The Obama Administration has nominated a major microfinance leader to serve as U.S. Under Secretary of Global Affairs in the State Department. It’s a great example of how to bring people into the U.S. foreign policy establishment who have a direct understanding of strategies for international poverty alleviation.
Obama Administration Nominates Microfinance Leader as U.S. Under Secretary of Global Affairs, Department of State
ACCION’s María Otero to Serve as One of Six Under Secretaries of State; Tapped to Lead U.S. Foreign Relations on Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, Population and More
BOSTON, Mass., May 13, 2009 – ACCION International, a pioneer and leader in microfinance, today announced that María Otero, president and CEO, has been nominated by the White House as Under Secretary of Global Affairs at the Department of State. Ms. Otero has expressed her intention to accept the appointment following confirmation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is anticipated within several weeks.
Catherine Quense, ACCION chief deputy, will take over as interim president and CEO of the international nonprofit, effective immediately. Ms. Quense will direct ACCION in line with its 2008-2011 strategic plan and the key initiatives launched under Ms. Otero’s direction. A committee is already engaged in a global search for a successor to Ms. Otero.
The Under Secretary of Global Affairs coordinates U.S. foreign relations on a wide variety of global issues, including democracy, human rights, and labor; environment, oceans, health and science; population, refugees, and migration; and trafficking in persons. Previous Under Secretaries of Global Affairs have included Paula Dobriansky, appointed in May 2001; Frank Loy, who served from October 1998 to January, 2001; and Tim Wirth, who served from May 1994 to December 1997.
Ms. Otero first joined ACCION in 1986, as the director of its lending program in Honduras, and opened ACCION’s Washington, D.C. office in 1989. She was appointed president and CEO in 2000. Prior to ACCION, she served as a program officer for the Inter-American Foundation, and for five years developed management-training programs for the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA).
Under Ms. Otero’s leadership, the number of poor microentrepreneurs served by ACCION’s partner network has grown from 460,000 to 3.7 million, in 25 countries. Over the same period, the partners’ combined active loan portfolio grew from $274 million to nearly $3.6 billion. Since 2000, ACCION has expanded significantly beyond its core microfinance work in Central and South America, launching operations in Africa and India, securing preliminary approval to begin microlending in China, and opening hub offices in Accra, Bangalore and Beijing. Under Ms. Otero’s direction, the ACCION staff has grown more than threefold, from 65 to 220.
ACCION’s work to create inclusive financial systems for the poor that are both sustainable and scalable has also brought both Ms. Otero and ACCION widespread recognition and awards, including her selection by Newsweek as one of America’s 20 most powerful women. Among ACCION’s awards are Fast Company’s ‘Social Capitalist Award,’ for five consecutive years; Charity Navigator’s highest rating, four stars, for efficiency and sound fiscal management; and, most recently, the Inter-American Development Bank’s ‘Juscelino Kubitschek Award’ for ACCION’s contributions to economic and financial development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“ACCION is profoundly grateful to María for more than two decades of service to ACCION and the cause of global poverty alleviation,” said Diana Taylor, ACCION Board vice-chair. “Her nomination as Under Secretary comes as no surprise to those of us who know her and her deep commitment to social and economic justice, and we know that she now has an even more effective platform from which to help build better lives for the world’s citizens. We will miss her and her many contributions greatly, and wish her all success.”
ACCION International 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 work their way out of poverty. A world pioneer in microfinance, ACCION was founded in 1961 and issued its first microloan in 1973 in Brazil. ACCION International’s partner microfinance institutions today are providing loans as low as $50 to poor men and women entrepreneurs in 23 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the United States. In the last decade alone, ACCION partners have disbursed more than 28.5 million loans totaling $23.4 billion; 97 percent of the loans have been repaid.