We have just concluded the first day of our best practices conference in Amman, Jordan for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, “Building Women-Focused Finance: the Global-Local Experience.” The agenda was packed with fascinating panels, bringing together Women’s World Banking staff, network members and industry experts to weigh in on the most pressing issues faced by the microfinance and financial inclusion community in the region and globally.

Our first plenary featured Citi Microfinance director Bob Annibale in discussion with representatives from the World Bank and Sanabel. They examined the landscape of financial services in the region and presented data and views that set the framework for the rest of the day. Breakout sessions followed, exploring how to best reach and serve three untapped populations with product innovation: youth, low-salaried factory employees and rural women. Active participation from the attendees made these sessions practical and action-oriented.

In light of the political instability in the region, particularly around Syria, our network member leaders from Lebanon, Tunisia and Pakistan who have experienced and are currently experiencing crisis environments in their countries shared the issues they faced and best practices they used to address them. As Roshaneh Zafar from Kashf Foundation in Pakistan said, “A savings account is a primary disaster management tool.”

We were honored to have Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah attend our panel on what financial products for women actually look like and what needs to be considered when developing products for low-income women. Our CEO, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, moderated a discussion between our chief product officer, Anna Gincherman, and microfinance bank leaders from the Philippines and Yemen about how their institutions develop not one, but a whole suite, of financial products that meet the specific needs of women clients. Following this plenary were breakout sessions highlighting the creation and execution of these women-focused products: microinsurance, individual lending and value chains and mobile banking. Fatina Abu Okab of Microfund for Women and Mazen Nimri of Jordan Insurance Company discussed what makes a successful partnership for microinsurance including transparency, passion, and trust.

We concluded the day with a conversation with the managing director of the 2013 Excellence in Leadership Award winner, Microfund for Women. Muna Sukhtian shared her experiences and the institution’s commitment to gender diversity and principled leadership. We also honored our finalists for the 2013 Excellence in Leadership Award: Banco ADOPEM (Dominican Republic), Fundacion delamujer (Colombia), CARD Bank (Philippines) and Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (Philippines).

It was a full and inspiring day – it was amazing to see 300+ people in the room to discuss how we can better serve low-income women both in the MENA region and globally. We cannot wait for tomorrow’s sessions!

Women’s World Banking and conference participants are live-tweeting the event! Follow the hashtag #bwffconf