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50th Birthday Gala
October 20, 2011

Written by Wendy R. Williams


Opposite Photo:
Faye Wattleton, Michael Schlein
And Tina Brown
Photo Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/

ACCION, the birth place for micro finance in developing countries, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of their founding with dinner and dancing at New York's famed Cipriani 42nd Street. The Birthday Gala raised over $1.6 million.

ACCION was founded in Latin America by a group of young idealists who wanted to help develop the innate talent they saw in the developing world by giving budding entrepreneurs access to capital in the form of small loans, thus giving (in the words of Michael Schlein, ACCION president and CEO) citizens of these countries "the financial tools they need to improve their lives."

The evening began with a cocktail hour and was followed by dinner. Newsweek and Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown welcomed the guests and said, "I am here tonight because of two women whom I admire - Gina Harman – who heads the ACCION U.S. Network – and Diana Taylor – ACCION’s board chair. These two women are smart, effective, and completely committed to ACCION’s mission. For all of us who believe that investing in improving the lives of women and their children, it is a mission near and dear to our hearts. Because that is what microfinance is doing. Empowering women, uplifting families, stabilizing communities – these are powerful ideas - and they have propelled ACCION’s work for 50 years."

Brown then introduced two-minute video of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saluting ACCION and emphasizing its role in Latin America.

Diana Taylor, Michael Schlein, Vikram Pandit, and Maria Otero
Photo Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PatrickMcmullan

The evening's speakers were Diana Taylor (ACCION's board chair), Michael Schlein (ACCION president and CEO), Tom Brokaw (Broadcaster and Author), Vikram Pandit (Citigroup CEO), and two ACCION clients - Bernadette Ledes Ngo Mbimka (a restaurant owner from Cameroon) and Lidia Calzado (a jewelry designer from San Diego).

Mbinka and Calado came to the podium and a video was played that showed the difference that ACCION had made in the lives of these two women.

Bernadette Ledes Ngo Mbimka's (the Cameroon client) husband had died, leaving her with no way to support her family. She opened a restaurant in her home, but lacking capital, she only had one table on her porch and each day she needed to secure a loan from her neighbors to buy the food she needed for that day's menu. At the end of the day, she would pay the neighbors back and then whatever was left was what she had to feed her family. When she borrowed money from ACCION, she was able to expand her restaurant in two ways - add more tables to what was now an open air restaurant in the back yard of her home and buy food in bulk, benefiting from the corresponding savings.

John Heimann, Maria Christina Anzola, Avalya Belloso, Lydia Calzazo, Michael Schlein
Sylvain Gaboury/

San Diego client Lidia Calzado spoke about how she had always had dreams, wanting to dance (one of the fun parts of the evening was watching the video of the vivacious Calzado dancing in the bedroom of her home) and wanting to express herself through making jewelry. Before she obtained her ACCION loan and the advice of her loan officer, she was buying expensive gold at retail to create her jewelry. Now Calzado has several women working with her and instead of using gold, her jewelry is made from inexpensive beads and baubles and is both colorful, unique and profitable.

“The work that ACCION does can be life-changing,” said Diana Taylor. “Our clients’ optimism and commitment to hard work reaffirms one’s faith in the ability to thrive through personal effort. Microfinance provides them with critical tools to do just that.”

Michael Schlein told the crowd that "Our vision is to build a financially inclusive world and give people the financial tools they need to improve their lives. To accomplish this, we will build the next generation of top-tier microfinance institutions, push the frontiers of financial inclusion beyond MFIs, and build a strong microfinance industry with the highest possible standards.”

Then Schlein asked ACCION founder, Joseph Blatchford and cofounders Jerry Brady and Gary Glenn to stand and be recognized. Diana Taylor asked former ACCION CEO's to stand, including Maria Otero (2000-2009), William W. Burrus (1980-1996), John Hammock (1973-1980) and Terry M. Holcombe (1969-1973). Also in the audience was Alfredo Anzola Jr., son of founder Alfredo Anzola of ACCION in Caracas, who traveled from Venezuela to attend that evening.

Diana Taylor, Vikram Pandit and Tom Brokaw
Photo Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/

After the main course was served, Tom Brokaw talked about Citigroup and Vikram Pandit’s historic role in supporting ACCION and other global microfinance initiatives. Diana Taylor then presented the award to Vikram Pandit.

