Local Microfinance Organization
Helps Raise Women Out of Poverty
by Delle Willett
A pig. A bike. A sewing machine. These are three things that can make the difference between hunger and food on the table. Between illiteracy and literacy. Between sickness and health. Three things that can purchased with a microloan, awarded through the Grameen Bank—"Bank of the Villages," in Bangla—founded in 1976 by Bangladeshi economist Muhammed Yunus.
By the beginning of 2005, the Grameen Bank had loaned over $4.7 billion to the poor, and by the end of 2008, $7.6 billion. By 2006, Grameen Bank had over 2,100 branches. In 2007, more than 100 million of the world's poorest families received a microloan, positively impacting the lives of an estimated 500 million family members. Its success has inspired similar projects in more than 40 countries around the world.
One of these inspired projects is San Diego's Women's Empowerment International, a nonprofit corporation that partners with nonprofit microfinance lenders in San Diego, Mexico, Honduras, and Ghana.
Women's Empowerment (WE) was founded in December 2003 by San Diegans Leigh Fenly and Win Cox. Through their leadership, WE has raised over half a million dollars, which continues to grow with the help of new donors and money from repaid loans, which then gets lent to new recipients.
"The transformative power of microloans is that so little can do so much; even a $50 loan can start business after business, as that repaid loan is reissued," says Cox. "It's extraordinary that with so little money we truly can give a poor woman the opportunity to better her life, put food on the table, and for the first time, send her children to school. And that's all these hardworking women want: opportunity, not charity."
Microloans are made almost exclusively to women, who typically apply the loans toward improving the lives of their children via schooling and improved health services, and investing in their husbands. This proven economic model lifts women out of poverty, helping them to develop their potential and strengthen their families.
Donors can request that their gift goes directly into loans, grants, and services for the poor. The repayment rate in all WE programs exceeds 95 percent, and repaid loans are offered to other women to start new businesses.
Fenly says, "Many of our microfinance partners utilize the power of the group to make a difference for individuals and communities. Groups of borrowers pledge to guarantee each other's loans and support each other's businesses. Because collateral is not necessary, credit becomes available to those previously blocked from formal financial services. While building local economies, these close-knit groups also foster personal growth and create community leaders across the globe."
WE's first partnership, with nonprofit microfinance organization Grameen de la Frontera in Sonora, Mexico, supports women entrepreneurs in rural villages. The second partnership, with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in San Diego, launched the WE STAR (Support, Training, and Assistance to Refugee) Center. Since then, WE has formed additional partnerships with the Adelante Foundation in Intibucá, Honduras, and with Women's Trust in Ghana.
The STAR Center provides technical support, business training, and access to microcredit loans and grants to low-income and refugee women in San Diego. Located in City Heights, the Center reaches numerous refugee women and guides them to start or expand their own businesses, augment their families' incomes, and reduce or completely eliminate dependence on public assistance. The STAR Center has launched a diversity of businesses including dressmaking, licensed childcare, small retail businesses, ethnic breads, imported shoes, and many others.
For more information, please attend the Women's Empowerment Annual Meeting on June 10, 2012 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Marina Village Conference Center, 1936 Quivira Way, San Diego 92109,. The guest speaker is Beatriz Marina Bours, social entrepreneur and board member of Grameen de la Frontera. Guests welcome. Visit www.womenempowerment.org.