Qamar Saleem

QAMAR SALEEM is the incoming CEO of the SME Finance Forum, working to expand access to finance for small and medium businesses globally. Prior to this role, Qamar Saleem was the Manager Financial Institutions Group Advisory Services for Asia and Pacific driving leading a large team across 20 countries aimed at providing integrated investment/advisory client solutions across mainly MSME, Gender, Climate, Digital, Housing, Trade, and Supply Chain Finance. Qamar has been with IFC since 2012 and served in his previous roles as global technical lead for SME and Supply Chain Finance as well as regional SME Banking lead for EMENA. Qamar has 30+ years of global financial services experience having worked across 60+ countries internationally managing large business lines while leading multi-cultural and cross-functional teams. He is a recognized thought leader, featured speaker, and an industry mentor in SME Finance. Prior to joining IFC, Qamar was associated with international organizations like HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank as well as large regional banks while serving in several emerging markets where he also led SME Banking and Commercial Banking Divisions. Qamar holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and carries several certifications in the areas of Strategy, Climate Finance, Digital Banking, Business Transformation, Social Impact, MSME Banking, Team Leadership, Supply Chain Finance, Credit, Risk, Trade, Sales Effectiveness, Transaction Banking and Project Implementation.

Scaling Finance, Creating Livelihoods, Achieving Impact - Powering SMEs and Economies!

Jan 11, 2024
Scaling Finance, Creating Livelihoods, Achieving Impact - Powering SMEs and Economies!

The SME Finance Forum team and I would like to wish you a happy new year!  

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge how proud we are to have all of you as members and partners. We thank you for your valuable efforts in scaling SME finance within your own institutions and partnering with the SME Finance Forum. As the headline implies, we are embarking on an exciting new journey for the Forum to play a catalytical role in resolving the longstanding SME challenge so that they we can further steer economic growth and create jobs which is direly needed globally as we recover from the “pandemic of inequality.” Having met many of you in person during and after the Global SME Finance Forum in Mumbai, I feel immensely energized by your insights, commitment, innovation, and shared vision to boost SMEs around the globe. 

Let me start by reflecting on my first 90-days in the role. Since I took leadership of the SME Finance Forum on October 1st, I have put all my energy and passion into shifting gears at the SME Finance Forum, engaging members and partners, and creating strategic enablers for a brighter future for SMEs. This entails making the SME Finance Forum value proposition stronger to enable your success, advocating across the key influence groups, scaling innovations at speed, removing market obstacles, and embracing the twin climate-digital transitions set to shape the future for SMEs and their access to finance and services. The SME Finance Forum team has had an action orientation during the last 3 months, and highlighted below are the actions that are being undertaken across 5 key priority themes and our near-term upcoming activities and initiatives:


Priority #1: Strengthening the Forum

Our topmost priority is our members and partners. Hence to deliver a significantly augmented value proposition and robust operations, the highly committed SME Finance Forum has completed 11 deep dives across core functionalities of the Forum meant towards achieving 3 goals – strengthening the core, enabling impactful members engagements, and achieving strategic partners and stakeholders' alignment. This has resulted in over 100 action items to be executed during the next 3 months. 10% of the actions are already completed and 60% are at the advanced stage of execution. Hence, we are proceeding swiftly without compromising on quality. This will yield a much stronger value proposition for our members, deeper engagement with members and partners, broader global market footprint, and speedier migration of product innovations across the world.


Priority #2: Scaling Leading Innovations

Our Communities of Practice (CoP) consisting of members and partners are geared towards becoming innovation labs and best practice transfer hubs. Dominant market shifts are reshaping the future of SME Finance. After the launch of our sustainable SME finance CoP focusing on greening SMEs, we successfully launched our new Community of Practice on supply chain finance in October at a webinar which attracted record registration and attendance, and our new digital transformation and embedded finance CoP will be launched in early 2024. We also plan to launch a community of Practice on Capacity Building and Skills which would focus on building skills of financiers and SMEs by March 2024. Keep a look out on some of the key upcoming activities:  

  • Members Needs Alignment Survey: With a total of seven active peer working groups, you will receive a short survey in January to select the CoPs best aligned with your institution’s priorities to contribute and learn about leading market innovations. We would also seek your views and feedback on how to make these CoPs best suited for your needs. I would appreciate if you could take some time to reply to the short questionnaire.   
  • Sustainable SMEs training: Learn how to design sustainable finance in MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) loans in our upcoming virtual training delivered in English on February 6 and in Spanish on February 8
  • Training: We will offer training on supply chain finance in February/March and one on Risk Management in June. 

