more equal sharing of income? Does ‘new left’ direct political participation strengthen the autonomy and voice of excluded groups (and their social movements) and/or does it lead to clientelistic cooptation within authoritarian political rule?

The conference brings a number of stakeholders from the microfinance sector, social and political movements, New Left governments as well as academics together in order to discuss and clarify these issues. We expect to contribute to a common frame of analysis and to identify avenues for a more fruitful articulation of microfinance strategies with the emancipatory agendas of Latin American governments and social movements.

Preliminary program