Yaz Hernandez and Jean Shafiroff
Photo Credit:
Joe Schildhorn/

Gina Harman and Michael Schlein
Photo Credit:
Sylvain Gaboury/


Alex Gonzalez and Sharon Handler
Photo Credit: Joe Schildhorn/

The sponsors for the evening were: Banamex, Edythe and Eli Broad, Citigroup, Ray & Barbara Dalio, MasterCard and TATA Consultancy Services.

The gala was hosted by Co-Chairs Amy Butte and John Heimann, and Board Chair Diana L. Taylor. The Gala Dinner Committee included Henry Miller, chair, Lourdes Barreneche, Solana Cozzo, Russell Faucett, Laura Giadorou-Koch, Gina Harman, Yaz Hernandez, Tara Kenney, Michael Lexton, Barbara Lucas, Daniel Martin, Richard Neeson, Elizabeth Phillip, Leslie A. Puth, Michael Schlein, Nancy Sherwood Truitt, and Diana L. Taylor.

Guests included H. E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and Mrs. Muna Rihani, Alfredo Anzola, Tom Barry (CEO Zephyr), Joseph Blatchford (ACCION Founder), Jerry Brady (ACCION Co-Founder), Stephen Brenninkmeijer, Titus Brenninkmeijer, Meredith and Tom Brokaw, Tina Brown, Bill Burrus, Amy Butte Liebowitz, Lisa Caputo, Carlos Danel (Co-CEO Compartamos Mexico), Luis Felipe Derteano (ViceChair MiBanco Peru), Sir Harold Evans, Robert Fox, Gary Glenn (ACCION Co-Founder), Alex Gonzalez, Tom Goodman, John Hammock, Gina Harman, John and Maria Christina Heimann, Yaz and Valentin Hernandez, Terry Holcombe, Joan Hornig, Kurt Koenigsfest (General Manager Banco Sol Bolivia), Princess Kristina Kovalenko, Carlos Labarthe (Co-CEO Compartamos Mexico), Brian Leach, Ambassador John Langeloth Loeb, Jr. and Sharon Handler, Eugene Ludwig, Manuel Medina-Mora (CEO Banamex), Gregorio Mejia (Managing Director Finamerica Colombia), Susan Mercandetti, Maria Otero (Under Secretary of State), Jeffrey and Liz Peek, David and Leslie Puth (Executive VicePresident State Street Bank), Martin and Jean Shafiroff, Jack Tamagni, Jordan Tamagni, Francesco Vanni d’Archirafi, and Faye Wattleton as well as many leading financiers from two hemispheres.

Photo Credit: Joe Schildhorn/

Here is some information about Accion from the press release from Jonathan Marder + Associates:

ACCION is a private, nonprofit organization with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need—microenterprise loans, business training and other financial services—to help themselves. A world pioneer in microfinance, ACCION was founded in 1961 and issued its first microloan in 1973 in Brazil. Over time, ACCION has helped build 62 microfinance institutions in 31 countries on four continents. Those institutions are currently reaching millions of clients. The ACCION U.S. Network is the largest microfinance lending network in the country and has served tens of thousands of clients with $300 million in loans. For more information, visit

Founded to combat poverty in Latin America in 1961 by Joseph Blatchford, ACCION initially functioned as a grassroots community-development initiative, deploying young volunteers to the barrios of Venezuela to find ways to help the poor help themselves. In Venezuela, and subsequently in Argentina, Brazil and Peru, those volunteers engaged in a variety of infrastructure projects and job-creation programs.

ACCION first began microlending in Brazil in 1973 – and continued over the ensuing decades to develop the fledgling movement’s methodology and technical capacity. To date, ACCION has helped build 62 microfinance institutions (MFIs) in 31 countries on four continents, which currently serve millions of clients through an active loan portfolio of $4.6 billion.

Committed early to building self-sustaining financial institutions, ACCION has helped to achieve a number of industry milestones, including the creation of the first international network of microfinance institutions (1983); the first loan guarantee fund for microfinance institutions (1984); the first private commercial bank for the poor (Bolivia’s BancoSol, 1992); the first microfinance certificates of deposit for international institutional investors (1996); the most successful microfinance IPO (Mexico’s Compartamos, 2007); and the largest microfinance network in the United States (1991–present).

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of ACCION’s U.S. microfinance program, launched in 1991 in response to growing income inequality and unemployment. Today, ACCION is the largest provider of microfinance in the United States, with operations and affiliates in New England, New York, Georgia, Florida, Chicago, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and California, along with national reach through an online loan application process.






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