We are revamping our data sites to make it a one stop shop for key SME finance industry to help you get a more complete overview of your market. The new global MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) finance gap report is also planned to be launched at the latest by February 2024.  


Priority #3: Expanding Our Footprint

For the SME Finance Forum to make an impact, it is important that our members and partners network is geographically diverse but also that our country level network is deep covering all the key stakeholders, especially across priority countries. Hence, apart from the global SME finance Forum Conference, we plan to undertake and collaborate to hold country level events and dialogues. I also plan to visit several countries, especially during the next 6 months to engage the relevant stakeholders on the ground. After taking over the reins of the SME Finance Forum, I have already visited and engaged with key stakeholders in India, USA, Morocco, Bangladesh, Singapore, and France. There are several visits planned for H1 of 2024. Some key upcoming activities and events include:

  • CEO Regional Roundtables: In these new roundtables, we will engage in strategic dialogues with leaders to share our expertise and seek country level solutions. We have tentative plans for holding these in Malaysia, Philippines, Egypt, South Africa, and Brazil, with more being planned. 
  • Immersion Programs: These visits are to best practice institutions, and the visit to First National Bank is scheduled for February 21-22 in Johannesburg. I invite you to join this two-day immersion program to discover how FNB (First National Bank), a market leader in South Africa, is revolutionizing SME finance. We are also planning another immersion visit in June to Ant Group that operates Alipay, the world's largest mobile and online payments platform, to learn more about embedded finance, data modelling, alternate data, and AI (Artificial Intelligence). 
  • SME Finance Forum and GPFI (Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion) meeting: We will be organizing an SME-focused event alongside the GPFI meeting in Brasilia on March 13. Focus will be on frontier and leading innovations topics.
  • Global SME Finance Awards: The 7th edition of the Global SME Finance Awards competition will be launched in late February, and we will accept submissions until mid-May. The results will be announced at the next Global SME Finance Forum annual meeting.  


Priority #4: Fostering Market Alliances

With 60 partners, there is a need to deepen our partnerships but also steer new market alliances for impact. We cannot undertake such a massive task of enabling SMEs to succeed and have ample opportunities to seek access to finance without credible, influential, and committed partners. Hence, we have enhanced our interactions with SME Finance leaders, creating new alliances and partnering on key topics and events. The priority themes going forward are Digital/Data, Sustainability, Supply Chain Finance, and underserved segments – Women and Youth. The below efforts highlight how we are shifting gears in terms of advocacy and bringing change:   

We are exploring new/expanded partnerships with the United Nations, Microsoft, Visa, Mastercard, and Singapore Monetary Authority, the details of which I hope to share in my next update.  


Priority #5: Synergizing with Development Partners

Managed by IFC, SME Finance Forum can draw significant synergies with IFC and the World Bank Group. Hence, we are strengthening our relationship with IFC through engagement at Financial Institutions Group’s regional town halls and country leadership visits (Morocco, Bangladesh, France, and Singapore). In addition, we have expanded the pool of IFC experts who are supporting the SME Finance Forum. With a base of less than 10 experts 3 months ago, we now have more than 25 experts across all regions, which will be beneficial for our product innovation efforts and as well as helpful to our members. We are also inducting an experts' network from our members and partners, so please tell us if you want to be featured as an expert in your area of expertise so we can loop you into key conversations. We are also strengthening our partnerships with other multi-lateral development banks, UN (United Nations) Network and broader development community for enhanced impact.  

As I conclude, I would also take this opportunity to celebrate our Global SME Finance Forum in Mumbai success which hit record attendance with 1200+ guests joining in person or virtually from 220+ institutions and 72 countries.​ This success wouldn’t have been possible without great support from IFC and many of our members and partners, especially SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank of India), Indian Banks’ Association, SBI (State Bank of India) and the Indian G20 presidency. 

In the end, I would like to thank our 240+ members/partners who are instrumental in helping build this global network and steering access to financial services for SMEs to facilitate job creation and economic growth in the 190+ countries where our members operate.   

From the entire SME Finance Forum team, we wish you all a happy new year and we look forward to reaching newer heights in 2024, together!   

Financial Inclusion