June 02, 2007
Mr. President, it is my privilege to present Janet McKinley, Chair of the Oxfam America Board of Directors and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Asia Foundation, for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
Some years ago, Janet McKinley graduated from college and sat through a commencement exercise like this one. A history major who graduated Summa Cum Laude, she sat in hot robes and waited for her name to be called, which is a feeling that you can probably relate to. I can imagine her graduation especially clearly, because she and I graduated from the same college and probably sat on the same folding chairs, waiting for our diplomas on a (hopefully, in her case) sunny day.
Since accepting her diploma from Smith College, Janet McKinley has gone on to do extraordinary things. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Krakow in Poland, and graduated from the New York University Graduate School of Business. She constructed a stunning career in finance and recently retired as a director of Capital Research and Management Company, which oversees mutual fund assets totaling more than $700 billion. She was also Chair of the Income Fund of America.
Janet McKinley defies a widespread stereotype of managers of mutual funds. She is, in fact, the polar opposite of Gordon Gekko, whom many will remember as the movie character who told Charlie Sheen, "Greed is good." In stark contrast, Janet McKinley has worked diligently to increase the wealth of poor people around the world through microfinance projects.
Microfinance projects work to provide financial services, like microcredit or microinsurance, to very poor people living around the world. People living in poverty are often not considered worthy of credit; they lack collateral, steady employment, and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. But what Janet McKinley has shown is that through microfinance?often amounts as small as $100?very poor people, often women, are often able to accumulate savings or to purchase insurance policies. As a result, they are better able to have choices about where to live and what kind of work to do, and they are better able to respond to economic and social risks.
When she retired from Capital, Janet McKinley focused her considerable energies and experiences on the question of how to find more effective, sustainable ways to address and alleviate global poverty. She has been involved in efforts to encourage micro-loans in India and in the Philippines, and recently collaborated with her husband and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to make the largest private philanthropic contribution ever made to support microfinance programs. "It is time to dramatically scale up the delivery of financial services to poor women and their families," she has said. "They have proven to be good customers, who through access to credit, insurance, and savings accounts can improve their lives with dignity."
Janet McKinley is now Chair of Oxfam America, an organization working toward "a world in which all people shall know freedom to achieve their fullest potential and to live secure from the dangers of hunger, deprivation, and oppression."
Mr. President, in honor of her international and humanitarian commitments and of her vigorous career in the generally competing worlds of finance and poverty, it is my pleasure to present Janet McKinley for the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.