Past, present and future of the International Microinsurance Conference
Interview with Dirk Reinhard, instigator of the International Microinsurance Conferences
In light of the upcoming 6th International Microinsurance Conference taking place between 9-11 November 2010 in Manila, Philippines, Dirk Reinhard, Vice Chairman of the Munich Re Foundation and member of the Executive Committee of the Microinsurance Network, answers a few questions regarding the past, present and future of this pioneering conference.
How did the first International Microinsurance Conference come about in Munich? What were the aims of this conference and who were behind it?
Munich Re - which founded the Munich Re Foundation in April 2005 - concerns itself with the great challenges facing the world today – population growth, globalisation, diminishing resources, environmental pollution and climate change. Poverty reduction is closely linked to many of these challenges. With microfinance being a successful tool in poverty reduction and the insurance background of our founder Munich Re, we felt the need to initiate the discussion on how to improve access to insurance for the poor. In order to do so, we met with Craig Churchill from the ILO, at the time already chairman of the CGAP Working Group on Microinsurance – which is now the Microinsurance Network – and teamed up with him and his network. Some 90 experts were invited to Munich for the first ever microinsurance conference in October 2005.
What is the mission and aim of these conferences? Do you think it has achieved its mission?
The aim of the conference is to be the international platform where experts can share information, knowledge and experience in microinsurance in order to overcome existing challenges. This is an integral part of the foundation’s goal which is to support and reduce the potential risks for the poor. We would like to see this conference become “the Davos of Microinsurance” as someone put it recently. But we still have a long way to go. Access to microinsurance has certainly improved over the past five years. Many challenges, however, still remain. I think we are on the right track, but the mission is by far not yet accomplished.
Why has Munich Re Foundation taken microinsurance so seriously and invested so much time and money in these conferences?
Microinsurance has a huge potential and will play an increasingly important role in fighting poverty and helping the poor better cope with their risks. We strongly believe that we need to get the key stakeholders involved to overcome the many challenges: The regulation, policy and supervision experts need to provide a legal framework that facilitates the development of sustainable microinsurance products. The insurance industry has the insurance knowledge needed. The microfinance institutions, NGOs, co-operatives and self help groups know the demand and have access to the clients. Last but not least, we need donors to help finance the often very costly development and research necessary to come up with good solutions on how to serve the poor. We strongly believe that if one of these four groups is missing, the development of microinsurance will be much more difficult. The conference is the tool to get the players around the table and discuss the challenges and solutions.
How has the conference evolved over the 5 years in terms of content?
It has grown substantially in terms of content, quality, complexity and as well as number of participants and organisations actively supporting the conference. The first conference started as an “invitation-only” platform to discuss the results of case studies conducted by the Microinsurance Network. The outcome of this process resulted in the publishing of the “Microinsurance Compendium: Protecting the poor”. Two years later, we started the first “call for proposals” which opened the conference up to experts not linked to the Microinsurance Network. For the 2009 conference we received around 150 proposals. In the same year we added workshops on specific topics such as regulations, supervision and policy and performance indicators. From 2005 till 2008, the number of participants increased by some 50% each year. Even the financial crises did not result in a substantial decline of participants in 2009.
What do you think the conferences bring to the microinsurance sector?
Besides a large networking opportunity, the conference is the annual meeting to discuss the latest research and experience in microinsurance. By organising it on a different continent each year, we have noticed that it helps get the important players like the insurance industry or regulatory bodies of the regions increasingly interested. We also believe that the name and reputation of our founder, Munich Re, has certainly played a part in increasing the interest in the topic. Five years ago the number of experts looking into microinsurance was maybe in the region of 100-200 worldwide. The fact that we basically get roughly 20 new contacts every month – among those are also important organisation with large funds – tells us that the interest is definitely increasing. Whether or not this has directly resulted in better products or increased availability is difficult to tell. But we are certain that we fulfil our role as facilitator.
What differentiates the International Microinsurance Conference from the other new microinsurance conferences that are popping up everywhere?
The conference is a joint effort of not only the Munich Re Foundation and the Microinsurance Network but many other organisations that have greatly supported us over the past years like the ILO, GTZ, IAIS, the Worldbank/IFC, the Microinsurance Centre, Georgia State University and many others. Furthermore, each year the conference is supported by the local insurance regulator or supervisor as well as the insurance industry associations. This unique type of co-operation results in the fact that the International Microinsurance Conference covers more topics, has a larger number and diversity of speakers and participants than any other microinsurance event. Unlike the new commercial conferences, the content of the event is available not only to the participants but everyone interested in microinsurance through the conference website and the conference reports.
On a personal level, which of the five conferences was most memorable for you and why?
There have been only five conferences up to today and I still basically remember each day of each event. Certainly the first conference abroad in South-Africa was a very exciting step. Also during this event, the Microinsurance Compendium was released. The presence of the Indian finance minister in Mumbai and the president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe in Cartagena was certainly an important step in getting the support of the politicians. Last year in Senegal, representatives from 64 countries took part – more than ever before, in a year of the global economy crises!
Where do you see the conference five years from now?
We are confident that the conference will continue to grow. The challenge now lies in the right organisational set-up to keep up with the growth. At the moment, we see organisations trying to put up their own agenda and moving out of partnerships which we believe is the wrong approach. We will do the opposite and aim to deepen our partnerships with the various organisations. This enables us to keep up with the rapid development in the various topics and ensure the quality of the content in the conference. We would also like to see a move from a pure discussion platform towards an event that could play a more active role in the “agenda setting” for the microinsurance industry. But overall we are confident that the International Microinsurance Conference will remain the platform for the microinsurance industry.