Women in Micro-Finance

by Melody Morrow

My prior article was about women entrepreneurs steeped in natural and eco-friendly businesses and their accomplishments. This article showcases several organizations that support women who want to be able to sustain themselves and their families by becoming entrepreneurs and those who help them through microfinancing.

The Financial Women’s Association states that to most, microfinance means providing very poor families with very small loans to help them engage in productive activities or grow their very small businesses. They stated that there are some 500 million low-income entrepreneurs in the world and about 5% have access to financial services. The financial services available to the poor often have serious limitations in terms of cost, risk, convenience and typical banking services.

Wikipedia lists the positive impact microfinance has had on developing countries:

  1. Increases personal income
  2. Empowers women
  3. Improves nutrition
  4. Increases education of the borrower’s children
  5. Accesses clean water
  6. Increases access to medicine

Below is just a glimpse of the organizations that support the area of microfinancing in a variety of ways.

Kiva -A non-profit organization located in San Francisco, whose mission it is to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. They leverage the Internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions. Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. You can view the person or persons requesting a loan online and choose to support their business. What a terrific business model!

Calvert Foundation – Based in Bethesda, MD, the Foundation’s goal as a non-profit is to maximize the flow of capital to disadvantaged communities and create a more sustainable society. They create innovative financial products and services for everyday people to use which directly serve their communities. Their goal is to lift people out of poverty through an investment, which also earns a financial return.

Interesting to note that currently, Calvert Foundation has nearly $200 million invested in 250 community organizations in all 50 states and over 100 countries. They invest in social causes and innovations, including affordable housing, microfinance, Fair Trade coffee, small business development, and the establishment of essential community facilities such as charter schools, daycare centers and rehabilitation clinics.

Women Investing in Women – Created by the Calvert Foundation, The Women Investing in Women Initiative (WIN-WIN) was created to raise $20 million from women – and from those who care about women – to invest in organizations and projects that create opportunities for women around the world.

Grameen Foundation – According to the Grameen Foundation in D.C., they help the world’s poorest, especially women, improve their lives and escape poverty by providing them with access to small loans, essential information, and viable business opportunities. Through two of the most effective tools which they believe is small loans and the mobile phone. Using a mobile phone, a farmer can find where to get the most competitive price for her crops or learn how to combat a specific crop disease, for example. They describe those without a phone as information poverty! Very innovative.

Women Advancing MicroFinancing (WAM)- Launched in 2003, the mission of WAM International is to advance and support women working in microfinance and micro enterprise development through education and training. They promote leadership opportunities and ncrease visibility of women’s participation and talent while maintaining a work/life balance.

Women’s World Banking (WWB)- They are focused on ensuring women have access to micro loans. Customers use these loans to purchase a bicycle to transport vegetables to a market, or use the money to buy raw materials, buy fertilizer for their crops, or a sewing machine to start a tailoring business. Many are able to send their kids to school for the first time, eat three meals a day or make seemingly small home improvements that can  have a significant effect on the household such as move from a mud floor home to a cement floor. WWB helps microfinance institutions move away from a strictly credit-led approach toward providing a broader array of financial products and services,

There are many wonderful stories about the women these companies serve and how a small amount of money can make a big difference for a sustainable future.

Check out one success story from KIVA. Flaura: Serial Entrepreneur who so far has run 5 businesses.

“When you’re responsible, you have to think of different ways to help your family. “These are hardly the words one would expect to hear from your typical 22 year-old university student. But Flaura Ingabire is hardly your typical 22 year-old. At just 16 years old, Flaura began supporting her family with her first business: a small bar in her village that she ran while home from boarding school over the holidays, but which closed when she was at school. She supplemented the income from the bar by riding a bicycle to local markets on market-days and selling pieces of fabric (that’s her second business).
In 2005, Flaura received her first loan from Vision Finance Company, a Kiva Field Partner, in the form of a Village Phone (her third business). VFC leases Village Phones to its clients so that the clients may generate income as customers pay to make calls, and is an important service between rural parts of the world that lack mobile phone service and centers of commerce.
When Flaura finished secondary school, she moved to Byumba town, away from her small village, to pursue her bachelor’s degree in management and accounting. For the first year of university, she remained in her village during the week to operate the bar and went to Byumba only on the weekends to attend classes. After one year of commuting, she closed the bar and used the profits from her bar and Village Phone businesses to open a small shop in Byumba (that’s her fourth business!). She operated the shop every day, attending classes in the evening.
In October 2008, Flaura received her first Kiva loan. She had already opened a small canteen at her university where she sells drinks to students and professors (that’s her fifth business!). With her loan of $750 along with approximately $600 that she had saved in order to buy a photocopy machine, she expanded her canteen and began making photocopies for her classmates. Here, professors do not have enough copies of handouts for every student, so Flaura’s photocopier has provided all students with access to the day’s lessons. The photocopier purchased with her Kiva loan has enabled her to earn approximately $40 in profit each week, in addition to the $40 per month that her canteen was previously earning and the $40 per month that her shop in Byumba town earns. With her profits, Flaura is able to pay her mother’s frequent hospital bills, her sister’s school fees, and her own university fees. She is also saving as much as possible which she will use to further expand her business.

Born in a village near Byumba, Rwanda in 1986, Flaura inherited the responsibility of supporting her family after the Genocide in 1994. Though the Genocide began in April, in some regions violence broke out in the first three months of 1994, and Flaura’s home was one of the targets of the early violence and was attacked in March of that year. Her father was killed during the attack and her mother was beaten until the genocidaires thought she was dead. Her mother was later found in the house and taken to the hospital. She survived, but with severe injuries that continue to debilitate her, prevent her from working, and continually send her to the hospital.

Flaura, her brother and sister survived the attack because they fled to the bush before the massacre took place. They hid there for 3 days before returning to their home. A month later, once the Genocide began in earnest, Flaura and her siblings again fled to the bush. They stayed in hiding for three weeks before the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) troops came in from Uganda and ended the killings in the north of the country, where Byumba is located. She considers herself lucky that her hometown is so close to the border with Uganda, noting that in other parts of the country it took much longer for the RPF to arrive and stop the genocidaires.

Flaura is poised to become the first university graduate in her family. She is also an employer of two people, and an exemplary client of Vision Finance Company, the first international microfinance institution in Rwanda to introduce voluntary savings, individual loans, and Village Phones. Even when discussing her painful past or the weight of her responsibility, Flaura does not reveal a hint of self-pity or bitterness and spends no time lamenting the circumstances that have determined her life.
This spring, Flaura hopes to take out a loan of $2,000 from VFC in order to expand her canteen into a full-fledged cafeteria and to buy computers with internet access for the students to use. There are currently no computers on her university’s campus, nor is there any establishment that sells food.

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